There’s no excuse for inaction on climate change in Pennsylvania

By State Sen. Carolyn Comitta

I ran for office because of climate change. Leaving a cleaner, safer world for my children and grandchildren has always been a driving force behind my passion for public service. When I look into their eyes, I want to tell them I’m doing everything I can to save our planet – to protect our environment, cut pollution, and invest in a clean energy economy.

While I remain optimistic, progress on addressing climate change in Pennsylvania has not come easy. As a top energy-producing state, one that is responsible for about 1 percent of global emissions, we should be leading the way on clean energy. Instead, legislative foot-dragging and a fixation on fossil fuels have us falling behind. The Commonwealth ranks 50th in the nation for renewable energy growth over the past decade. It does not need to be that way.

As minority chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, the better part of my last three years in Harrisburg has been spent on seemingly endless battles over Pennsylvania participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). RGGI is a carbon cap-and-invest program currently made up of eleven Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. Pennsylvania was set to begin participating in the program two years ago – a move that would have brought in hundreds of millions of dollars each year – but Senate Republicans tied it up in court.

Since then, Pennsylvania has missed out on an estimated $1.67 billion in total RGGI proceeds, funds that could have been used to invest in clean energy, support environmental justice communities, build climate-resilient infrastructure, help workers transition from the fossil fuels industry, and more. At the same time, through RGGI, emissions from our power sector (the third dirtiest in the country) would have been steadily reduced, meaning cleaner air for everyone.

Today, RGGI remains embroiled in litigation. However, that hasn’t stopped Senate Republicans from blaming it for everything from fluctuating utility rates to grid reliability concerns to the closure of coal-fired power plants and resultant job losses. They’re even pursuing legislation to repeal the regulations that allow us to join RGGI with statements like “Pennsylvania residents and employers can no longer bear the weight of RGGI.” That’s illogical. How could RGGI have caused all of these bad outcomes, when Pennsylvania is not and has never participated in it?

Whether or not you think that RGGI is a great opportunity to address climate change, it’s no scapegoat for the ongoing and inevitable decline of fossil fuels. Moreover, it’s no excuse for continued inaction on climate change. Putting RGGI aside, there is no shortage of options for the Commonwealth to move forward in supporting clean energy and protecting our environmental and public health. They include:

  • Updating our Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards to reach 30 percent from renewables by 2030.
  • Implementing the legislative package based on the recommendations of then-Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s 43rd Statewide Investigating Grand Jury on the fracking industry.
  • Authorizing Community Solar and Investing in a Solar for Schools Grant Program.
  • Expanding investments in capping orphaned and abandoned wells and supporting stronger methane regulations.
  • Taking advantage of opportunities for federal investment in clean energy and initiatives like the American Climate Corp.

These represent a few of the proposals on the table – ones that I continue to support in the legislature and will fight for throughout the budget process. But let’s stop rehashing the same old arguments – arguments that are only dividing us when we must move forward to protect our people and our planet.

The reality is there’s not going to be a silver bullet to transition from harmful emissions. Pennsylvania needs a cohesive, economy-wide approach that includes strategies to support energy efficiency, renewables, workers, consumers, and infrastructure as we navigate the path to net zero. It will most likely include hydrogen. It may eventually include RGGI, or another cap-and-invest program as recommended by the governor’s bipartisan RGGI working group. But the bottom line is we must work together to take effective action now.

Like many of you, I love spending time outdoors, especially with my grandchildren. At the same time, I cannot help but reflect on how climate change is threatening the places, experiences, and traditions we all love. We’ve had some snow this winter, but for the most part, warmer temperatures are hindering cherished cold-weather activities like ski trips, sledding, and ice-skating on frozen lakes and ponds. As we approach Spring and Summer, will smoke from Canadian wildfires again blanket our air? Will torrential rains flood our roads, neighborhoods, and parks? Will poor air quality and extreme heat force us indoors?

I hope not. I hope that my grandchildren can explore nature and enjoy outdoor sports and activities for years to come. I hope that they can share these joys with their kids, too. And I’m determined to do everything I can to ensure they do. The future belongs to them, but action on climate change must start today for this generation and the next one – for my grandchildren and yours.

State Sen. Carolyn Comitta, of West Chester, represents the 19th Senatorial District and serves as minority chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.

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