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

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Final Clean Power Plan rulemaking: What's next?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to release its final Clean Power Plan rulemaking – the first-ever regulation in the United States to cut carbon emissions from power plants – any day now.

The Clean Power Plan (CPP) aims to cut carbon pollution nationally by an average of 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, providing up to $93 billion in climate and public health benefits. The EPA projects these carbon pollution limits will prevent up to 6,600 premature deaths, up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children, and up to 490,000 missed work and school days in 2030.

Pennsylvania expects to see significant economic and environmental benefits from meeting the CPP’s goals. For example, the National Resources Defense Council found that Pennsylvania would create 5,100 jobs under the CPP. Public Citizen also reported that electricity bills in Pennsylvania will fall 9.2 to 9.8 percent by 2030 under the Clean Power Plan, saving the average household $125 to $132 annually.

The CPP is an much-needed step toward mitigating climate change and presents myriad public health and economic benefits for the Commonwealth. But just because the regulation will be finalized in a few days doesn’t mean that its carbon reduction, health, and economic growth benefits will automatically be realized. The process, in some respects, is just getting started.

Once the rule is finalized, what’s next?

The CPP was designed to give states the flexibility to create a state-based compliance plan that fits their unique economic, environmental, and existing power generation situation. Absent proactive action, EPA will implement its own plan on the Commonwealth. Any plan must cut Pennsylvania’s carbon emissions by 31 percent by 2030.

Pennsylvania, however, is not waiting on the release of the final rule to start weighing its compliance options, explains PennFuture’s Jennie Demjanick in a recent blog post. One of the options being weighed by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the state agency that will write the state implementation plan, is a multi-state program modeled after a cap and trade strategy. Under this approach, a collection of states will set caps on their carbon emission reductions that decrease over time and create a marketplace for carbon producers to purchase and trade permits to emit carbon pollution. This effectively provides a strong incentive for carbon producers to reduce their emissions in as cost effective a manner as possible. Look no further than our New England states for an example of such a system, called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

Fortunately, Pennsylvania has many options to choose from to meet its carbon reduction goals. Last week, DEP Secretary John Quigley discussed next steps in an interview with OnPoint, stating that all compliance options are on the table and that the DEP is engaging all stakeholders in the process.

What challenges lie ahead?

Choosing and implementing a carbon reduction strategy isn’t the only barrier. Inevitably, there will be legal challenges. In a recent article by E&E, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) boasted that more than a dozen states are ready to take legal action against the CPP.

Some states have opted for legislation that requires state lawmakers to approve state implementation plans before they are sent to the EPA, adding uncertainty to the process and potentially leading to the EPA implementing its own federal plan on these states. For its part, Pennsylvania’s General Assembly chose this path by passing HB 2354, a law now known as Act 175 of 2014.

The U.S. Congress also has the ability to weaken or overturn the rule. Through the Congressional Review Act, Congress has the power to review, and ultimately overturn, any major rulemaking. Presumably, Congress would need to produce a veto-proof majority in order for this option to be realized. This is not entirely out of the realm of possibility given that only a handful of votes across party lines would be needed to produce that supermajority. Additionally, Congress may also vote on appropriations bills and on amendments to bills that have the power to weaken the intent of the rule or defund EPA’s ability to enforce the rule.

How can I get involved to ensure the success of the Clean Power Plan?

Attend a rally
PennFuture and many partner organizations will gather for rallies in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia to show support for the Plan on Thursday, July 30 at 12:30 p.m. in both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Bring a friend, hold a sign, and enjoy FREE ice cream.

Make a call to your U.S. Senators
We outlined above the role that elected representatives play in the success or failure of the Clean Power Plan. We also know that elected officials are responsive to their constituents, which is why it’s so important that supporters of the Clean Power Plan convey the benefits of the Plan from their personal perspective to their U.S. Senators. Interested in making a call on Thursday, July 30? Email Katie Bartolotta at Bartolotta@pennfuture.org.

Write to your local newspaper

Want to express your support for the Clean Power Plan in writing? Make your voice heard by submitting a letter to the editor to your local paper. Email Katie Bartolotta at Bartolotta@pennfuture.org if you’re interested.

Katie Bartolotta is southeast Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for PennFuture and is based in Philadelphia. She tweets @KatieBartolotta.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

"Beat the Heat" with PennFuture and friends on July 30

This summer, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will finalize its Clean Power Plan -- the first federal standard on carbon pollution from power plants. This is big news and an historic achievement toward mitigating climate change. What's more, the rule is a step toward a zero-carbon, clean energy future. 

We need to show strong support for the Clean Power Plan, which will have significant public health benefits and will create jobs in the energy efficiency and renewable energy sectors. It will also provide states the flexibility to implement plans tailored to their unique situations. 

Will you join us during your lunch hour to support the Clean Power Plan? PennFuture and many partner organizations will gather for rallies in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia to show support for the Plan. Bring a friend, hold a sign, and enjoy FREE ice cream. 

Looking forward to seeing you there!


When, where and more:  

Pittsburgh Rally:
Thursday, July 30: 12:30 - 1:00 p.m.
Courtyard of Pittsburgh City-County Building, 414 Grant St., Pittsburgh, Pa. 15219
Updated location: Courtyard at the Allegheny County Courthouse (Enter on Fifth St.), 436 Grant St., Pittsburgh, PA 15219
There will be a brief lineup of speakers and FREE ice cream for attendees. 
Please let us know you'll attend by registering on our website.

Philadelphia Rally:
Thursday, July 30: 12:30 - 1:00 p.m.
Outside of Senator Casey's Office, 2001 Market St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19103
There will be a brief lineup of speakers and FREE ice cream for attendees. 
Please let us know you'll attend by registering on our website.

Katie Bartolotta is PennFuture's southeastern Pennsylvania outreach coordinator and is based in Philadelphia. She tweets @KatieBartolotta.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

ICYMI: The Weather Channel’s "The Climate 25"

Despite the consensus among climate scientists that human activity causes global warming, some people insist that the jury is still out.  

In response, The Weather Channel has weighed in with its position on climate change: “We report the science, and the science consistently says climate change is real, humans are causing it, and we must prepare for its effects.”

As a follow up to its position statement, they produced a series featuring “The Climate 25,” a diverse group of thought leaders who discuss their perspectives on global climate change and solutions for mitigating it. 

The presentation is simple – participants speak for less than two minutes and the footage is in black and white – but their commentary is illuminating. Their reflections are a stark reminder that inaction on climate change will have wide-reaching and interconnected effects on resource availability, national security, and the global economy. 

Below are just a few quotes that indicate the range of perspectives included in the Weather Channel’s series: 

“You can’t say that environmental regulation automatically causes the economy to stop. It doesn’t. It’s the wrong way to frame the issue.”
--Christine Todd Whitman, Former New Jersey Governor, EPA Administrator (2001-03)

 “Many conflicts throughout our history have been based on resource competition. Increasingly, in the future, we’ll be defining some of our national security interests in those resource contests. And so, availability of energy [is] at the top of the list; availability of fresh water, [is] right up there with energy. You can predict that that drives human activity in a way that can create conflict.”
--General Charles H. Jacoby (Ret.), Commander, U.S. North Command

“Let us change our ways of living because we depend on agriculture and agriculture is now not dependable. Everyone will suffer if it continues like this.”
--Constance Okollet, Community Leader, Uganda

As an organization, we’re excited to advocate for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan -- the first ever standard on carbon pollution – along with grassroots leaders in Pennsylvania who want to facilitate the transition to a clean energy economy. Like the Climate 25, we know that we don’t have time to debate the facts – we must act. 

Katie Bartolotta is PennFuture's southeastern Pennsylvania outreach coordinator and is based in Philadelphia. She tweets @KatieBartolotta.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Guest post: Conservatives for climate change? It’s true. Read on.

This guest post was written by climate advocate Joy Bergey. Joy advocates for clean air, clean energy, and clean water from her base in suburban Philadelphia. Reach her on Facebook, or on Twitter @joybergey. The opinions expressed are her own.

The big news this week about unexpected voices speaking up for action on climate change is, of course, from Pope Francis’ encyclical.  

It’s hard to find a more influential voice than that of His Holiness. And yet, I’ve been hearing an encouraging array of calls for climate action from non-traditional allies, namely, the political right. I’ll share a few.

Conservative politicians and funders

Former member of Congress Bob Inglis now heads the Energy and Enterprise Initiative based at George Mason University. A personal hero of mine, Mr. Inglis famously called for Congress to act on climate when he was running for re-election in South Carolina back in 2010 and paid a steep political price for being ahead of the curve: he was “primaried,” that is to say, he lost his bid for re-election when a Republican to the right of him beat him in the primary election. But that hasn’t slowed Mr. Inglis one bit. Watch his comments (starting at about 24 minutes into the video) at a recent World Resources Institute webinar on pricing climate.

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a declared candidate for President, is on record calling for his fellow Republicans to take action.  

Jay Faison, a Republican entrepreneur from North Carolina, recently announced he’s putting up $175 million of his own money to get this campaign message out there and put some heat on Republican candidates who haven’t yet seen the light like Sen. Graham. 

Florida Congressman Carlos Curbelo, a Republican whose district includes the Everglades and the Keys, said this

This is an important step for conservatives on the climate; just to have a conversation and say, ‘well even though I am not a scientist I can look at very basic data and realize that there are some challenges that we are going to be faced with.’ Scientific American also wrote about his good work. 

Defense experts

Rear Admiral David W. Titley (Ret.), whose national security bona fides and expertise on climate can be questioned by none, is founding director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Penn State University. We Pennsylvanians are lucky to have Adm. Titley as a tremendously important voice on the national security threats of climate. We ignore his message at our enormous collective peril. 

George Schultz, who served as Secretary of State under President Reagan, has strong views on the need to act and calls for a revenue-neutral carbon tax. 

Conservative economists

Hank Paulson served as Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Paulson says bluntly of inaction on climate, “Doing nothing is radical risk taking.” Read more of his compelling statements, part of the Weather Channel’s exciting “Climate 25” series.

Jerry Taylor, libertarian economist of the Niskanen Center (and formerly of the Cato Institute and the American Legislative Exchange Council) is calling for a carbon tax. His reasoning? It could obviate regulations conservatives find loathsome, plus it could lower taxes.

Even the American Enterprise Institute held a seminar on April 22 (Earth Day!) called “Implementing a Carbon Tax: Practicalities and Prospects.” Read Myron Ebell’s blog post. (The Institute itself does not take policy positions.)

* * * * * * * * *

I am always hopeful that we’ll soon reach the tipping point and decide as a nation to act on climate change. But after decades of pushing for meaningful action, at this point, it’s rare that I feel optimism. And yet, right now, with the eyes of the world on the Pope, and with conservative voices increasingly speaking out, I do feel optimism that we may be nearing broad consensus to #ActOnClimate.

Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment to be released June 18

Pope Francis’ long-awaited encyclical on the environment is slated for official release on Thursday, June 18. Pope Francis is the leader of 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide and considered one of the most influential people in the world. The Pope's encyclical is expected to be a call to moral action for Catholics (and global citizens alike) to embrace environmental stewardship, as the impacts of a changing climate disproportionately affect the world's most vulnerable citizens.

In anticipation of its release, we rounded up answers to basic questions about papal encyclicals and what to expect from “Laudato Si,” which translates as “Praised Be."

We’ve also shared portions of a pre-encyclical release blog post by our friends at Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light (PA IPL), a state affiliate of Interfaith Power and Light, “a national religious response to the threat of climate change.” PA IPL is comprised of hundreds of individuals and over 40 religious institutions across the Commonwealth, bringing people of diverse faith backgrounds together to act on climate. 

As supporters of the environment, we applaud Pope Francis for choosing an encyclical topic with implications for all citizens of this earth but we’d also like to elevate the voices of those for whom this text holds special meaning. As the encyclical is a religious text intended for a Catholic audience, we plan to share commentary from faith leaders in the days after its official release. Follow the hashtags #Encyclical, #OurCommonHome, and #AllAreCalled for the latest on social media.



What’s an encyclical?

From the Pew Research Center:

Encyclicals are papal letters – the word “encyclical” means “circular letter” – usually addressed to Catholic clergy and the laity and containing the pope’s views on church teachings and doctrine in a particular area.

While encyclicals do not set down new church doctrine (the Roman Catholic Church’s core beliefs), they are in essence official statements and are considered authoritative teaching, since popes speak for the church.

How have past popes addressed environmental issues?

From the New York Times:

Recent popes have made clear that human activity is largely to blame for the environmental degradation that is threatening the Earth's ecosystems. They have demanded urgent action by industrialized nations to change their ways and undergo an "ecological conversion" to prevent the poor from paying for the sins of the rich.

Some have even made their points in encyclicals, the most authoritative teaching document a pope can issue. 

Also from the New York Times:

And then there was Pope Benedict XVI, dubbed the "green pope" because he took concrete action to back up his strong ecological calls: Under his watch, the Vatican installed photovoltaic cells on the roof of its main auditorium, a solar cooling unit for its main cafeteria and joined a reforestation project aimed at offsetting its CO2 emissions.

What do we expect will be included in Pope Francis’ encyclical?

From The Guardian:

The [leaked] draft is not a detailed scientific analysis of the global warming crisis. Instead, it is the pope’s reflection of humanity’s God-given responsibility as custodians of the Earth.

At the start of the draft essay, the pope wrote, the Earth “is protesting for the wrong that we are doing to her, because of the irresponsible use and abuse of the goods that God has placed on her. We have grown up thinking that we were her owners and dominators, authorised to loot her. The violence that exists in the human heart, wounded by sin, is also manifest in the symptoms of illness that we see in the Earth, the water, the air and in living things.”

He immediately makes clear, moreover, that unlike previous encyclicals, this one is directed to everyone, regardless of religion. “Faced with the global deterioration of the environment, I want to address every person who inhabits this planet,” the pope wrote. “In this encyclical, I especially propose to enter into discussion with everyone regarding our common home.”

According to the leaked document, the pope will praise the global ecological movement, which has “already travelled a long, rich road and has given rise to numerous groups of ordinary people that have inspired reflection”.

How is the environment an interfaith issue?

From Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light (PA IPL) Executive Director Cricket Hunter:

With this encyclical, Pope Francis is creating a beautiful opportunity; while meant for Catholics particularly, his instruction also opens space for all of us to reflect on climate justice, our values, and the teachings of our faiths–to hear the ways in which our diverse traditions speak in harmony and in unison on care of Creation. In this space, we have an opportunity to stand shoulder-to-shoulder, linked by our shared calls to care for the earth, care for the most vulnerable, and look together for solutions.

Katie Bartolotta is PennFuture's southeastern Pennsylvania outreach coordinator and is based in Philadelphia. She tweets @KatieBartolotta. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The summer of reason: The G7 pledges to act on climate.

Global climate change is front and center this summer. Earlier this week, the Group of Seven (G7), comprised of leaders from seven of the world’s largest industrialized nations, convened in Germany for a two-day annual summit to discuss global economic challenges. 

As part of the summit, the G7 announced its commitment to phase out fossil fuels by the end of this century. A majority of the participating G7 countries have already set carbon emission reduction goals. For example, the United States has pledged an 83 percent reduction from its 2005 greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050. But for countries that have been less proactive in this realm such as Canada and Japan, this agreement indicates a new and exciting commitment to address climate change. 

Much credit was given to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, also known as the “climate chancellor,” for making climate change a priority in G7 planning. From The Guardian:

     [Jennifer] Morgan [of the World Resources Institute] praised the momentum that appears to be developing among the world’s leaders for climate action.

     “Politically, the most important shift is that chancellor Merkel is back on climate change. This was not an easy negotiation. She did not have to put climate change on the agenda here. But she did,” she said.

While the G7 agreement on de-carbonization by the century’s end is non-binding, this pledge by seven of the world’s major economies is expected to have the effect of driving investment away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy and energy efficiency. Also from the Guardian (emphasis added):

     [Tom Burke, environmental advisor to Shell,] said that outside the numbers, the G7’s primary function was to send signals to other countries and to markets and that the announcement today would shift things significantly. 

     “Everyone gets over focused on what the text of the treaty is. What really matters is what gets done in the real economy and the extent that the players in the real economy react to this signal. You’re going to shift the needle of interest in the investing community away from oil and gas and towards renewables, storage and energy efficiency. And I think that’s further than probably the oil companies had anticipated,” said Burke.


Other climate news to watch this summer:

  • Pope Francis’ much-anticipated encyclical on the environment will be released on Thursday, June 18.
  • A mid-July release is expected for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which will be the first federal standard on carbon pollution. 

Katie Bartolotta is PennFuture's southeastern Pennsylvania outreach coordinator and is based in Philadelphia. She tweets @KatieBartolotta.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Pennsylvanians have reason to be ticked off about climate change

Memorial Day marked the unofficial start of summer, a time when Pennsylvanians take advantage of the many outdoor resources the Commonwealth has to offer. From hiking to fishing to camping, there are a range of activities in which outdoor enthusiasts and their families can engage.  

But here in Pennsylvania, our amazing outdoor resources are accompanied by a not-so-pleasant feature – the prevalence of ticks due to climate change. The black-legged tick, commonly known as the “deer tick,” transmits Lyme disease and poses a huge threat to outdoor recreation.

The threat of ticks isn’t new, but there is heightened concern this summer as warmer winters, caused by climate change, have allowed ticks to expand their habitable range. Increased exposure to ticks increases the risk of contracting Lyme disease, a serious threat to public health. Lyme disease can cause a variety of symptoms including fever, headaches, and chronic joint and nervous system impacts.

Not a pretty picture. 
In 2013, Pennsylvania reported nearly 5,000 cases of Lyme disease, more than any state in the country. Nationwide, the rate of reported cases has nearly doubled since 1991. It’s important to note that these figures only include reported cases – it’s possible that the actual number of cases is ten times greater than that. (Kudos to Senator Bob Casey for addressing the underreporting problem and advocating for better tracking of the disease and increased Center for Disease Control (CDC) funding.)

So how do we protect ourselves from these pests while also enjoying outdoor recreation activities? On an individual level, one should avoid piles of leaves and wear repellent containing DEET. One should also check their clothing and shower within two hours of visiting a tick-prone area. On a global level, taking action to combat the source of the problem – climate change due to carbon pollution – is critically important. This summer, it is expected that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will finalize its Clean Power Plan, a rule that will set limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants.

Outdoor enthusiasts should contact their federal and state elected officials and encourage them to support a robust and effective Clean Power Plan both on the national level as well as its implementation on the state level. Your voice is important in protecting the enjoyment of our natural resources for all!

For more information, check out National Wildlife Federation’s Climate Change Bites Fact Sheet.

Katie Bartolotta is southeastern Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for PennFuture and is based in Philadelphia. She tweets @KatieBartolotta.