The CSPA Q&A: State Sen. Carolyn Comitta

The Environmental Resources and Energy Committee minority chair spoke with City & State ahead of this month’s Energy Summit

State Sen. Carolyn Comitta

State Sen. Carolyn Comitta Senate Democratic Caucus

A year ago, state Sen. Carolyn Comitta was elected as 2023-24 co-chair for the bicameral, bipartisan Pennsylvania Legislative Climate Caucus – but her work as an environmental champion began long before that. Comitta, originally an educator and a former West Chester mayor, is also minority chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, where she has worked with colleagues to support legislation such as the Clean Streams bill. 

Comitta continues to convene conversations with colleagues and constituents about the salient energy- and environment-related issues facing the commonwealth today, gaining input from industry and non-governmental organization stakeholders along the way. In advance of her appearance at the 2024 City & State Energy Summit, Comitta spoke with City & State to preview what lies ahead for the commonwealth as it navigates a complex landscape of energy production and use.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

In your view, what are the biggest issues around energy across the state today?

Pennsylvania is producing 1% of the planet’s carbon emissions, which is more than many countries in the world. We have been a major energy producer and exporter for generations; now we are facing a climate crisis, and we have a responsibility and a role to play that is very important. That is why I focus on issues like: How can we help reduce carbon emissions in Pennsylvania? I believe that Pennsylvania should be and can be a national and global leader in the clean energy transition.

What successes have you seen in that transition at this point, especially as related to economic development?

Working together with our friends in labor unions, working with chambers of commerce, environmental justice communities – everybody’s sort of putting their heads together working in a multi-stakeholder way around the clean energy transition in jobs. As one of my friends in the labor sector said, “We just want to build things, so give us something to build.” 

So this is an exciting time, but also a challenging time. There are some concerns about where we’re headed, where the jobs are: “What’s it gonna look like for me? What new training might I need?” and so on. We’re at the beginning, we’re on the brink of a huge transition on the planet, and Pennsylvania’s right in the heart of it. 

We’re trying to all work together to make sure that we don’t leave anybody behind. Their skills and their livelihoods are crucial for our local communities and for the economy of Pennsylvania. We must focus on education, re-training and celebrating the skills of our vast and very capable workforce. 

Is the conversation about training and retraining the main concern you’re hearing from stakeholders and constituents? 

Certainly from the perspective of workers who have been in the energy industry for a long time, that is the No. 1 concern. But I also hear, across the board, people are aware of and concerned about fossil fuel emissions. People are concerned about making sure that we are cleaning the air and protecting people’s health. 

If you look at certain communities around the country, what we now call environmental justice communities – the people who live and work there are being disproportionately impacted by air pollution, water pollution and negative impacts on quality of life. The people in these communities have been largely ignored – their voices, their health and their concerns. And now we are lifting their concerns and we’re putting it at the center of decisions about energy production industries that affect them. 

Looking ahead to the summit, what are you hoping to bring to the conversation? 

I’m looking forward to sharing things I am talking with you about today: my passion and deep sense of responsibility for reducing carbon emissions to improve public health and quality of life for this generation and the next. 

It’s about taking action and working together with people coming from different aspects, like we will at this summit. It’s going to be a tough time and a tough transition in our lives. It’s daunting; it can be very discouraging and upsetting. But it also is causing people to pay attention, to take action, to generate momentum in a new direction. We probably need to be moving a lot more quickly than we are. But we’re moving. And I’m gonna do everything I can to keep it moving as quickly as possible toward that clean energy future.

City & State’s Energy Summit takes place April 16 at the Hilton Harrisburg. For more information, including tickets, click here.