Republicans On House Environmental Committee Express Concern About The Cost Of PA Joining Regional Initiative To Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

On September 19 the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee held a wide-ranging 60-minute informational meeting on the Wolf Administration’s climate change initiatives with DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell.

Secretary McDonnell started the discussion with a summary of his 13-page written testimony that highlighted how climate change is impacting the citizens and businesses of Pennsylvania today and the steps the Wolf Administration is taking to address the issue.

He said, “Climate change isn’t an issue that only the residents of coastal states are concerned about.  Climate change has led to more flooding, more heat and respiratory illnesses, more vector-borne diseases and pests, and more disruptions to agricultural systems right here in Pennsylvania.

“Some simple facts for you:

-- Since 1900, Pennsylvania has warmed by 1.8 degrees F.  [2015 Pennsylvania Climate Impact Assessment]

-- Annual precipitation has increased 10 percent on average, with some areas seeing a 20 percent increase over the same time period. [PA’s 2018 Federal Hazard Mitigation Plan includes an evaluation of climate change impacts on flooding other risks]

-- From 1958 through 2010, the Northeast U.S. saw more than a 70 percent increase in the amount of precipitation falling during very heavy events. [Center for Rural PA Report]

“The impacts of climate change are vast and what was predicted 10 years ago is being confirmed today. The projections are even more dire. [2015 Pennsylvania Climate Impact Assessment]

“By 2050, Pennsylvania is expected to warm by 5.4 degrees F. The Pennsylvania that you and I know will not be the same Pennsylvania that our children or our grandchildren will know.

“By the middle of this century, Philadelphia will feel like Richmond and Pittsburgh will feel like Washington, D.C.

“Precipitation patterns will also be increased by another 8 percent by 2050, with a winter precipitation increase of 14 percent.

“Pennsylvania has recently experienced major impacts from this increase in precipitation and the resultant landslides, as 2018 was the wettest year on record.

“In just one year, PennDOT saw over $125 million in emergency expenses to replace damaged infrastructure and cash-strapped local municipalities are dealing with the same budget-busting issues.

“Adding to the financial stress is that many flooding events are so localized that they do not qualify for Federal assistance, so homeowners, business owners, and local and state agencies must bear the brunt of repair costs.”

Highlights From Questions

Here are some of the highlights of Committee member questioning

-- Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative: In response to a question from Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware), Minority Chair of the Committee, McDonnell said DEP is evaluating possible participation in the interstate Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states and what it would mean for Pennsylvania.

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), Majority Chair of the Committee, expressed a concern about the Wolf Administration moving ahead “in secret” to join RGGI without legislative authorization.

He said there has been a lot of discussion about joining RGGI in the Capitol and was concerned about increasing Pennsylvania’s energy costs and the impact it would have on  job creation.

McDonnell said the RGGI states have lower energy prices that other states (which Rep. Metcalfe disagreed with), plus they are investing back in their economy to reduce energy demand by businesses and residents saving them money.

McDonnell said he expects the conversations with legislative leaders to continue on the issue of joining RGGI.

-- Why Should Pennsylvania Join RGGI When Other States Doing It:  Rep. Paul Schemel (R-Franklin) asked with other states joining RGGI and companies in other areas taking action, why does Pennsylvania have to act and how much will our actions contribute to temperature reductions.  McDonnell said other states are making investments in renewable energy generation that will run and one side effect is other power plants in other areas will not.  Pennsylvania now has the advantage of being an electricity exporter, but he implied that could change as other states get the advantages of renewable generation and the costs continue to drop.

-- Have Already Achieved Significant Reductions, Why More?: Rep. Jonathan Fritz (R-Wayne) noted DEP’s testimony says there has already been a 13 percent decrease in carbon dioxide emissions, which is a good start, but it is not good enough.  He asked, haven’t we achieved a “sweet spot or balance” in already meeting what was in the original EPA Clean Power Plan requirements and the first step of Gov. Wolf’s order? He expressed a concern about introducing new policies that might upset this balance.  He also asked if businesses were at the table when DEP is discussing future steps. McDonnell said we have not yet achieved the 26 percent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 that is part of the Governor’s executive order.  He said DEP has used advisory groups with businesses, the public and many other representatives to help shape climate policy, adding DEP is finding businesses want the kinds of programs the Wolf Administration is advocating for as well as taking action on their own to set climate and renewable energy goals.

--  Won’t Climate Policies Kill Business In PA?  Rep. Carolyn Comitta (D-Chester) said she often gets the question about won’t climate policies and joining RGGI kill business and asked the Secretary how he would respond.  McDonnell said DEP has taken a look at the RGGI states and they have not seen negative impacts over the last 10 years of being in RGGI. In contrast, they are building out their renewable energy and energy conservation infrastructure and saving their businesses and residents money.

-- Needed Legislative Action: Rep. Leanne Kruger (D-Delaware) asked what the Secretary thought the General Assembly should be working on now to address climate change.  McDonnell said several things-- adopt changes to the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards to increase the solar requirement from 0.5 percent to 4 to 8 percent as recommended in the PA Solar Future Plan; updating the Act 129 Energy Efficiency program administered by the Public Utility Commission to remove the cap on energy efficiency as recommended in the Climate Action Plan Update; and look to encourage private investment in energy conservation by making further changes and expanding the PACE Program local financing option.

-- Solar/Wind Can’t Produce Anything Else: Rep. Kathy Rapp (R-Warren), who described herself as an oil and gas advocate, asked if solar and wind could ever produce things like plastics and asphalt like oil and natural gas do and can heavy equipment run on electric.  McDonnell said solar and wind energy can be used to power manufacturing operations, but obviously isn’t an ingredient in products.  With respect to heavy vehicles, there are no alternatives yet, but research is ongoing and items like that are not included in Gov. Wolf’s executive order.  He noted at one time the idea of going 50 miles per hour was thought of as impossible too.   

-- Recycling Solar Panels: Rep. Cris Dush (R-Jefferson) said Pennsylvania’s Solar Future Plan does not deal with recycling solar panels that contain lead and cadmium that can leach out of the panels and said that should be dealt with before we move forward.  McDonnell said the solar panel manufacturers are working to figure out the recycling issue, and noted panels typically have a 25 to 30 year life expectancy.  But, he said, the climate issue is right in front of us now and we need to deal with it.

-- Changes In Building Codes: In response to a question from Rep. David Zimmerman (R-Lancaster) about changing building codes to accomplish some climate initiatives, McDonnell said the state has already updated the energy provisions of the statewide building code and now the group charged with adopting the updates [in the Department of Labor and Industry] is looking at the next series of changes.  He added DEP is offering training for building operators on building retuning to promote energy conservation in existing buildings to save businesses money.

-- Renewable Energy Purchases By State:  Rep. Metcalfe expressed concern that renewable energy purchases made to comply with the Governor’s Executive Order were being done through a firm in San Francisco.  McDonnell said he was not familiar with the specifics [the Department of General Services handles those issues], but noted thanks to a law signed by Gov. Wolf any solar energy purchased in Pennsylvania to meet the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards must be generated within Pennsylvania’s borders.

Click Here for a copy of Secretary McDonnell’s written testimony.

A video of the informational meeting is on the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee video webpage.

Previous House Committee Meeting

In March, the Committee held an informational meeting on debunking modern myths surrounding climate change where the only presenter at the meeting said 140 million years of data on carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere shows the “planet’s CO2 [carbon dioxide] levels have been in a significant and dangerous decline falling from 2,500 ppm” to about 412 ppm today, up from 280 ppm at the beginning of the industrial revolution.

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), Majority Chair of the Committee, said at the end of the March meeting "People use that [climate denier term] directed at me also.  There are four seasons a year here in Pennsylvania, we get regular climate changes. I don't think there is any way to deny there are changes."

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) serves as Majority Chair of the House Environmental Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-783-1707 or sending email to: Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-787-7647 or sending email to:

(Photo: Rep. Metcalfe.)

Related Article - House Committee:

Presenter Tells House Committee 140 Million Years Of Data Shows Greenhouse Gases Are In A Significant And Dangerous Decline

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[Posted: September 19, 2019]


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