Published on May 1st, 2019 | by Tina Casey0
Keystone State Goes Full Climate Change With New Action Plan
May 1st, 2019 by Tina Casey
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that climate change is happening. Well, universally enough. Or at least, the tide is beginning to turn. In the latest climate action development, the great state of Pennsylvania has just cast off the fossil fuel mantle of the past and taken up the sparkling green sword of the future, by signing on to the US Climate Alliance, which now counts 23 states and Puerto Rico among its members.
That’s significant, because Pennsylvania is one of the nation’s top five coal-producing states and so far it is the only one to join the Climate Alliance. Aside from Virginia, it is also the only state from the iconic coal producing region of Appalachia to join the Alliance. I know, right? Shocker!
Who’s Gonna Clean Up This Mess?
Like other fossil fuel producing states, Pennsylvania has a mixed relationship with coal, oil, and gas. There’s the Centralia coal mine fire, of course, which drove an entire town off the map. The fire started in 1962 and is expected to keep burning well into the next century.
Pennsylvania is also ground zero in the fracking boom. Researchers in the state are finding all kinds of public health impacts too numerous to mention here, so we won’t go into that right now.
Elections Have Consequences: Climate Change Edition
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf began tightening up state regulations that cover oil and gas fracking when he took office in 2018, but the pace of change wasn’t fast enough for environmental advocates. As of last May, they were stilling hammering away at him to pick it up.
Apparently Wolf was playing his cards close to his vest in the runup to the 2018 election cycle. He won a second term last November, which instantly made him a lame duck with a safe seat for the next four years (Pennsylvania governors are term-limited, so Wolf’s second term is his last).
What a difference that made. Along with hitching Pennsylvania to the US Climate Alliance earlier this week, Wolf also released the new Pennsylvania Climate Action Plan and affirmed the state’s commitment to the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.
So, What’s In This New Climate Change Plan?
Before you break out the bubbly, it’s going to take a while before Pennsylvania can do something about methane emissions related to the fracking boom.
The Action Plan calls upon greenhouse gas emitters to voluntarily join a greenhouse gas registry to track their emissions. Good luck with that!
That’s just one symptom of a broader problem. The real problem is that Democratic Governor Wolf has one or two hands tied behind his back, because the state legislature is under Republican control.
Although Pennsylvania voters in the state are coming over to the climate action side, the partisan breakdown makes it less likely that Republican state legislators have any motivation to push new climate legislation with any urgency, if at all.
On the other hand, this morning — practically as we speak — the state Senate Majority Policy Committee is holding a “public workshop” on the impacts of climate change in Pennsylvania.
Sure, Let’s Hear From Both Sides About Climate Change
Don’t get your hopes up, though. Committee Chairman Senator David G. Argall had this to say in anticipation of the workshop:
“I look forward to hearing the perspectives of experts on both sides of this issue. The results should serve as a guide for members of the General Assembly in determining what actions, if any, are necessary to address this issue.”
Both sides! The state’s own Department of Environmental Protection has compiled quite a bit of information on climate impacts in Pennsylvania, so it’s not clear what the other side will bring to the table.
The speakers’ list is not online as of this writing, so CleanTechnica will reach out to science stakeholders after “both sides” get their airing. Stay tuned for more on that!
Nevertheless, They Persisted
Even without a helping hand from the state legislature, the Governor’s office is pretty optimistic that Pennsylvania can accelerate its energy transition.
In a press release on Monday, Wolf’s office outlined a strategy to focus on high impact actions. The idea is to zero in on the top 15 out of the 100-plus actions described in the plan:
…The analysis showed that just those 15 actions, such as increasing renewable energy, incentivizing energy efficient buildings, and increasing the use of electric vehicles, would reduce emissions 21 percent by 2025.
That’s all well and good, but the devil is in the details — or in the ballot box, as the case may be.
Some of the Plan’s 15 high impact “leadership actions” can move forward without support for state legislators, but check out this list and see where the monkey wrenches can be thrown:
1. Update building codes
2. Increase adoption of energy efficiency, and expand Act 129 (a 2008 state law covering energy efficiency and conservation by the state’s largest electricity distributors)
3. Create an Act129-like conservation and efficiency program for natural gas
4. Expand energy assessments and provide more trainings on energy efficiency for industry
5. Reduce vehicle miles traveled for single-occupancy vehicles
6. Implement a strategic plan and incentives for increasing electric vehicle use
7. Increase the use of clean public transportation through electric municipal bus fleets
8. Invest in and promote building-scale solar
9. Incentivize and increase use of combined heat and power (CHP)
10. Increase Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS) Tier1 targets, and further increase in-state generation and use of renewables
11. Implement policy to maintain nuclear generation at current levels
12. Limit carbon emissions through an electricity sector cap and trade program
13. Implement policies and practices to reduce methane emissions across oil and natural gas systems
14. Increase recovery and use of gas from coal mines, agriculture, wastewater, and landfills for energy
15. Increase adoption rate of and provide training for no-till farming practices
Got all that? Anyways, it’s the thought that counts! If you have any thoughts about the Action Plan, drop us a note in the comment thread.
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Image: Climate Action Plan via PA DEP.