Erie, Pennsylvania: To most, this city is associated with tourist attractions such as Presque Isle State Park, Dobbins Landing, Waldameer Park, and the family favorite, Splash Lagoon. However, to the people that live here, it’s much more than that.
Like anywhere that’s considered home, it’s a place where they work, raise their kids, and interact with other members of their communities. Therefore, legislation such as the EPA’s Clean Power Plan greatly affects them, and many Erie residents say in a positive way.
For those who may be unfamiliar with this policy, here is a brief background: The Clean Power Plan is a recent effort to mitigate climate change and improve public health by limiting carbon pollution. It’s a flexible, state-driven approach, with Pennsylvania targeted to cut carbon 33.3 percent by 2030. Pennsylvania has until September 6, 2016 to submit their draft on how to achieve its goal and then another two years to submit the final, concrete plan. If Pennsylvania does not submit a plan, the EPA will implement its own federal carbon reduction strategy.
In order to meet these deadlines and craft a strong, customized implementation plan based on Pennsylvania’s unique energy mix, economy, and workforce, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) held more than a dozen listening sessions and a 2-month comment period on the plan, open to anyone willing to speak. One of those hearings took place in Erie.
A week prior to the hearing, PennFuture and the NW PA Green Economy Task Force sponsored a free training event open to the public with PennFuture Energy Center’s Director Rob Altenburg speaking about the Clean Power Plan and how it will benefit Erie as well as the rest of Pennsylvania. The demographics of the group of trainees ranged from a senior at Penn State working on his final capstone project that focuses on the lack of an emissions reduction target in the updated Climate Change Action Plan to a member of the Erie County Planning Department. Although everyone’s knowledge of the Clean Power Plan varied, trainees were able to help one another draft their testimonies and providing inspiration to some who were still ambivalent on speaking.
Erie resident Karen Shor was unsure if she should speak or not, but ultimately decided to let her voice be heard. “I am here and will be at the hearing because I believe in Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. As a Reform Jew, I don’t necessarily believe in heaven and hell. I believe that the only thing that lives on after we die is the work we do in this life. I want the world to be a better place because I was here. Plus, I firmly believe that ‘we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children’ and I want the children growing up to have a healthier place to live.
Guy McUmber, Northwest Branch Director of the Green Building Alliance (GBA), also attended the training and hearing, and was interested in the Clean Power Plan for other reasons, particularly how the Clean Power Plan can encourage high performance and healthy buildings. In his testimony he stated, “GBA believes the Clean Power Plan is an excellent opportunity for the Commonwealth to develop a progressive and comprehensive plan and related policies on energy efficiency and clean energy. Unfortunately, we have lacked this type of planning on a national and statewide level, although there have been many important programs created by individual states and municipalities. Having a coherent plan that ‘connects all the dots’ will lead to Pennsylvania making real progress in reducing fossil fuel usage and promoting cleaner alternatives.”
The hearing took place on October 29 at Blasco Library’s Hirt Auditorium and involved testimonies from people praising about their solar installations for their homes, as well as more touching anecdotes accompanied with pictures of a grandfather who had died of black lung disease due to unsafe mining practices. Of course, there were a few people in disagreement with the Clean Power Plan, but the majority demonstrating that they were indeed in favor in creating a healthier and safer environment for their community. In fact, according to a recent poll released by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, an average 61 percent of adults say they support the policy.
PennFuture would like to thank all who participated in the training as well as the hearing to help create a safer, healthier, and more sustainable Pennsylvania.
Annie Regan is western Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for PennFuture and is based in Philadelphia.