Plan to at­tack cli­mate change in Penn­syl­va­nia

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - — The Pitts­burgh Post-Gazette, The As­so­ci­ated Press

Whether in air, on land, or at sea, the ev­i­dence of cli­mate change is, well, ev­i­dent.

Whether in air, on land, or at sea, the ev­i­dence of cli­mate change is, well, ev­i­dent.

The ris­ing level of the oceans, shrink­ing gla­cial ice caps, de­creas­ing wildlife species, dam­ag­ing storms, scorch­ing heat waves — the im­pacts are un­de­ni­able by any ra­tio­nal stan­dard.

Yet parochial in­ter­ests have been a bar­rier to reach­ing a plan for­ward for the United States and the global com­mu­nity.

Penn­syl­va­nia has the du­bi­ous dis­tinc­tion of be­ing the third-largest emit­ter of car­bon diox­ide in Amer­ica.

Gov. Tom Wolf an­nounced last Tues­day he in­tends to do some­thing about it.

He signed an ex­ec­u­tive or­der set­ting a first-ever statewide goal to slash green­house gas emis­sions: by 26 per­cent by the year 2025 and by 80 per­cent by the year 2050 (com­pared to 2005 lev­els).

A group of some five dozen stake­hold­ers is ready to help him achieve his goals with a mar­ket-driven so­lu­tion that makes sense.

The Clean Air Coun­cil — a coali­tion of busi­nesses and lawyers, min­is­ters and mu­nic­i­pal of­fi­cials — pro­poses to grad­u­ally re­duce to the point of elim­i­na­tion the green­house gases gen­er­ated by the big­gest sources. And they pro­pose to do it within 30 years.

The coun­cil ar­gues that Penn­syl­va­nia is re­quired by its own con­sti­tu­tion as well as its air pol­lu­tion laws to do this. Not ev­ery­one agrees on that le­gal in­ter­pre­ta­tion. But that’s ir­rel­e­vant, es­pe­cially in light of the gover­nor’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der.

The need for a bet­ter en­vi­ron­ment is not de­bat­able.

The Clean Air Coun­cil has a log­i­cal plan and it has been sub­mit­ted by pe­ti­tion to the state De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion, spar­ing the agency the task of craft­ing reg­u­la­tion.

The coun­cil’s plan keys on sup­port for the state’s strug­gling nu­clear plants — “clean” pro­duc­ers of power — and con­tains in­cen­tives for busi­ness to jump on the band­wagon.

A trad­ing mar­ket — known as cap and trade — would help the state’s nu­clear plants keep the lights on and gen­er­ate buy­ing and­selling in pri­vate in­dus­try — al­ways a good thing with side ben­e­fits for the state.

It would work like this: Lim­its (caps) would be set on in­dus­trial plants (power, steel, glass) that gen­er­ate pol­lu­tion. But, plants can buy or sell (trade) emis­sion al­lowances through a gov­ern­ment-op­er­ated auc­tion, which could gen­er­ate a slice of pie for Harrisburg, too.

The Clean Air Coun­cil also has pro­posed ad­di­tional eco­nomic in­cen­tives to re­duce emis­sions or earn more al­lowances that can be sold.

Sounds a lot like cap­i­tal­ism ... and it’s been done be­fore and with suc­cess. Sul­fur diox­ide pol­lu­tion, which causes acid rain, was re­duced by a na­tional cap-and­trade pro­gram in the 1990s.

The green­house cap-and­trade pro­posal put forth now in Penn­syl­va­nia is sim­i­lar to one that has been op­er­at­ing suc­cess­fully in Cal­i­for­nia since 2013.

The cap-and­trade pro­gram be­ing ped­dled in Harrisburg cur­rently calls for al­low­able emis­sions to de­cline by 3 per­cent from 2016 lev­els un­til they reach zero in 2052.

This is more ag­gres­sive than the gover­nor’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der but why not shoot for the stars (through an un­pol­luted sky).

It’s up to Penn­syl­va­nia’s En­vi­ron­men­tal Qual­ity Board, which sets en­vi­ron­men­tal rules and reg­u­la­tions, to em­brace the pro­posal.

The 20-mem­ber board is made up of the lead­ers of nearly a dozen state agen­cies, a cit­i­zens ad­vi­sory coun­cil and four mem­bers of the state Se­nate and House.

Ev­ery­one agrees there is a prob­lem. The gover­nor has made thes­o­lu­tion a pri­or­ity. The Clean Air Coun­cil has come up with a mar­ket-driven way to get from here to there.

The Clean Air Coun­cil pro­poses to re­duce to the point of elim­i­na­tion green­house gases gen­er­ated by the big­gest sources. And they pro­pose to do it within 30 years.

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