Keystone Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant in Armstrong County, about 50 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. (Capital-Star photo)
By Jacquelyn Bonomo
Pennsylvania’s elected officials aren’t unique in their refusal to act urgently and honestly on climate change issues, but it sure feels that way.
Nearly 70 percent of Pennsylvania voters have said, time and again, they want our state leaders to do more to address the climate crisis, yet legislators in Harrisburg continue to act as intentional roadblocks to real progress.
This blind denial is increasingly isolating Pennsylvania from the rest of the country and world.
In late May, a judge in the Netherlands handed down a ruling forcing Royal Dutch Shell to slash its CO2 emissions by 45 percent by 2030 from 2019 levels. While it’s not immediately clear what this decision could mean for Shell’s massive petrochemical plant in Beaver County—which will be permitted to emit more than 2.2 million tons of carbon pollution annually in western Pennsylvania—the decision has been called a “turning point in history.”
Though some might interpret that remark as hyperbole, the ruling is undeniably historic. This is the first time a judge has ordered a company to act on commitments made under the Paris Agreement, which provides a framework for countries, including the United States, to reduce carbon pollution. This case could also open the door for other polluting companies to be forced to comply with carbon reduction requirements.
Shortly after the Shell ruling, a hedge fund won two seats on ExxonMobil’s board of directors after convincing shareholders that the company’s plan to address climate change was too little, too late.
Finally, TC Energy recently canceled its controversial Keystone XL pipeline project that would have piped tar sands oil from Canada into the United States. This came after nearly a decade of historic protests by indigenous tribal leaders opposing the project because it didn’t respect their treaty rights or protect the environment.
More and more, civil society is not allowing purveyors of climate pollution to intentionally obfuscate and delay action. As the Washington Post noted in a recent editorial, “this…should be a wakeup call. Businesses implicated in climate change do not have the time or space they may have thought they did to deny, delay or demand concessions.”
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Pennsylvania’s General Assembly. Many state legislators, often at the behest of polluting industries, continue to spurn the wishes of voters by bottling up legislation to advance carbon reductions, peddle in industry-fueled mistruths, and halt basic functions of state government to allow pollution to continue unabated.
In their latest attempt to disrupt state governance, it’s expected that the General Assembly will soon advance legislation to block Pennsylvania’s participation in a cap-and-invest program like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, their second attempt in two years to do so.
Specifically, House Bill 637, sponsored by Rep. James B. Struzzi, R-Indiana, and its Senate companion (SB119), sponsored by Sen. Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, aim to stop Gov. Tom Wolf’s efforts to create a carbon cap-and-invest program, in cooperation with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, under existing law.
The Senate approved Pittman’s bill by a vote of 35-15 on June 14. As of this writing, Struzzi’s bill is before the House Rules Committee.
The governor’s policy would continue a managed decline of carbon pollution from power plants while investing proceeds to support impacted communities, help workers laid off by failing coal plants, and support zero-carbon energy projects.
This rule is not being crafted in a vacuum. Instead, Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection took 32 hours of testimony from 449 people and accepted 14,038 written comments during a public comment period, the vast majority of which supported a cap-and-invest program here.
In addition, several key advisory groups in Pennsylvania tasked with vetting DEP’s carbon reduction rule agreed. In May, the Citizens Advisory Council, Air Quality Technical Advisory Committee, the Environmental Justice Advisory Board, and the Small Business Compliance Advisory Committee all voiced their approval for the rule.
Since our General Assembly has shown almost no proclivity to address climate change, it’s widely understood that if Struzzi’s or Pittman’s bills become law, they would spell the end of a cap-and-invest program in Pennsylvania.
We call on Gov. Wolf, as he did last year, to veto this misguided legislation and allow the process to continue without further delay.
For now, it’s incumbent upon all of us to fight back against these bills and hold accountable those beholden to the pervasive climate denial coursing through the Capitol in Harrisburg. Our elected officials can no longer receive a free pass for their obstruction, sabotage, and willful ignorance.
Pennsylvania’s addiction to, and coddling of, dirty fossil fuels is holding back meaningful, positive change. This inaction and roadblocking from our elected officials comes with very real consequences that are already being felt by each and every Pennsylvanian, and will only continue to get worse.
While the rest of the world embraces action and common sense, Pennsylvania cannot fall further behind.
Jacquelyn Bonomo is the president and CEO of PennFuture, a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization with five offices across Pennsylvania. She writes from Pittsburgh.
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