Rose Strauss made headlines earlier this month when she asked Pennsylvania GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner if his claim that climate change is caused by “body heat” has anything to do with the $200,000 he took in campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry. Today, she tried to ask Wagner’s opponent, Democratic incumbent Tom Wolf, the same question, but he ignored her and kept walking. “I felt like I did when Scott Wagner called me ‘young and naïve’,” said Strauss.
The encounter took place as Governor Wolf arrived for an event at Cheney University in Delaware County, a campus located less than a mile from the right-of-way of Energy Transfer Partners’ controversial Mariner East 2 pipeline. Construction of the pipeline has contaminated private water supplies, punctured an aquifer, and caused sinkholes to open in backyards in Chester County. On Friday, the company filed a motion that led to the arrest of a retired special education teacher who has tried to protect her land in Huntingdon County from the pipeline. Local opponents of the pipeline joined Strauss and fellow members of the Sunrise Movement of young people fighting climate change.
Among them was Eric Friedman, a spokesman for Del-Chesco United for Public Safety. He captured Strauss’ attempt to elicit a response from Wolf on Facebook live. “Gov. Wolf finally came to Thornbury Township, Delaware County,” said Friedman. “Some ‘young and naïve voters’ tried to ask him some questions about the amount of money he's taken from oil and gas interests, and about his shameless attempts to co-opt their message. Today, Gov. Wolf chose to ignore the presence of these young people. He does so at his own electoral peril.”
The Wolf campaign had wasted no time capitalizing on Wagner’s comment and even created a limited edition “Young and Naïve Voter” sticker. A photo on Twitter shows John Fetterman, his Lt. Governor running mate, presenting him with a t-shirt with the same slogan. Wolf’s cynical use of Wagner’s comment is one of the reasons Strauss felt it was important to confront Wolf. Another is the fact that he has not taken the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge and has, in fact, accepted nearly $259,000 in contributions from the oil and gas industry, including $5,000 from Energy Transfer Partners, according to Follow the Money.
The Sunrise Movement has been calling on candidates in federal, state, and local races across the country to take the pledge neither Wagner nor Wolf has taken. To date, 835 candidates have taken the pledge, nearly 100 Pennsylvania candidates among them. Paul Glover, the Green Party’s gubernatorial candidate has taken the pledge.
Strauss cites polling released by Franklin & Marshall College in March that indicates that two-thirds of Pennsylvania voters are concerned about climate change. In that same poll, 69% said they wanted to see energy policies that prioritized renewables over fossil fuels. After a summer of weather extremes that have made climate change hard to ignore, those numbers may be even higher. If Wolf believes jumping on Wagner’s insulting response without addressing the substance behind the question that prompted it will satisfy concerned voters, maybe he’s the naïve one.
Melissa DiBernardino, a Chester County opponent of Mariner East 2 who witnessed Wolf’s dismissal of Strauss, put it this way, “Today I watched our governor walk by as his constituents cried out to the man who could help. He glanced up once and kept walking with his head down. I am heartbroken to have what seems like confirmation that he truly doesn’t care about us...about my children...about Pennsylvania.”