News & Politics

Here’s how Pennsylvania is responding to the Russian invasion of Ukraine

Pennsylvania Treasurer Stacy Garrity speaks at a press conference

Pennsylvania Treasurer Stacy Garrity speaks at a press conference Commonwealth Media Services

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted widespread condemnation across the globe, and to date, the U.S. has levied a range of penalties on Russian banksoligarchs and media entities in an attempt to weaken the Russian government and cut off the country from international financial resources.

State-level actions may not have the impact national and international penalties do, but that hasn’t stopped Pennsylvania officials from taking action to limit the state’s financial dealings with Russia and show support for the Ukrainian people. 

Below is a roundup of the major actions Pennsylvania officials have taken in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine thus far. 

Pennsylvania has divested itself of Russian financial investments.

Perhaps the most significant effort the state has taken so far to respond to Russia’s military aggression is to divest itself of Russian and Russian-affiliated investments. Officials from across the political spectrum – including Gov. Tom Wolf and House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff – supported efforts to divest the state of investments tied to Russia.

Beginning in late February, Pennsylvania Treasurer Stacy Garrity, a Republican, began selling off investments the state had in Russian companies. 

According to Samantha Heckel, a spokesperson for Garrity, the state Treasury had a total of $2.9 million invested in 31 Russian companies. Following the invasion, the Treasury sold its interest in 28 of the companies. Proceeds from the sales were then distributed throughout the state Treasury’s indexed portfolio, Heckel said. 

“The final three securities are American Depositary Receipts (ADRs) which have been halted from trading as part of the sanctions,” Heckel said. “As a result, we won’t be able to divest from those securities unless the trading halt is removed. At the same time, it’s important to note that the sanctions in place prevent the three companies from accessing any of those funds.”

Pennsylvania’s two largest pension funds also took action to sell investments in Russian companies. In an emergency board meeting on March 3, the Public School Employees' Retirement System board voted to authorize the fund’s interim chief investment officer to divest PSERS from investments in Russia and Belarus as quickly as possible.

One day later, the board of the State Employees’ Retirement System, known as SERS, directed staff to divest the pension fund of all Russian-affiliated assets. According to SERS, the fund had roughly $7 million invested in Russian-related investments as of March 3.

Russian products have been pulled from state-owned liquor stores.

One of the first actions state officials took in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine was to pull Russian products off the shelves in state-owned liquor stores. 

In a letter sent to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board on Feb. 27, Wolf asked the board to stop selling Russian-made products at state stores “as a small show of solidarity and support for the people of Ukraine, and an expression of our collective revulsion with the unprovoked actions of the Russian state.”

The PLCB quickly acted on Wolf’s request, announcing later that day that the board was removing all Russian-sourced products from the state’s liquor stores. The move was largely symbolic in nature, as the state’s Fine Wine & Good Spirits Stores only carry two products sourced from Russia – Russian Standard and Ustianochka 80-proof vodkas. The stores also carried roughly a “half-dozen” Russian products that were available through special orders. 

PLCB Chair Tim Holden said the products will no longer be available to consumers. 

“As of today, these products will no longer be sold or procured by the PLCB,” Holden said in a statement. “Given the evolving political-economic climate, it’s just the right thing to do.”

Some legislators want the state to do more.

Not all state lawmakers are satisfied with the state’s response to the ongoing conflict. Many Republicans have pressured the Wolf administration to do more to promote natural gas development in the state, a course of action they say could increase the state’s natural gas exports. 

State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, a Republican who chairs the House Environmental Resources & Energy Committee, sent a letter to the governor this week criticizing Wolf’s approach to regulating fossil fuels. Metcalfe said the state should “make use of our advanced production methods and technologies to provide Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) and other resources to Europe and abroad.”

House State Government Committee Chair Seth Grove, a Republican, announced this week that he is introducing legislation to spur more natural gas development in the state, and said his bill would also remove the state from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multistate effort to regulate carbon emissions from power plants. The legislation would reform the permitting process for natural gas drilling and provide funding for pipeline construction, according to Grove. 

“Now is not the time to hinder our natural gas industry. Rather, we must increase it to further secure our energy sector and decrease, if not zero out completely, America’s reliance on foreign gas,” Grove said in a statement.

Jason Gottesman, a spokesperson for the House Republican Caucus, said that Pennsylvania Democrats were hindering the state’s ability to export energy.

“Pennsylvania has the ability to substantially increase production, get our gas to market, and make our country and our allies more secure by not being reliant on Russian gas,” Gottesman said in a statement. “The only thing we need is for pro-environmental lobby Democrat leaders like President Biden and Gov. Wolf to get out of the way.”