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Top Stories of 2021 Point to a Busy 2022

Pennsylvania politics was awash in drama in 2021, from constitutional amendments, elections, election reform, and more.  Let’s take a look at five story lines from this year, three that happened, and two that didn’t.

What Happened:

The Constitution Shall Be Amended

Constitutional amendments aren’t new for Pennsylvania voters, but the impact of two questions before voters in the 2021 primary elections will be felt for years to come.  Tired of vetoes from the Democrat governor and lost cases before the Democrat controlled Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Republicans in the legislature took the fight on COVID restrictions to the voters.  Despite efforts by Gov. Wolf to slant the ballot questions, allowing the General Assembly to end an emergency declaration and limiting a unilateral Emergency Declaration to 21 days without the approval of the General Assembly, the measures both passed.

Pennsylvania became the first state in the nation to limit a governor’s emergency powers as a result of COVID restrictions, but it didn’t stop the governor.  Wolf used his health secretary to mandate masks in schools, but the courts overruled this move, even his Democrat allies in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court didn’t come to his aide this time.  After over a year of shutdowns and restrictions, the tide has turned on COVID restrictions, it started here on May 18, 2021.

Josh Clears the Field

Yes, the race for governor and U.S. Senate will be decided in 2022, but in today’s world of politics, the race starts well before the calendar flips.  Both contests will be no doubt be vigorous and expensive.  The primaries and general election are likely to break records in terms of money spent, save one contest, the Democrat primary for governor.  Attorney General Josh Shapiro appears to have a cleared the field and will cruise to the nomination in May.  Meanwhile Republicans have more than 12 candidates vying for the nomination.  In the U.S. Senate, Democrats have at least five major candidates, Republicans, six.

How rare is Shapiro’s feat?  The 2002, 2010, and 2014 Democrat primaries were all contested.  Of course, there are still two months before petitions are circulated.  It is not out of the realm of possibilities a candidate may declare, but with $10 million in Shapiro’s war chest, that candidate better have a big check book.

“A Good Day in Baseball”

If “two out of three ain’t bad,” than three out of four must be good too.  That’s how Republicans faired in four 2021 statewide judicial elections.  Securing victories on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, with Judge Kevin Brobson, Pennsylvania Superior Court with Megan Sullivan Kampf, and Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court with Stacy Wallace, the Pennsylvania GOP heads into 2022 with confidence.

In addition to statewide wins, Bucks County Republicans swept all contests on the ballot, along with school board victories around the commonwealth.

What Didn’t Happen:

Election Issues Continue…

Regardless of one’s opinion on the 2020 election process, it was hardly without issues.  Some of those issues spilled over in the 2021.  After vetoing an election reform bill saying it would “undermine faith in government,” Wolf would later admit to violating election law for the 2021 General Election.  Ironically, had Wolf signed the election bill he vetoed, his violation – asking his wife to drop off his ballot – would have been permitted.

Other issues were reported as well, such as Montgomery County counting undated ballots in the primary, a direct violation of a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling.  Berks County sent out 17,000 mail-in voting instructions to Spanish speaking voters with the wrong return date deadline.  The English instructions had the correct date.  Indiana County made a similar mistake.  Much like COVID-19 restrictions, if progress is not made in 2022 toward election reform, a constitutional amendment is not out of the question in 2023.

Redistricting Continues…

Citing issues with COVID-19, The U.S, Census Bureau announced the data needed to draw new district lines would be delayed.  The data is necessary for the State House and Senate Redistricting Commission to draw new lines, as well as the legislature to vote on congressional districts.  With time not on their side, the map makers went to work with the information they had, then they eventually included the finalized Census data.

One map appears to be set, the state Senate.  The map passed the Legislative Redistricting Commission with a 5-0 vote on December 16.  The new maps likely won’t flip the Senate to Democrat hands but will see the Republicans hold the chamber with a slimmer majority.  The Pennsylvania House on the other hand is another story, leaving Republicans seeing red, but not on the maps.  The map passed on partisan lines, 3-2.  Under the Commission’s plan, 12 Republican incumbents will face off in primaries, compared to two Democrats.  The maps aren’t set yet, a 30-day public comment period is now underway.  Republicans in the House are sure to opine.

The Pennsylvania Congressional lines are drawn by a different process, the legislature votes on a map, and the governor either accepts or rejects it.  Population loss requires Pennsylvania lose a seat, going from 18 to 17 members.  A proposed map was voted from the House State Government Committee on December 15.  The future of the map is on shaky ground.  Wolf recently declared he would not take part in negotiations with the legislature.  Perhaps setting up the state Supreme Court to draw their own map as they did in 2018.  That map resulted in Democrats picking up five seats.

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Green Activists Want Pols to Shut Mariner East Down. What Happens Then?

While Republicans say Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s announcement of criminal charges against Energy Transfer is really about politics and not the pipeline, Pennsylvania’s green activists are transparent about what they want.

Kill the Mariner East 2. And do it now.

Which raises the question, what happens if they succeed?

“Now that the attorney general and the grand jury have done their job, there should be no question: It is time for an immediate halt of the Mariner East pipeline project,” green activist Rep. Danielle Friel Otten (D-Upper Uwchlan) said after Shapiro’s press conference. “I am once again calling on Gov. Wolf, the DEP, and the PUC to revoke Energy Transfer’s permits to operate in Pennsylvania.”

State Sen. Katie Muth (D-Chester/Montgomery/Berks) joined Friel Otten and a handful of Pennsylvania progressives to make the same demand in a letter to the Wolf administration.

“We urge you to take immediate action to halt the Mariner East Pipeline project, revoke the company’s permits to operate in Pennsylvania, issue a moratorium on all future permits, and ensure all impacted residents have clean drinking water in their homes through a public water provider,” they wrote.

It’s an extreme stance, particularly given the $2.5 billion, 350-mile project transporting natural gas liquids from western Pennsylvania to the Marcus Hook facility is nearly completed, and thousands of energy sector jobs are at stake.

“Mariner East 2 is critical because the natural gas in southwestern Pennsylvania comes out of the ground with all kinds of other chemicals,” says David N. Taylor, president and CEO of Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association. “The natural gas itself is methane, but the methane comes along with ethane, butane, propane, pentane, and natural gasoline, so these are feedstocks that manufacturers can use to make things.”

That is why Taylor says it is so important to get those petrochemical feedstocks from where they are harvested to where they can be processed and then used as a manufacturing input.

“That’s the purpose of Mariner East 2,” says Taylor. “It’s to deliver those inputs from southwestern Pennsylvania to southeastern Pennsylvania.”

Energy Transfer projects the Mariner East and Marcus Hook projects will generate more than $100 million a year for Pennsylvania’s economy. Critics dismiss those numbers, but they concede the energy sector is a key part of the state’s finances.

Speaking about natural gas at an October 4 meeting of the Pennsylvania Senate Environmental Resources & Energy Committee, David Callahan, president of Marcellus Shale Coalition, said Pennsylvania has benefited greatly.

“Thanks to our abundant natural gas resources, along with our embrace of competitive energy markets, Pennsylvania has benefited from tens of billions of dollars in investment and several hundred thousand direct and indirect jobs, including those in the building trades,” said Callahan. “Nearly $14 billion has been invested to date in new natural gas-powered electric generation, not to mention the billions of dollars of investment and thousands of jobs associated with downstream utilization of natural gas and natural gas liquids such as the petrochemical facility in Beaver County that will open up considerable downstream opportunities.”

Callahan went on to add that these natural gas-related investments across the state have brought “billions of dollars to our communities and helped support thousands of more Pennsylvanians with family-sustaining wages.”

If activists succeed in shutting down the pipeline, it would leave manufacturers struggling to get natural gas-related raw materials they need.

“There are many manufacturing processes that require a temperature point that can only be met with natural gas,” says Taylor. “You may have heard about the Shell investment to turn ethane into polyethylene, and polyethylene is at the top of the top of the value chain that — depending on how you process it — can yield every kind of plastic, rubber, paint, glaze, sealant, adhesive, and solvent, all  consumer products people handle and use every day.”

And then there’s the looming national shortage of natural gas. The EU is already suffering through an energy crisis so severe that some nations are considering a return to coal. Lack of access to fuels, natural gas in particular, is driving electricity prices to all-time highs in Europe.

Now come warnings the U.S. may face supply issues as well. Ernie Thrasher, chief executive officer of Xcoal Energy & Resources LLC, told Bloomberg utility companies fear fuel shortages this winter could trigger blackouts.

“These utilities are worried the assets they have can’t get enough fuel,” Thrasher said. “There are people of high authority at large utilities who are deeply concerned.”

Pipeline politics aren’t helping. There has been a spate of pipeline closings due to political pressures since President Joe Biden took office in January. He issued an executive order canceling the Keystone XL pipeline on his first day on the job. In July, Dominion Energy and Duke Energy announced they were canceling the Atlantic Coast pipeline due to “legal uncertainty” in the face of repeated challenges from pipeline opponents. And the plug was pulled on the PennEast pipeline just months after winning a major victory before the Supreme Court for similar reasons.

If convicted, Shapiro’s office says Energy Transfer will be sentenced to fines and restitution.

PODCAST: Sen. Dan Laughlin’s Bid for Governor Based on Bringing People Together

Click Here for the Delaware Valley Journal Podcast

On this edition of the Delaware Valley Journal “On The Air,” State Sen. Dan Laughlin talks about his plans to run for governor and the pitch he plans to make to Pennsylvania GOP primary voters:

‘Nobody hates me.’

Is there room in the Grand Old Party of 2021 for a consensus-building candidate? Laughlin thinks there is and he explains why.

With DVJournal News Editor Linda Stein and Michael Graham of InsideSources.