This past Monday, I had the opportunity to see firsthand the positive influence of clean energy jobs in Pennsylvania. Visiting the Exelon-Conergy Solar Energy Center, I toured one of the largest solar electricity generation plants in the country. I am pleased that this company chose to locate in Bucks County, and I am hopeful that more companies will follow this example.
Exelon-Conergy Solar Energy Center, located on a tract of land adjacent to Waste Management's GROWS landfill, can produce enough energy to power 500 homes in Pennsylvania. Clean energy jobs are not a hazy concept of the future -- in Bucks County, and across the Commonwealth, these jobs are already providing paychecks to American workers, re-energizing the manufacturing sector, and transforming the economy. I will continue to support clean energy job creation in the Senate to ensure that many more Pennsylvanians have the same opportunity.
Last week, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) reported that at a natural gas drilling site in Susquehanna County, a pipe transporting between 6,000 and 8,000 gallons of fracturing fluid leaked and the fluid spilled into the ground and a neighboring wetland. At this time, information regarding the contents of the fluid has not been released to the Pennsylvania DEP. Without this information, the DEP and community members have no idea what has seeped into the watershed.
Natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale region is a major issue for many towns and communities throughout Pennsylvania. The opportunity to drill for our own natural resources has led to job creation, strengthened our state economy and reduced our dependence on foreign oil. However, despite its many benefits, natural gas drilling presents a concern for the people living near these drilling sites. Hydraulic fracturing involves the use of toxic chemicals that are injected underground, sometimes directly into underground sources of drinking water. It is a highly variable and unpredictable process that can lead to unintended consequences and is linked to contamination of drinking water.
I believe it is important that we enact legislation to protect the health and safety of Pennsylvanians as we further develop this natural resource. For this reason, I have introduced the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act that requires chemicals and additives used in hydraulic fracturing be reported to Environmental Protection Agency or appropriate state agencies for public disclosure. The FRAC Act also requires that companies disclose detailed information about chemical usage to medical professionals in the event of a medical emergency. To be clear, I do not oppose natural gas drilling, I only seek to ensure that these operations do not endanger the people of Pennsylvania.
Today I attended a rally for comprehensive health care reform with fellow Senators Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. We were joined by five college basketball coaches from around the country, including Coach Ed DeChellis from Penn State University. The coaches are visiting Washington with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network to emphasize that comprehensive health care reform giving all Americans access to adequate, affordable health care must be passed NOW, not later. The consumer protections included in our discussions of health care reform are critically important for cancer patients: removing annual or lifetime caps on coverage; prohibiting insurance companies from watering down or cancelling coverage when someone gets sick; and prohibiting insurers from discriminating against individuals with preexisting health conditions (such as a previous cancer diagnosis) by denying them coverage or charging them more.
I would like to take a moment and share with you how glad I am that a forum on Clean Energy Jobs in Pennsylvania happened today. This was a great opportunity for different groups to discuss the future of Clean Energy Jobs in our state.
As global climate change legislation is debated in the Senate, I am dedicated to ensuring that Pennsylvania workers are protected while new jobs are being created. In my remarks this morning, I mentioned how exciting it is to be part of a state that is moving towards advancements in technology that allow us to be the frontrunner in Clean Energy Job creation. A June 2009 report from The Pew Charitable Trust ranked Pennsylvania third in the nation for jobs related to clean energy. In 2007, Pennsylvania boasted over 10,000 Clean Energy Jobs and another 25,000 jobs in conservation and pollution mitigation technology. Companies such as Aztec Solar Power, Flabeg, and Gamesa are adding jobs in the solar and wind industries to Pennsylvania and leading the change towards growth in clean energy jobs.
I am steadfastly committed to ensure that we can bring new manufacturing jobs and new technologies to Pennsylvania and end the decades’ old habit of shipping jobs across seas. Through clean energy jobs we can strengthen Pennsylvania’s economy and move towards a “greener” tomorrow. If you would like to hear my comments on this morning’s forum, please view my video message to the Pennsylvania Clean Energy Economy Forum.
Did you know that health insurance companies can discriminate against you because of a pre-existing condition like diabetes or high blood pressure? It's one of the biggest problems people in Pennsylvania and many other states encounter and that prevents them from getting health insurance. This article in the New York Times illustrates the devastating effect this discrimination can have. We need to pass legislation that says that a pre-existing condition will not prevent you, your son, daughter, spouse, or loved one from getting the care you deserve. That is included in the healthcare bill reported out of my committee, the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
Nine percent of Pennsylvanians have diabetes, and 28% have high blood pressure. Under current law, a health insurance company can deny you coverage or charge you more if you are one of the millions of Pennsylvanians with one of these conditions, or refuse to cover any treatment related to the condition. A 2007 survey by The Commonwealth Fund found that 36% of individuals who had looked at individual health insurance policies in the last 3 years were discriminated against because of their health history.
Health care reform would open new doors for those who have been discriminated against because of their health status. The language in the Affordable Health Choices Act is simple: "A group health plan and a health insurance issuer offering group or individual health insurance coverage may not impose any preexisting condition exclusion with respect to such plan or coverage." (Sec. 2705)
In addition to ending discrimination based on health status, health insurance companies will also be prohibited from dropping or watering down insurance coverage for people who become seriously ill; charging you more because of your gender; or placing an annual or lifetime cap on the coverage your receive. These consumer protections are an essential component of health care reform in the Affordable Health Choices Act.