Pittsburgh isn’t a coastal city, in the hurricane belt or among the areas with the worst heat, but there was no shortage of local concerns to discuss at Wednesday’s town hall on climate change. About 200 people showed up to the event organized by U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, and the conversation ranged from the cracker plant in Beaver County and regional air pollution to the Green New Deal and the Trump administration attempting to roll back Obama-era carbon restrictions.

“I want to provide you with information on how we can go about reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and curbing climate change before it’s too late and, particularly, how can we make a change while we have a president who thinks climate change is a hoax and an EPA which is trying to protect polluters instead of people,” said Doyle (D-Forest Hills) while stressing the urgency to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 as advised by the United Nations. 

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report in the fall calling for a cut of 40% to 50% of emissions by 2030 to limit global warming by 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Even if that goal is met, there are still expected to be consequences, like worsening storms, heat waves and forest fires. 

Climate change “is really inextricably tied to every other system and problem we see,” said Anaïs Peterson, an urban studies student at the University of Pittsburgh, at the event held in the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum. 

However, like several other attendees, Peterson was not satisfied with the format of the event, which included two expert panels, followed by a question-and-answer session with the public. Doyle gave an introductory speech, briefed attendees on action in Congress and answered questions.

“I feel like it’s so rare to actually have this face-to-face time with people from Washington,” Peterson said. “I would have liked to have him be more present and have more of a voice throughout the conversation.”

Magda Gangwar, Clean Air Organizer for PennEnvironment getting signatures for a petition
Magda Gangwar, an organizer for PennEnvironment, attended the climate change town hall on Wednesday and gathered signatures for a petition. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

One of the biggest concerns raised by some attendees was Doyle’s stance on the Green New Deal. Introduced in February by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and Sen. Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts), the Green New Deal calls for swift action to solve the climate crisis and curtail carbon emissions. The Green New Deal is a proposed overhaul to the U.S. economy that includes ending the use of fossil fuels and shifting transportation systems to use only renewable energy, among other proposals. Doyle is not a co-sponsor of Ocasio-Cortez’s resolution.

“The Green New Deal got a lot of attention when it was introduced in February, but I believe it kicked off an important conversation and has built momentum to address climate change that is affecting our planet,” Doyle said. “I agree with supporters of the Green New Deal’s goals of getting the U.S. economy to net-zero carbon emissions quickly. I share many of its long-term goals as well, and I believe that the components of the Green New Deal will be a part of any comprehensive climate bill that comes out of the House of Representatives.”

Gerald Dickinson, who is challenging Doyle for his seat, criticized Doyle’s stance.

“It is very low key,” Dickinson said after the event. “It’s too incremental and not enough urgency and not enough desire and energy to actually make a difference.” 

Dickinson announced his candidacy in April. 

Doyle was vocal at the town hall about his support for the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, a bill that pushes for a fee on carbon at the point of extraction. 

Doyle also expressed support for nuclear energy, responding to a question from Squirrel Hill resident Richard Ankey about potential federal actions to protect nuclear energy as a carbon-free energy source.  

“I think he recognized that we have to use all the tools in our toolbox to solve this problem,” said Ankey, a former nuclear engineer. “Nuclear energy is one of those tools…We cannot afford to abandon technologies that work.” 

Other issues that came up during the event included President Donald Trump’s recent trip to the Shell cracker plant in Beaver County, where construction is ongoing; the increasing influence of the petrochemical industry in the region; and the bridge between labor and environmental groups. 

The event’s first panel focused on the technology available to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Panelists discussed the economic risks of investments in green technology and the role of financial incentives. 

Dr Jamil Bey (left) and Gerald Dickenson (right) who plans to challenge Congressman Doyle in 2020 speaking after the town hall.
Speaking after the climate change town hall event on Wednesday: Jamil Bey (left), president and CEO of UrbanKind Institute, and Gerald Dickinson (right), a Pitt law professor who announced he is running for the 18th congressional district seat that U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle holds. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

The second panel discussed local and state actions that could combat climate change, honing in on measures taken by citizens themselves. Members of the panel shared personal stories of activism and local organizing. Zaheen Hussain, sustainability coordinator for Grounded in Millvale, described efforts to improve the town through education and environmentally conscious techniques like community farming. 

State Rep. Sara Innamorato (D-Lawrenceville) said she wished the event would have included more direct questions from the audience than the 15 or so that got asked but hoped attendees found it informative. 

“I really liked the diversity of the panel that was sitting on stage,” Innamorato said. “I think it provided a lot of context, hopefully educated some individuals. Maybe if they had some false narratives that they were holding on to that that kind of helped alleviate those.”

Correction (8/15/2019): A previous version of the story incorrectly said U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle hadn’t faced a challenger a decade. He has faced challengers in both primary and general elections.

Varshini Chellapilla is a PublicSource intern. She can be reached at varshini@publicsource.org.

PublicSource will focus its coverage on climate change from Sept. 16-23 as part of the Covering Climate Now international reporting initiative, joined by more than 100 other news outlets. If you have questions on climate change in Pittsburgh, email halle@publicsource.org.

Know more than you did before? Support this work with a MATCHED gift!

Through Dec. 31, the Wyncote Foundation, Loud Hound Foundation and our generous local match pool supporters will match your new monthly donation 12 times or double your one-time gift, all up to $1,000. Now that's good news!

Readers tell us they can't find the information they get from our reporting anywhere else, and we're proud to provide this important service for our community. We work hard to produce accurate, timely, impactful journalism without paywalls that keeps our region informed and moving forward.

However, only about .1% of the people who read our stories contribute to our work financially. Our newsroom depends on the generosity of readers like yourself to make our high-quality local journalism possible, and the costs of the resources it takes to produce it have been rising, so each member means a lot to us.

Your MATCHED donation to our nonprofit newsroom helps ensure everyone in Allegheny County can stay up-to-date about decisions and events that affect them. Please make your gift of support now.

Varshini Chellapilla is a summer editorial intern with PublicSource. She is a student pursuing journalism at the Pennsylvania State University. She worked as a features/investigations reporter for The...