Ex­perts: Pa. lag­ging, not lead­ing

Gridlock in Leg­is­la­ture in­hibits ac­tion, en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cates point out

The Morning Call - - FRONT PAGE - By Justine McDaniel

As the fed­eral gov­ern­ment un­der Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has worked to roll back en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions and in­di­vid­ual states have taken dra­matic steps to com­bat cli­mate change, Penn­syl­va­nia this year un­veiled a sweep­ing plan to re­duce the state’s car­bon foot­print.

For the first time, the state has a goal for cut­ting green­house gas emis­sions by 2025 and 2050. The plan the Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion pro­posed in April rec­om­mends poli­cies and ini­tia­tives touch­ing nearly every sec­tor, from en­ergy to trans­porta­tion to agri­cul­ture and be­yond. Gov. Tom Wolf says Penn­syl­va­nia is mak­ing progress.

But what’s miss­ing, ad­vo­cates say, is ac­tion. Only a hand­ful of poli­cies have been im­ple­mented, and most of the rec­om­men­da­tions remain just that.

“It is un­doubt­edly a dire sit­u­a­tion, which our Leg­is­la­ture and gov­er­nor are not re­act­ing to with suf­fi­cient ur­gency,” said Rep. Greg Vi­tali, D-Delaware, the mi­nor­ity chair of the House En­vi­ron­men­tal Re­sources and En­ergy Com­mit­tee.

Thanks to the en­ergy pro­duc­tion industry, car­bon emis­sions from the Key­stone State make up about one half of 1% of all car­bon emit­ted glob­ally —

more than the vast ma­jor­ity of places on earth, said Tom Richard, di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tutes of En­ergy and the En­vi­ron­ment at Penn State. That’s even af­ter emis­sions fell in re­cent years, and the state pro­jects they will not fall much fur­ther with­out ag­gres­sive ac­tion.

New Jersey, New York, California and Wash­ing­ton are among the states that have en­acted ma­jor poli­cies to bring car­bon emis­sions down, work­ing in line with in­ter­na­tional goals. But Penn­syl­va­nia — with a po­lit­i­cally di­vided state gov­ern­ment that has passed fewer and fewer new laws in re­cent years — has strag­gled be­hind that club of fastest-ad­vanc­ing states.

“Right now, the truth is, Penn­syl­va­nia’s a lag­ger. It’s not a leader,” said John Hanger, the DEP sec­re­tary dur­ing Gov. Ed Ren­dell’s ad­min­is­tra­tion who later served as Wolf’s pol­icy di­rec­tor. “Could it be a leader? Yes. Should it be a leader? Yes. But what would be re­quired to move from lag­ger to leader? Co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the gov­er­nor and the Leg­is­la­ture, and some bi­par­ti­san­ship.”

‘Turn­ing the air­craft car­rier’

The planet is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a rapid warm­ing caused by high lev­els of green­house gases spew­ing into the at­mos­phere from the burn­ing of fos­sil fuels, like coal and oil, to gen­er­ate en­ergy. The warm­ing — Penn­syl­va­nia it­self has al­ready warmed 1 de­gree Cel­sius, ac­cord­ing to sci­en­tific re­search — has set off dire en­vi­ron­men­tal con­se­quences.

Sci­en­tists pre­dict food short­ages, wild­fires, coast­line de­struc­tion, in­ten­si­fied droughts, and wors­en­ing poverty as soon as 2040 un­less global emis­sions are re­duced. Penn­syl­va­nia has al­ready seen more rain­fall, higher flood risk and warmer win­ters, said Richard.

Wolf and his of­fi­cials say the state has made gains on is­sues in­clud­ing solar power, en­ergy ef­fi­ciency and elec­tric ve­hi­cles. On Tues­day, Wolf pledged by the end of the year to move for­ward tighter reg­u­la­tions of meth­ane emis­sions from gas wells.

Or­ches­trat­ing a statewide re­sponse to cli­mate change is like “turn­ing the air­craft car­rier,” but the state is mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion, said cur­rent DEP Sec­re­tary Pa­trick McDon­nell.

“Gov. Wolf has noted re­peat­edly that cli­mate change is the most sig­nif­i­cant en­vi­ron­men­tal threat fac­ing the world, and we are tak­ing steps across state gov­ern­ment com­men­su­rate with that level of ur­gency,” said J.J. Ab­bott, a spokesper­son for the gov­er­nor.

In Jan­uary, Wolf is­sued an ex­ec­u­tive or­der set­ting cli­mate goals and es­tab­lish­ing a coun­cil for im­prov­ing the state gov­ern­ment’s car­bon foot­print. The state es­ti­mates that many strate­gies in its Cli­mate Ac­tion Plan would save money while others re­quire “sig­nif­i­cant” spend­ing but would have long-term ben­e­fits. Re­duc­ing emis­sions could also cre­ate 40,000 jobs and grow the state’s econ­omy by $4 bil­lion, ac­cord­ing to the state’s re­port.

But with a Repub­li­can-ma­jor­ity Leg­is­la­ture, a Demo­cratic gov­er­nor, and a lack of bi­par­ti­san agree­ment, the plan is far from re­al­ity.

The DEP’s Cli­mate Ac­tion Plan “does lay out some paths for­ward, but I don’t know that it gets us any­where near where we need to be,” said Joe Minott, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Clean Air Coun­cil, a Philadel­phia ad­vo­cacy group. “We’re not see­ing the type of ac­tion that I think we would want to see from the gov­er­nor.”

State ac­tion on cli­mate change is crit­i­cal not only be­cause the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has aban­doned the is­sue but be­cause state and local gov­ern­ments have author­ity over pub­lic util­i­ties, land use, tran­sit and more, said Vicki Ar­royo, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Ge­orge­town Cli­mate Cen­ter, which works with states on cli­mate pol­icy.

“Where the rub­ber hits the road is once you’ve made these com­mit­ments, how do you ac­tu­ally take the steps to re­duce your emis­sions in line with those com­mit­ments?” Ar­royo said.

New Jersey en­dured a sim­i­lar par­ti­san stale­mate on cli­mat­e­change poli­cies be­tween the Demo­cratic-led Leg­is­la­ture and Repub­li­can Gov. Chris Christie dur­ing his ten­ure. Since the elec­tion of Gov. Phil Mur­phy, a Demo­crat, the state has moved to re­join the Re­gional Green­house Gas Ini­tia­tive and has passed leg­is­la­tion mov­ing to­ward its 2050 re­duc­tion goal. Mary­land passed a re­new­able en­ergy bill with a Demo­cratic Leg­is­la­ture and Repub­li­can gov­er­nor. But in Ore­gon, the Demo­cratic gov­er­nor’s at­tempt at pass­ing a cli­mate-change bill in June was stymied by Repub­li­can law­mak­ers flee­ing the state to pre­vent a vote.

New York’s Leg­is­la­ture this year passed one of the most ag­gres­sive plans in the world. And California has been a na­tional pioneer in cli­mate-change pol­icy, meet­ing its 2020 emis­sions goals four years early. The state has also reg­u­larly sparred with Trump; on Wed­nes­day, the pres­i­dent said he was re­vok­ing the author­ity that has al­lowed California to have stricter au­topol­lu­tion reg­u­la­tions.

‘Ex­is­ten­tial threat’

Nine of Penn­syl­va­nia’s North­east­ern neigh­bors are cut­ting green­house gas emis­sions through the Re­gional Green­house Gas Ini­tia­tive. Wolf be­lieves it would be “ideal” for Penn­syl­va­nia to join RGGI, but is wait­ing to hear whether the Leg­is­la­ture wants to col­lab­o­rate be­fore ex­am­in­ing other op­tions, his spokesper­son said.

Democrats said the chance of pass­ing cli­mate-re­lated bills in Penn­syl­va­nia be­fore the twoyear Leg­is­la­ture term ends in late 2020 is slight. “There’s no sign that Repub­li­can lead­ers have any in­ter­est,” said House Demo­cratic cau­cus spokesper­son Bill Pat­ton.

A spokesper­son for the House Repub­li­can cau­cus said ma­jor­ity law­mak­ers are fo­cused on a pack­age of bills, dubbed En­er­gize PA, that aim to ex­pand nat­u­ral gas in­fra­struc­ture, which has helped Penn­syl­va­nia re­duce emis­sions by re­plac­ing less­clean coal — but did not say the party plans to move any other en­vi­ron­men­tal mea­sures.

“We be­lieve the re­spon­si­ble ex­pan­sion of nat­u­ral gas en­ergy pro­duc­tion is key to con­tin­u­ing to re­duce CO2 emis­sions in Penn­syl­va­nia,” said Mike Straub, the cau­cus’ spokesper­son, adding that other zero-car­bon meth­ods such as nu­clear power should also be used.

En­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cates say that be­cause gas-pow­ered en­ergy pro­duc­tion still emits car­bon, it isn’t a good way to re­duce car­bon emis­sions. Demo­cratic law­mak­ers want to pass a bill ex­pand­ing re­new­able en­ergy.

McDon­nell, the head of the DEP, said the state should pick up its pace but said he be­lieves it is “ab­so­lutely” pos­si­ble for Penn­syl­va­nia to reach its emis­sions re­duc­tion goal. “We pro­duce en­ergy, that’s what we do. So be­ing able to fig­ure out how we do that in a way that re­duces that cli­mate foot­print is a chal­lenge we be­lieve we’re up to,” he said.

Among the steps Penn­syl­va­nia has taken are up­dat­ing build­ing codes, which is pro­jected to save 25% in en­ergy us­age and costs; in­stalling elec­tric car charg­ing sta­tions at state parks, and pro­mot­ing the state’s elec­tric car re­bate pro­gram; fund­ing new solar pro­jects and im­ple­ment­ing poli­cies to in­crease solar en­ergy gen­er­ated here; and plan­ning some clean en­ergy trans­porta­tion pro­jects, ac­cord­ing to the gov­er­nor’s of­fice.

“It’s not a par­ti­san is­sue,” said Penn­syl­va­nia At­tor­ney Gen­eral Josh Shapiro, who with other at­tor­neys gen­eral has sued the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency var­i­ous times over loos­en­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions. “It is an ex­is­ten­tial threat that is some­thing we have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to deal with right now.”

ROBERT NICKELSBER­G/GETTY IMAGES

As a re­sult of the en­ergy pro­duc­tion industry, car­bon emis­sions from the Key­stone State make up about one half of 1% of all car­bon emit­ted glob­ally.

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