‘We can’t afford to wait,’ Wolf, lawmakers say as Pa. rolls out its plan to fight climate change

By: - April 29, 2019 2:45 pm

Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf (center) at a Capitol news conference announcing the state’s entry into the bipartisan U.S. Climate Alliance (Capital-Star photo).

Frustrated by a lack of action from the Trump administration, Gov. Tom Wolf said Monday that Pennsylvania will join a bipartisan coalition of 24 American governors who are taking it on themselves to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to uphold the principles of the scuppered Paris climate accords.

“With the federal government turning its back on science and the environment, I am proud to join with states that are leading the way towards new climate solutions, and taking concrete actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Wolf said during a Capitol news conference, as he announced Pennsylvania’s entrance into the U.S. Climate Alliance. “States like Pennsylvania must take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect our communities, economies, infrastructures, and environments from the risks of a warming climate.”

Surrounded by Democratic allies in the state House and Senate, Wolf also rolled out a 100-point “Climate Action Plan,” that calls on elected leaders, businesses, and private citizens to come together to help reduce greenhouse emissions. By following just 15 of those recommendations, such as using renewable energy, Pennsylvania could reduce its greenhouse emissions by 21 percent by 2025, Wolf said.

“We know our planet is becoming warmer and we know we need to change course before it is too late,” Wolf said of addressing climate changes that have seen the state experience warmer temperatures and increased incidents of extreme weather. ” … This is a sobering reality and one that I take seriously.”

Legislative Democrats echoed Wolf’s sentiment, castigating the Trump White House for its foot-dragging on environmental issues and the administration’s decision to take the United States out of the Paris agreement. At a rally in Green Bay, Wisc. on Saturday, Trump stood by the decision, asking the crowd, “How’s Paris doing?” though it was not clear what he was referring to or what he meant.

On Monday, state Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, said the state “can’t wait for Washington to take action” on climate change. “It’s important for us to step up and take action.” A bill now before the state Senate modernizing the state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio for the first time since 2004 was a step in the right direction, Costa added.

“It’s important for us to step up and take action,” he said.

Wolf’s announcement Monday comes three months after the Democratic governor signed an executive order aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent by 2025 and by 85 percent by 2050. The order also set up a “Green Government Council” ensuring that state agencies take steps to reduce their own greenhouse gas footprint.

Wolf’s announcement also comes amid stepped up efforts by some legislative Republicans to highlight the views of climate change skeptics. Last month, a state House panel heard from one such skeptic, geologist Gregory Wrightstone, of Pittsburgh. A Republican state Senate panel is scheduled to hold its own hearing on climate change on Wednesday.

Environmental activists, who have questioned the state’s commitment to reducing methane emissions and fighting climate change, heaped praise on Wolf.

Andrew Williams, a lobbyist for the Environmental Defense Fund, called Monday’s announcement an “opportunity to take meaningful climate action while protecting Pennsylvania communities and preserving a healthy economy.”

By joining the coalition, Wolf is “assuming the mantle of leadership to fight climate change and ensure Pennsylvania is part of the solution,” Mark Szybist, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “We look forward to strong actions from the executive branch and our leaders in the Pennsylvania General Assembly to scale-up clean energy, establish an enforceable, declining limit on carbon pollution and put people to work while building a clean energy future that benefits all Pennsylvanians.”

Wolf’s action Monday also comes amid a broader debate on whether lawmakers should authorize a $500 million bailout, funded on the backs of ratepayers, for some ailing Pennsylvania nuclear power plants, including the Three Mile Island plant just outside Harrisburg.

Environmental activists have said that alternative forms of energy, such as wind and solar, should be given consideration during any debate. Asked Monday if he supported the legislation, Wolf demurred, saying only that he’s part of a “very robust conversation,” on the state’s “alternative energy future.”

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.