Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has announced plans for a special report to explore how one of the nation’s leading energy-producing states is responding to climate change.
DePasquale, a Democrat, said he would conduct hearings in the coming months to develop the report, which is expected to be completed by this summer. The research, he said earlier this month, would focus on how state government has reacted to climate change and identify ways it can better prepare for the future.
“Beyond the obvious public safety concerns related to flooding and infrastructure damage, a changing climate will impact health, transportation, agriculture, forestry, tourism — from farms to cities, a whole host of issues,” DePasquale said. “These factors will have the potential to create new burdens on taxpayers and disrupt our economy.”
In unveiling his plans to author the report, DePasquale criticized President Trump’s lack of efforts to address the issue. He pointed to the administration’s recently released Fourth National Climate Assessment, which involved multiple federal agencies and hundreds of scientists, as evidence that the state needs to do more to prepare for environmental changes. Trump has expressed skepticism over the assessment’s findings.
In the Northeast, DePasquale’s office said, the climate report cited threats to public health and safety from extreme heat and flooding, severe weather impacts on the region’s energy infrastructure and significant problems for parts of the state economy, such as farming.
Although unrelated, DePasquale’s announcement came after the Philadelphia-based Clean Air Council (CAC), along with more than 50 other businesses, organizations, universities and individuals, submitted a rulemaking petition to the state Environmental Quality Board (EQB) to establish a cap-and-trade program aimed at eliminating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from major sources by 2052.
Both the report and CAC’s proposal are likely to be met with opposition in a state that ranks among the nation’s leading energy producers. Pennsylvania is the country’s second largest natural gas producer. It produced 5.5 Tcf last year, behind only Texas, which churned out 8 Tcf, according to data compiled by the state’s Independent Fiscal Office.
The state also is the nation’s third largest coal producer, fourth largest electricity producer and it’s among the top-20 crude oil producers in the country, according to the Energy Information Administration.
The CAC said a rare environmental rights amendment in the state’s constitution requires state government to act on its proposal.
“Given the considerable authority and flexibility under the state’s Air Pollution Control Act, Pennsylvania has broad legal authority to enact the proposed regulation under existing law,” CAC added. “The EQB petition process offers a clear path forward for such a regulation to be reviewed and adopted.”
The proposed regulation would establish a program in which emissions from covered sources of GHG emissions would be capped. The cap would decline each year by an amount equal to 3% of 2016 emissions, starting in 2018, which CAC said would put the state on track to achieve carbon neutrality by 2052.
The efforts come as the oil and gas industry in the state continues to work with Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration on his broad plan to reduce industry emissions, some of which has already been implemented.
While several industry-related pollutants have dropped considerably, year/year methane emissions and volatile organic compounds from unconventional natural gas well sites and midstream facilities in the state increased in 2015, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) latest air emissions inventory. Environmental groups want more done on the issue as they’ve contended that the industry is emitting more than is reported to the state.
The DEP is reviewing the CAC’s petition to determine if it meets the standards for EQB’s consideration. If it does go before the board, then members would have to vote on whether to advance it for further study.
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