Marian Keegan: forester, scientist running for state office

By OWEN WALSH
Posted 9/23/20

HONESDALE, PA — With a platform centered around environmental issues and inequity, Democratic nominee for PA’s 139th legislative district Marian Keegan is hoping to bring a …

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Marian Keegan: forester, scientist running for state office

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HONESDALE, PA — With a platform centered around environmental issues and inequity, Democratic nominee for PA’s 139th legislative district Marian Keegan is hoping to bring a scientists’ perspective to Harrisburg.

The district, represented by Republican Mike Peifer since 2007, covers parts of Wayne and Pike counties and has been represented by Republicans for decades.

Keegan is a forester and scientist who has always “had a curiosity” about the life sciences in particular. With degrees in biology, forestry and general science, she’s had a long career in a variety of fields. She helped contribute to the basic research on molecular genetics which led to the creation of over-the-counter pregnancy tests. She then moved on to work for timber companies and with landowners in North Carolina as a forester. Later, her work brought her to Pittsburgh where she did research on glyphosate—an herbicide known commercially as Roundup. Keegan was then hired by the U.S. Forest Service and represented the public in negotiations with logging companies.

“I like to describe my experience there as the only thing between the logger and the big timber,” she said. “I got a lot of negotiation skills and [knowledge about] how to protect resources using a contract while also keeping production moving forward.”

Her continued forestry work eventually brought her to Hemlock Farms in Pike County, where she’s worked as the director of community conservation the past 17 years. One of the first and most severe issues she addressed in that time was a “superabundant” population of deer.

“The first time I drove into Hemlock Farms—oh my gosh—there were deer everywhere, and they were not healthy deer. They were tiny, malnourished deer with deformities,” she said. She developed a deer-removal plan, working with USDA to control the population size and donating the resulting venison to local food banks. Keegan said that since 2005, support for the operation has grown and they’ve been able to provide about 18 tons of meat to hungry families.

“The best part is the vegetation in Hemlock Farms just started to come back... like gangbusters,” she said. “It’s been a real success story.”

Keegan said that somebody with experience in the sciences making decisions in Harrisburg would benefit the residents, especially now when she’s “very concerned about the direction our governments are going.”

One of Keegan’s top concerns is keeping fracking out of the area for good. She said she’s concerned about fracking’s effect on drinking water, breaking up the landscape which would “change the character of this area” and the acceleration of climate change.

“The fracking industry moved into the state of Pennsylvania without the proper laws and regulations in place, and then the GOP legislature further wrote the protections by decimating the Department of Environmental Protection and the regulators; so we’re at risk,” Keegan said. “Our drinking water... is too important—it impacts too many people—to allow fracking to happen in the Delaware River Basin.”

The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) has temporarily banned fracking in the basin; Keegan said she supports a permanent ban.

An even more timely issue facing the DRBC right now is the construction of a liquefied natural gas terminal in New Jersey—something opposed by environmental groups and challenged legally by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. Keegan said building the terminal would be a step in the wrong direction.

“What we have to do is transition [fossil fuel-based] jobs into clean, renewable energy jobs,” Keegan said. “When we keep adding markets, outlets for these markets, for the fossil fuels... that’s pushing clean, renewable energy to the backburner.”

Environmental issues aren’t the only ones Keegan is running on, however. She also named health care—specifically a woman’s right to make decisions about her health care—as a top concern. She also wants to work on changing health care infrastructure at a local level, improving ambulance efficiency through changes to municipal codes and addressing the fact that Pike County doesn’t have a hospital or even a health department. She also noted infrastructural issues in Wayne County: the infamously poor condition of many roads and bridges and the lack of access to broadband.

If elected, Keegan would also like to contribute toward reevaluating the state school-funding formula, which she said is currently a source of inequity across PA.

On a broader scale, Keegan said that she wants to represent groups that routinely face inequality in Pennsylvania, specifically naming the voices of the Black Lives Matter movement and the LBGT communities.

“[These communities] need their options, their choices, their lifestyles protected by our state legislature,” Keegan said. “The GOP-led legislature is often mired in prejudicial thinking that does not provide equal protection for all.”

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