Pa. to join 23 states in pledging to meet climate goals

Governor Wolf and members of the administration joined state legislators and environmental advocates in a press conference at the Capitol Media Center in Harrisburg to unveil the state’s new climate plan and to announce new steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions Monday.

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf announced Monday that Pennsylvania will join 23 other states in the U.S. Climate Alliance pledging to meet the goals spelled out in the United Nations’ 2016 Paris Agreement.

The Alliance formed after President Donald Trump announced in 2017 that the United States was withdrawing from the Paris Agreement.

“We’ve seen lately even more evidence that there is a need for leadership on climate change,” Wolf said. “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.”

The U.S. Climate Alliance is a bipartisan coalition of 24 governors, representing over half of the U.S. population working to implement policies that uphold the commitments made in the Paris Agreement, Wolf said.

States in the Climate Alliance pledge to work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. The 2005 base year has been used in most recent air pollution plans, including the Obama Administration’s 2015 Clean Power Plan, which set a goal of reducing air pollution by 32 percent from the 2005 levels by 2030.

Neighboring states of New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland are also members of that climate alliance.

Wolf said he’d put off joining the alliance to give the federal government a chance to come up with an alternative solution. With no indication that the federal government is moving to address the issue, Wolf said it was time for Pennsylvania to join the alliance.

Even before the state’s entry into the alliance, Wolf in January signed an executive order setting comparable climate goals — a 26 percent reduction by 2025 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050.

Republican State Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming County, who chairs the Senate energy and environmental resources committee, said that while plan released today includes many sweeping new recommendations, "we need to be pragmatic.”

Yaw also expressed skepticism about the legislation targeting the state’s Alternative Energy Standards Portfolio.

“I don’t believe that mandating nearly 90 percent of Pennsylvania’s competitive energy market or more is a step in the right direction,” he said. “The plan released today does not clearly define any benefits to be achieved and delivered to the citizens of Pennsylvania if these recommendations are implemented,” he said.

Sen. Steve Santarsiero, D-Bucks County, disagreed.

"When future generations of Pennsylvanians look back at this critical moment in history, I want them to know they were not abandoned," said Santarsiero. "Entering into the U.S. Climate Alliance and implementing the Climate Action Plan sends a clear message that Pennsylvania is serious about addressing climate change."

Santarsiero is the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 600, which would extend and expand the state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act. The state’s current Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards law requires utilities to get 8 percent of their power from renewable sources. Senate Bill 600 and companion legislation in the House, HB 1195, would bump that requirement to 30 percent by 2030.

In addition to the strategy proposed in those bills, the state also rolled out its Climate Change Action plan, which would call for more widespread use of renewable energy and energy efficient technology in buildings, along with increased use of electric vehicles.

State Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming County, said the plan falls short of explaining how it will actually hit the goals set by Wolf.

Patrick McDonnell, secretary of environmental protection, said the agency analyzed the benefit of 15 of 100 steps that should take to address climate change. The agency determined that just the steps analyzed would get the state 21 percent of the way toward achieving the clime change goals.

McDonnell added that the state’s required to update its climate change strategy every three years so adjustments could be made based on whether other states demonstrate worthy approaches or technology changes that will help the state further cut greenhouse gas emissions, he said.