State Rep. Donna Oberlander (R-Clarion, Armstrong, Forest) takes note of Europe’s anxious international appeal for coal for power generation. The region’s costly attempt to shift to “green” energy has failed, and the Europeans are facing a crisis as Russia is shutting off their primary fuel source: natural gas.
Oberlander has one of Pennsylvania’s last remaining coal-fired plants in her district, Keystone in Armstrong County. Seeing both the high-paying jobs Keystone generates and the failed promises of green energy, she is emphatically opposed to Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed membership in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which would almost certainly shut down all the remaining coal plants in the Commonwealth.
“I hate, just hate it,” she said referring to RGGI. “We’re talking 10,000 jobs lost. And protecting and helping create jobs is one of the things I’m most passionate about.”
The Republican Caucus Whip, responsible for keeping abreast of her colleagues’ views on issues before the House, has impeccable business credentials: she owned and operated a small business and worked for four years at the Clarion County Economic Development Corporation, at one time as business outreach manager. She co-chairs the House Manufacturing Caucus.
“I never cease to be amazed out the diversity of businesses out there,” she said. “And I’ve learned so much about what they need and what they don’t need.”
She has a solid manufacturing base in her district, including manufactured housing, flooring, and a Smucker’s peanut butter plant in New Bethlehem.
She’s pleased by the start of a phase-down for the Pennsylvania’s Corporate Net Income Tax rate. Beginning January 1, 2023, the tax rate will decrease one percentage point to 8.99 percent. Each year thereafter, the rate is scheduled to decrease 0.5 percentage points until it reaches 4.99 percent at the beginning of 2031.
More needs to be done, especially on the regulatory front, Oberlander says. Supply chain and labor shortages have made the need for reform even more critical.
“We could cut back on the red tape and still protect the environment,” she said.
Last May, the house passed legislation by Rep. Kate Klunk (R-York) to create the Office of the Repealer. This legislation would review the relevancy of more than 153,000 regulations currently on the books. The measure was initially taken up by former state representative, and now state senator, Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York.) This bill and other regulatory reform measures await action.
To date, six of Oberlander’s bills have been signed into law, including Act 25 of 2021, which exempts large data centers from the sales and use tax for the purchase of large-scale equipment. This pro-jobs measure will put the Commonwealth’s data center industry first in the nation by leveling the competitive playing field with neighboring states.
“Virginia was eating our lunch attracting these companies,” she said. “And these are great business that don’t demand much from the community.”
Another pro-business bill of hers recently passed the House; it would establish the framework for legalizing and regulating driverless vehicles in the state.
“We have the brains at Pitt (University of Pittsburgh) and CMU (Carnegie Mellon University), and we are off to a good start, but we need to take the next step,” she said. “We’re in danger of losing our advantage to other states.”
Pittsburgh is a national hub for self-driving technology, notes Governing magazine, with companies already investing billions into development. Driverless vehicles are expected to become a $1 trillion industry by 2025-26. The industry is already estimated to have created 6,300 jobs in southwestern Pennsylvania and $651 million in labor income.
One of her other passions is health care. Last session, she sponsored Act 7 of 2020, which requires the Pennsylvania Department of Health to regulate milk banks, which are entities that gather, process, and distribute mothers’ milk for medically fragile newborns. She also chairs the House Diabetes Caucus.
Oberlander has earned an impressive list of awards over her fourteen years as a state lawmaker, including: being named the 2019 Legislator Leader by the Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts Inc; the Robert C. Keaton Government Leader Award by the Pennsylvania Defense Institute; and a Recovery Champion by the Armstrong-Indiana-Clarion Drug and Alcohol Commission.
Oberland and her husband, Derek, a United States Marine Corps veteran, have two children, Tori and Tanner.
The 63rd Legislative District includes all of Clarion County and the Armstrong County communities of Bradys Bend, Cowanshannock, Hovey, Madison, Mahoning, Perry, Pine, Plumcreek, Redbank, Sugarcreek, Washington and Wayne townships and Atwood, Dayton, Elderton, Rural Valley and South Bethlehem boroughs, as well as Parker City, along with Jenks and Barnett townships in Forest County.