Climate action has to be the major benchmark for environmental progress in Pa. | Opinion

February 5, 2019 7:45 am

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By Dan Grossman and Davitt Woodwell

The news on climate change went from bad to worse in the last quarter of 2018.

During that time, and despite inaction on all fronts at the federal level, the biggest story may have been that science and defense agencies weighed in with their Fourth National Climate Assessment in which the Department of Defense estimated that we can expect “substantial damages on the U.S. economy, human health and the environment” if we do not mitigate the harmful impacts of greenhouse gas emissions.

But if there is good news, it is that states are increasingly rising to the challenge and that Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf is listening and has committed to move forward to achieve real reductions in climate pollution. Pennsylvanians, including many in the environmental community, support strong action to ensure that the Commonwealth meets these commitments to reduce methane and carbon pollution.

The Keystone State is a major part of the climate problem. Nationally, Pennsylvania is the third largest emitter of greenhouse gas pollution. However, regulatory limits on carbon pollution from the state’s power sector are non-existent: Pennsylvania is the only state from Maine to Virginia without a limit on carbon pollution from its power plants – or a concrete plan to put limits in place.

Another major source of emissions is the state’s oil and gas industry which, based on Environmental Defense Fund estimates, has fugitive emissions of methane (essentially natural gas itself) that are five times higher than what is being reported by industry.

Both power plant and methane emissions are key drivers of climate change. Because of this, the need for real action is now.

So where do we go from here?

Common-sense, market-driven solutions exist and need to be acted on immediately. Our path forward has to acknowledge the need for deep decarbonization in Pennsylvania, while spurring innovation, driving deployment of clean energy technologies, and understanding consumers’ needs.

Working toward eliminating climate pollution by mid-century is not only an environmental issue, it is a jobs issue, an economic issue, and an energy security issue. A zero-carbon energy future will allow Pennsylvania, and the U.S., to help lead the new global economy so as not to lose our standing as an energy innovator.

In January, Wolf signed an executive order pledging a 26 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050, both from 2005 levels. To put the state on the best track to meeting – and exceeding – these objectives, it is time to take several steps.

First, and already in play, is that, in June 2018, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) finalized controls for methane emissions from new and modified sources of natural gas development as outlined in Gov. Wolf’s four-point Methane Reduction Strategy.

Now DEP needs to extend these protections by strengthening and finalizing proposed rules to directly regulate methane emissions from the thousands of wells and compressor stations already in the state.

Second, the Commonwealth needs immediately to set a declining limit on carbon pollution from our electric power sector (the source of 37 percent of the state’s energy-related emissions) in order to reach the Governor’s reduction goals.

A flexible, market-based policy can be deployed to achieve that limit, creating a framework that incentivizes the lowest-cost pollution reductions while enhancing the deployment and utilization of zero-emission energy resources. One such approach could be for Pennsylvania to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cooperative effort among nine – soon to be 11 – Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states to cap and reduce carbon emissions from the power sector.

In addition to slashing pollution at low cost, the program has supported over $2.5 billion for investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. This is the kind of solution ripe for Pennsylvania – one that cuts pollution while creating a framework to increase deployment of clean energy.

Wolf got it right when he said: “The threat that we’re confronting is not an abstract problem…this is affecting all of our lives each and every day.”

This blueprint is in keeping with Wolf’s expressed goal of forceful climate action. The governor and the General Assembly have the tools they need to get it done.

Dan Grossman is the national director of state programs for the Environmental Defense Fund. Davitt Woodwell s the president of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council.

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