Remember when Donald Trump said the system is rigged? Well, from his pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, to his proposed budget that slashes environmental protections and undermines basic research and investment in good renewable energy jobs, we know what he really meant. He wanted to rig the game against us.
Pruitt’s record should disturb everyone. As Oklahoma’s attorney general, he took the EPA to court more than a dozen times. Among these lawsuits was an attack on air quality rules that limit mercury from coal-fired power plants. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that those rules prevent up to 46,000 premature deaths annually, about half the number of people in Beaver Stadium on any given football Saturday. Now he’s captured the very agency he fought and is backed up by a budget to break it apart.
The new budget assaults the environment, climate stability and our rapidly innovating energy economy. It takes a sledgehammer to necessary and popular programs that support municipal water systems and aid the recovery of the Chesapeake Bay. So much for Flint or Allentown where lead concentrations are high. It undoes the most basic rules protecting poor and rural Pennsylvania communities from pollutants from fossil fuel operations. Sorry Westmoreland and Washington counties. It guts renewable energy research and development. Sorry Penn State and Carnegie Melon. And of course, it’s attacking basic research that will help us understand, prevent, and prepare for the causes and consequences of human-caused climate change.
For more than 150 years we’ve known that adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere would raise global temperatures. We have thickened the blanket of greenhouse gases by burning coal and natural gas for electricity, by flying and driving, deforestation and industrial agriculture. Today, there are more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere than at any time since humans have occupied the planet. People have warmed the planet about 2 degree Fahrenheit on average since we started taking records.
Near the poles temperatures are much higher. They are destabilizing ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland. The great melt is raising sea levels that put communities including Philadelphia at risk. A hotter atmosphere becomes more violent so storms like Hurricane Sandy are more likely. Fewer cold snaps make lyme-disease carrying ticks a fact of life for anyone going into the woods of the northeastern United States. Ground level ozone and allergens become thicker in the air, worsening the lungs of children and the elderly from Pittsburgh to Punxsutawney. These are incontrovertible facts that don’t come from hippies and leftists.
Ask the Department of Defense. They call human-caused climate change a threat multiplier and an accelerant of risk.
Ask the World Economic Forum. In 2016, the nonprofit foundation rated human-caused climate change as presenting the greatest threat to the global economy in terms of impact, greater than terrorism, the threat of a pandemic, or weapons of mass destruction.
Ask scientists at Penn State. Faculty and researchers there have played a key role in assessing how people are changing the global climate. Penn State houses top-tier researchers determining impacts on ice sheets, hurricanes, coastal and flooding risks, as well as how climate change impacts Pennsylvania’s agriculture, recreation, waterways, forests, and community health.
Penn State is also the home of exciting climate solutions. Researchers have partnered with government, industry, and others on biofuels, smart agriculture and forest management, energy smart buildings, carbon capture and sequestration, wind, nuclear, and solar energy.
Students from Penn State have won the National Collegiate Wind competition twice in the past three years. Another student group designed a net zero affordable house that will be built soon and scaled up and out. Penn State is participating in Pennsylvania’s Solar Future project funded through the Department of Energy. Could we attain 10 percent of our commonwealth’s electricity from solar by 2030? Yes. All of these provide students with in-depth education and experience that prepare them for a climate-smart economy. That economy is well on its way.
There are good-paying renewable energy jobs. Across the country more than 250,000 people work directly in the solar industry. That’s more than in oil, gas and coal combined. Navigant recently reported that wind supports more than 100,000 jobs in the United States. Solar and wind are projected to grow. All things being equal, the price of solar will be at parity on average with fossil fuels in the next two years and with it more jobs. Wind is projected to employ more than 250,000 people by 2020. These jobs range from the wonky researchers in labs with doctorates to hands-on mechanics and rooftop installers with trade school diplomas and certifications Pennsylvania and Appalachia.
We have to ask ourselves, why is the Trump administration attacking some of the most promising work in the world? We need regulations for our health and safety. We need good research to make good decisions. We need renewable energy to provide good jobs, spur creativity and reduce climate and public health risks. Why is Trump rigging the game against us?
Peter Buckland works at Penn State’s Sustainability Institute and serves as a Ferguson Township supervisor. His opinions are his own and don’t represent either organization.