State Rep. Greg Vitali | State climate plan misses the mark

January 15, 2014 

Pennsylvania’s new Climate Change Action Plan is woefully inadequate. It fails to set greenhouse gas reduction goals: fails to provide clear, quantifiable recommendations to meet those goals; and fails to sufficiently incentivize renewable energy.

Regrettably, this plan, recently released by the state Department of Environmental Protection, is consistent with Gov. Tom Corbett’s total lack of leadership on climate change.

The most important environmental problem facing this planet is climate change.

Leading scientist Richard Alley, a professor of climatology at Penn State, recently testified that greenhouse gases have caused temperatures across the globe to rise by one degree. He said that if temperatures continue to increase, it will be more difficult to grow crops; there will be more floods, droughts, and stronger storms; and sea levels will continue to rise.

Pennsylvania produces 1 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, and it has a responsibility to develop a climate-change action plan to address its share of this problem.

The very essence of a climate change action plan is the setting of greenhouse-gas reduction goals and a clearly defined strategy to meet those goals. It’s hard to believe the Corbett administration would submit a plan without these basic elements.

The first plan, drafted by the Rendell administration in 2009, called for a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020. Act 70 of 2008 requires the DEP to submit a plan every three years.

Not surprisingly, Corbett’s plan emphasizes the expansion of natural-gas usage and pays insufficient attention to renewable energy. In fact, natural gas is mentioned 184 times in this plan (as opposed to renewable energy, which is mentioned nine times, and alternative energy, mentioned just 14 times).

But natural gas is a fossil fuel and it still produces a significant amount of greenhouse gas. We cannot achieve the carbon-dioxide reduction goals needed to stabilize Earth’s climate without greatly expanding our use of renewable energy like wind and solar.

Pennsylvania’s utility sector relies heavily on fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas to produce electricity and, as a result, contributes 38 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in Pennsylvania.

The best way to increase renewable energy production in the utility sector is to expand Pennsylvania’s alternative energy portfolio standard. Yet the plan does not recommend this.

Pennsylvania’s portfolio standard now requires electric companies to purchase 8 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020 — far short of neighboring states. New Jersey, for example, calls for 17.88 percent of its energy to come from renewable sources by 2021.

Last February, I introduced a bill that would require Pennsylvania electric companies to obtain 15 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2023. Regrettably, this bill has not advanced.

For Pennsylvania to meet its climate-change responsibilities, its governor must provide leadership. However, as this climate action plan reflects, leadership is sorely lacking in the Corbett administration.

State Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware, is Democratic chairman of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee and a member of the Climate Change Advisory Committee, which advised DEP on the climate change action plan. He can be reached at gvitali@pahouse.net.

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