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PennFuture's Climate for Change :: Climate news from around the state, country and world

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

More good news from President Obama on climate

As we've been reporting, President Obama took a big step forward toward shrinking our national carbon footprint in November when he committed to China that we will cut our global warming pollution by up to 28 percent (compared to 2005) by 2025.

And now, on March 31, more good news from the White House:  The Administration made the November agreement more formal by submitting the terms to the United Nations. Major emitting countries were required to formally submit their plans in March, indicating how they intend to meet reductions that we hope will be formally negotiated and agreed upon in Paris in December at the next international climate conference.

Again, we urge Congress to act and put a price on carbon pollution—we know that's the best solution. But until that happy day occurs, we continue to praise President Obama for taking strong executive actions, showing the world that the White House means business, even as Congress fiddles.

Read what Politico had to say about the announcement.

Joy Bergey is PennFuture's federal policy director, based in Philadelphia. She tweets @joybergey.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Encouraging news on climate action by the President

President Obama put smiles on the faces of climate activists across the country last week when he announced his executive order to limit global warming emissions from the federal government.

The President announced on March 19 that the federal government must cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 40 percent over the next decade from 2008 levels. Here's why this is significant: The federal government is the largest consumer of energy in the nation. The federal portfolio of 360,000 buildings, 650,000 fleet vehicles, and $445 billion spent annually on goods and services provides abundant opportunities for energy conservation and efficiency.

The feds will avoid emitting 26 million metric tons of GHGs—the equivalent of taking 5.5 million cars off the road.

For those of us extremely concerned about climate change, this in itself is great news. But for those somehow less concerned about the problem, an important co-benefit of this action is that it will save taxpayers up to $18 billion in avoided energy costs. 

PennFuture sees this important action by the President as the latest indicator that he views climate change as a legacy issue. He announced his Clean Power Plan last June, and then his important agreement with the Chinese in November in which both the U.S. and China will significantly reduce emissions in the next ten to fifteen years.

The President's executive order last week is just his latest important step in the right direction.

Now, if Congress would just do the right thing and legislate a price on carbon, we could all rest a bit easier.

Until then, hail to the chief for his leadership.

Joy Bergey is PennFuture's federal policy director, based in Philadelphia. She tweets @joybergey .

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A robust effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Pennsylvania

Recognizing the opportunities that a new governor in Pennsylvania can embark upon, PennFuture staff analyzed and evaluated potential environmental, conservation and energy policy actions that Gov. Tom Wolf can take or initiate, most within the first 100 days of his administration. We've called it A Fresh Start for Pennsylvania: 26 steps that Governor Wolf can take to improve Pennsylvania's environment and economy.

The 26 policy recommendations variously address stormwater management, well constructions standards, and green building standards, among other issues. This post is a synopsis of our recommendation to reduce carbon pollution.

Make robust efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions


Governor Wolf should make climate change a priority for not only the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), but for the entire administration. This vital work needs to be bolstered and elevated in profile. The Wolf administration should immediately commence its climate planning and greenhouse gas reduction efforts in conjunction with the forthcoming requirements of the Pennsylvania Climate Change Act and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan.

A robust state climate policy will make our economy more energy efficient, saving our citizens money. Reducing carbon pollution also reduces smog, ozone, and other traditional air pollutants.

Recent modeling from our grid operator PJM has shown that a multi-state approach to reducing carbon pollution can be as much as 30 percent less expensive than a state specific plan. For this reason, the administration should investigate joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) or a similar organization. This would not only simplify compliance with federal requirements, it would also bring money into the state that could support additional programs to reduce carbon pollution.

Because increases in energy efficiency will return money directly to consumers while lowering carbon pollution, Pennsylvania should focus on achievable efficiency measures. This could include building on the success of existing efficiency programs such as Pennsylvania’s Act 129, bringing our building codes up to current standards and promoting energy efficiency financing programs such as Energy Savings Performance Contracting (ESPC), Keystone HELP, Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE), and on-bill finance programs.

In addition to efficiency, Pennsylvania could do more to encourage renewable energy. While Pennsylvania’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS) program made the state an early leader, nearby states have since set higher targets for clean and renewable energy. By renewing its leadership in this field, Pennsylvania would create more jobs, lower energy prices, and reduce not just carbon pollution but protect public health by reducing air toxics, water pollution, and waste.

Joy Bergey is PennFuture's federal policy director. She is based in Philadelphia and tweets @joybergey.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

KXL: A bad day for tar sands means a good day for climate sanity

He did it. He said he would and, to our great relief, he did. That is to say that last evening, President Obama vetoed the bill that Congress sent to him which would have greenlighted the development of the Keystone XL pipeline. (Read the Washington Post coverage.)

I'm feeling both great relief and a sense of celebration. Extraction and processing of Canada's tar sands, and then shipping them through a highly risky pipeline through the heart of the U.S. mainland only for all of the resulting fuels to be sent overseas, has been called "the dumbest energy idea ever." I agree.

Why would this country take all the environmental risks for so few jobs (35 permanent jobs) and no new energy sources for domestic consumption (don't believe those who say otherwise)?

Huge thanks to the President for seeing sense and vetoing this bill -- as he had been promising to do.
  Lena Moffitt and NWFers gathered at the White House to thank
 Pres. Obama just hours after he vetoed the bill.

A big shoutout to my good friend and colleague, Lena Moffitt, who is federal policy manager for National Wildlife Federation's Climate and Energy Program, and has led on this issue for years.  (PennFuture is proud to be NWF's Pennsylvania affiliate). When I heard news of the veto from Lena yesterday afternoon and asked her reaction, she said with a big smile, "The President's building a climate legacy, and there's no room for KXL in it!"

I was late waking up to the threats of this ridiculous pipeline proposal; it wasn't until about three years ago that, thanks to savvy, insightful folks like Lena who were way ahead of me, I learned just how daft this pipeline idea is. Thank you, @LenaMDC, for opening my eyes. (Read the guest blog post that Lena wrote for us back in December, in which she exposes the flaws in the economic arguments in support of the pipeline.)

We can't relax just yet -- the President will still need to reject one more permit request.  We're certainly hopeful that President Obama will stick to his guns and kill this pipeline for good.

Joy Bergey is PennFuture's federal policy director, based in Philadelphia. She tweets @joybergey.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Poll: Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly want action on climate

Great news about our fellow Pennsylvanians: According to a poll released last week by Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), residents of the Commonwealth are downright bullish on having state government, led by Gov. Tom Wolf, take strong action to limit carbon pollution from power plants.

Some surprising highlights of the poll, according to NRDC:
  • 82 percent of Pennsylvanians endorse a state-crafted plan to curb carbon pollution -- as we'll need to in the near future, in response to the Obama Administration's Clean Power Plan Rule. This includes strong majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.
  • Even stronger numbers: 93 percent of Pennsylvanians support the expansion of utility programs to increase energy efficiency in homes, thus saving homeowners money.
  • Better yet: 97 percent of Pennsylvanians see the tremendous promise of energy efficiency. More than 80 percent of us want to boost the state's use of renewable power, including solar and wind.
  • And toss that stale old chestnut about "jobs versus the environment" out onto the compost heap, please: More than 60 percent of Pennsylvanians say using more energy from true renewables will create jobs.
Dig into the polling results yourself. Then you'll be more than ready the next time someone tries to tell you we're not ready to act on climate change.

Pennsylvanians are leading the call to a clean energy economy.

Joy Bergey is PennFuture's federal policy director and is based in Philadelphia. She tweets at @joybergey.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Two steps forward

Since I may have been a bit pessimistic in my post last week -- complaining about insufficient progress on climate -- let's look at two brighter stories that have come to light since then.

-- A rare sign of hope has emerged from a petroleum company: Shell Oil is recommending its investors support a shareholder resolution that would have the company report annually on how it's preparing its business model for potential risks posed by climate change. To pass, the resolution would need the support of 75 percent of its shareholders at its annual meeting in May.

(But Shell hasn't completely changed its tune as it also announced that it intends to resume drilling in the arctic. Sigh.)

-- And more props to President Obama for smart, long-term thinking about how we'll deal with the damage that climate change will almost invariably bring. He signed an executive order last week establishing the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard. To quote the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), "The new federal flood risk standard requires all future federal investments in and affecting floodplains to meet the level of resilience as established by the Standard. For example, this includes where federal funds are used to build new structures and facilities or to rebuild those that have been damaged."

Learning from the devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy, and knowing that these catastrophic weather events will only increase in number as the atmosphere warms, it's good to know the President isn't hiding his head in the sand from our responsibility to future generations. Thanks, O!

Joy Bergey is federal policy director for PennFuture and is based in Philadelphia. She tweets @joybergey.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

2014 -- the hottest year ever. Or, at a minimum, in a long, long time.

Nope, it wasn't just our imagination, or the power of suggestion. NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has confirmed that "the globally averaged temperature over land and ocean surfaces for 2014 was the highest among all years since record keeping began in 1880." (And although Pennsylvanians may think of last year as mild because of our relatively easy summer, recall that California and the west suffered a brutal weather year.)

Six months in 2014 set new records for warmth: May, June, August, September, October and December. October tied for record warmest.

If you are not convinced that looking at just one year, or five months within that year, shows a significant change, then how about this: 19 of the 20 warmest years on record have occurred in the past 20 years. The 10 warmest years on record have occurred after 2002 (with the exception of 1998).

With all this bad news, are we making any serious progress with those who run the financial and business sectors of our economy? An encouraging sign is this recent quote about climate change in Fortune magazine: "The investment community... has woken up to this threat. It is demanding more information from companies about their exposure to climate events, as well as the prospective cost of their carbon emissions.”

Are we making progress in Congress? Perhaps a tiny little bit. Last week, more than 60 senators agreed that climate change is real and is caused by human activity. Sad as it as, this represents serious forward movement over the past decade. But we have to move faster.

The bright spots in federal leadership remain the Obama Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In last week's State of the Union address, the President said much about the issue, including this: "The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we'll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it."

The EPA has taken action by proposing rules to limit global warming pollution from any new and existing  fossil fuel-fired power plants and new and modified oil and gas wells. A good start, but we need federal and state governments to do so much more. We inch toward progress while the temperatures race up the scale.

Every decision maker needs to feel the heat (literally and figuratively) to act now.

Joy Bergey is PennFuture's federal policy director and is based in Philadelphia. She tweets @joybergey.