June 4, 2023

Taking on the big, bad Wolf: NCC students demand climate action in Harrisburg

“What do we want?”
“Climate justice!”
“When do we want it?”

On January 21, 2019 students from NCC’s Climate Action Network (CAN) and Sustainability Committee, led by Professor Anita Forrester, marched to the state capitol building in Harrisburg, demanding that Governor Wolf uphold Article 1, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, also known as the Green Amendment, which states:

“The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural scenic, historic, and aesthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all people.”

Students hold a candlelit vigil at the Capitol building

NCC CAN is part of the Better Path Coalition along with the Lehigh Valley PA chapter of the Climate Reality Project, which addresses the urgency of climate change and advocates the necessity of moving away from fossil fuels. Two students, Daniel Stevens and Melanie Attieh, represented NCC as they spoke in the main rotunda of the capitol building.

Pennsylvania has been a facet in the natural gas industry because it sits on one of the largest Marcellus shale deposits in the Northeast, Attieh explained.

PA currently has 7,788 active fracking wells and 4,006 of them violate state environmental regulations, according to stateimpact.npr.org. These violations include pollution to waterways, groundwater, and soil from toxic chemical fluids that have been both spilled and improperly disposed of.

The hydraulic fracturing industry is currently exempt from several major federal Environmental Protection Agency statutes including the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act. This exemption has allowed the industry to pollute without the responsibility of addressing the damage it has caused.

The Wolf Administration ran on a clean energy campaign and won re-election in 2018. Wolf has made many promises to address climate change, yet his policies have continued to allow the gas industry to build pipelines across the state.

“Often, the permission to pollute is defended by the assertion that it will create jobs, or that near-term gain of a new energy source overshadows the need to consider environmental degradation and its harmful impacts. These kinds of excuses do not justify the harms that polluting industries create,” said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper and author of “The Green Amendment: Securing Our Right to a Healthy Environment.”

Van Rossum led a group of children and advocates to Governor Wolf’s office to hand deliver a petition of over 9,000 signatures from students and PA residents from across the state demanding he uphold Article 1, Section 27 and protect our right to a safe and healthy environment.

Staffers meet the activists outside of Wolf’s office

At first, Wolf refused to see them, hiding behind a closed door. He sent his staffers to set up an appointment but the children said they were patient and would wait to see him. After about twenty minutes he allowed the children into his office. He greeted them and shook their hands and accepted the petitions.

The children were dressed as the Dr. Seuss character, The Lorax. In the cautionary tale, industrial progress disseminates the ecosystem. The Lorax “speaks for the trees” and advocates for the protection of our natural resources but no one listens and the world becomes uninhabitable. The children delivered copies of Dr. Seuss’ book to the offices of each of the PA legislators and representatives in the hope that they get the message and begin creating legislation that protects the natural environment.

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