The Power of One State Rep

“The Power of One State Rep”

Each year, the Pennsylvania legislature must pass a budget to fund our state government. Several crucial projects will be considered, and many funding requests will compete for attention. This year, I will prioritize requests for several vital items affecting our community— schools, services for people with disabilities, and crime-solving equipment and software for law enforcement. But the advocacy of one state Representative has sparked my imagination about the power of one elected official.

Recently, my state Representative colleague Greg Vitali, a Democrat from Delaware County, has been highlighting the need for more support for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Fossil fuel companies and other special interests have spent billions to weaken environmental protection and thwart action on our climate crisis. And in the past two decades, our state government has eliminated nearly a thousand positions at the DEP. Unfortunately, the needs of this department have only grown since the early 2000s due to the increased use of drilling for fossil fuels in the Marcellus Shale and other federal and state regulations. Funding is desperately needed to ensure several aspects of environmental protection to mitigate our climate crisis and ensure we have access to clean air and water.  

For instance, as we have recently seen on days where our air quality is so poor that it is unsafe to go outside, we need resources to ensure our air is inspected for pollution. We need to ensure our creeks and streams, like the Wissahickon Creek and the Schuylkill River, are being monitored and that there is funding to protect resources like the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Finally, we also need staff so hazardous site clean up projects can commence, including areas contaminated with PFAS forever chemicals, and that oversee oil and gas drilling are appropriately monitored.

Representative Vitali, who is also the Majority Chairperson for the Pa. House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, has led the effort in our caucus to support the DEP. His advocacy has exposed the funding inadequacy of the department to the Democratic Caucus and has rallied many of us to fight for its funding. Several of my fellow legislators are advancing DEP funding requests to our leadership, and my colleague Representative Mandy Steele (D-Allegheny) is circulating a "Dear Colleagues" advocacy letter to fellow house members. Representative Vitali’s advocacy is a lesson of the power of one legislator and the impact they can have on our collective future.

Hopefully, by the time the July edition of this article is printed, our budget will be passed. If we attain the extra funding needed by the DEP, it will be an immense credit to my Representative Vitali. To paraphrase Robert F. Kennedy, each time a person stands up for an ideal, they send forth a tiny ripple of hope, which can build a current that sweeps down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.