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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Will PA and the nation heed the President's climate change action call?

Yesterday, President Obama unveiled a strong and ambitious Climate Change Action Plan.  I applaud and thank him for his leadership and courage in the face of certain opposition from "The Flat Earth Society” that's comprised of fossil fuel interests and much of the Republican Party, and an abdication of leadership by Congress.  The President will need the support of all Americans to move his plan forward.

In his inspiring speech, the President noted that “Nearly a dozen states have already implemented or are implementing their own market-based programs to reduce carbon pollution.  Pennsylvania has a climate change action plan, but - while it's probably included in the President's total - it unfortunately appears that little action has been taken to implement it; indeed, the current Governor seems not to know anything about it

That plan could be a model for the nation.

Pennsylvania emits one percent of the entire planet’s greenhouse gas emissions and four percent of the U.S. total due to its reliance on coal-fired electricity.  It's also the nation's number four coal producer.  Despite - more than because of - those credentials, my former boss Governor Ed Rendell signed the bi-partisan Act 70 of 2008 -The Pennsylvania Climate Change Act, which created a Climate Change Advisory Committee (CCAC) and required the preparation of a climate change action plan for the Commonwealth.

I had the privilege of serving as Vice Chairman of CCAC  during my tenure as Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.  During that time, CCAC developed a robust, detailed Climate Change Action Plan that promised a 30 percent reduction in Pennsylvania's greenhouse gas emissions below year 2000 levels by 2020.

For a "coal state" like Pennsylvania, that would be an immense achievement. But even larger reductions are possible.  The plan was written before the Keystone State's rise as "the Saudi Arabia of natural gas" with the advent of the Marcellus Shale boom.  Given the prominence the President gave to natural gas and its potential - smartly used - as our biggest available climate stabilization tool - even greater climate gains are possible. 

If Pennsylvania could do it, so could the rest of the nation.

The President said, "there’s no contradiction between a sound environment and strong economic growth."  Indeed, Pennsylvania's Climate Change Action Plan promised, in achieving that 30% reduction in GHG emissions by 2020, to create 65,000 new full-time jobs and add  more than $6 billion to the Commonwealth’s gross state product. That too, was pre-Marcellus, and even more economic gains are now possible while slashing emissions.

If Pennsylvania could do it, so could the nation.

The President said: 
The hard truth is carbon pollution has built up in our atmosphere for decades now. And even if we Americans do our part, the planet will slowly keep warming for some time to come. The seas will slowly keep rising and storms will get more severe, based on the science. It’s like tapping the brakes of a car before you come to a complete stop and then can shift into reverse. It’s going to take time for carbon emissions to stabilize.
So in the meantime, we’re going to need to get prepared. And that’s why this plan will also protect critical sectors of our economy and prepare the United States for the impacts of climate change that we cannot avoid. States and cities across the country are already taking it upon themselves to get ready. 
As an outgrowth of Act 70, Pennsylvania has also developed a Climate Change Adaptation Plan.  It needs to be continually refined and immediately implemented.

If Pennsylvania can do it, so can the nation.

Pennsylvania is prepared to heed the President’s call. But will it – and the nation – and the world – act, and “refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing”?

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