Energy. Environment. Economy.

Corbett Administration Ignoring Pennsylvania’s Climate Change Law

The Corbett Administration has failed to produce a pair of legally required reports about climate change, and the governor is reluctant to publicly discuss the topic.

Michael Bryant/Inquirer/Landov

The Corbett Administration has failed to produce a pair of legally required reports about climate change, and the governor is reluctant to publicly discuss the topic.

Despite widespread scientific agreement about the risks of climate change, the issue has become highly politicized.

After President Obama recently announced his plans to tackle global warming, Governor Corbett called the proposal a war on coal and jobs.

While the Corbett administration is critical of federal action on the issue, it’s also been ignoring a Pennsylvania law requiring the state to address climate change.

“Science, not emotion”

A few months after taking office in 2011, Governor Corbett gave a speech saying science would guide his administration’s policy decisions.

“We need to protect the environment,” he said. “But we must do it on science, not emotion.”

However, not everyone agrees the governor is doing all he can to combat climate change.

According to a 2009 state report, Pennsylvania contributes a full one percent of the greenhouse gas emissions for the entire planet.

Nationally, the state ranks third for carbon dioxide emissions and fourth for coal production.

Christina Simeone chairs the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Climate Change Advisory Committee and works for the environmental organization PennFuture.

“There’s real questions about whether the Corbett administration believes that human-induced climate change exists,” she said.

The advisory committee was set up under a 2008 law known as the Pennsylvania Climate Change Act signed by former Governor Ed Rendell, a Democrat.

The law directed the DEP to produce a pair of non-binding reports: one is an overall climate change impact assessment, the other is an action plan for lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

Those documents were first published four years ago. The law requires them to be updated every three years, with the committee’s input.

Both updates were due last year. But Simeone and others who worked on drafts say they don’t know why neither report has been published yet.

“A lack of support”

Joe Sherrick was the DEP’s Climate Change Program Manager. He was charged with overseeing the process, but tells StateImpact Pennsylvania he left the job a few months ago out of frustration.

“There was a general lack of support from the administration and from the department for anything related to climate change work,” Sherrick said.

Doubts about the administration’s commitment to the issue surfaced earlier this year when the DEP Secretary at the time, Michael Krancer, questioned the scientific consensus on climate change. 

“There is no uniformity within the scientific community on how much the warming is occurring, over how much time,” Krancer told StateImpact Pennsylvania,  ”And there’s no agreement about how much is attributable to the human part of it and how much is attributable to other factors.”

Actually, there is widespread agreement among the world’s scientists that climate change is occurring and the warming is due to increases in man-made greenhouse emissions.

When StateImpact Pennsylvania asked Corbett earlier this week if he believes in the scientific consensus around man-made climate change, he dodged the question.

“Well, what I believe is that we need to be able to provide jobs for the people of Pennsylvania,” he said, “Whether you view that as climate change, I don’t know. But I believe in trying to grow the jobs we need to come in with all forms of energy.”

Greg Vitali (D- Delaware) is a vocal supporter of environmental causes. He also serves on the DEP’s Climate Change Advisory Committee and is frustrated with the process.

“[Corbett has] just relentlessly refused to acknowledge the problem,” he said.

Vitali believes the lack of interest extends beyond the governor’s office.Under the law, legislative leaders are supposed to appoint people to serve on the 18-member committee.

Four of those slots have been left vacant for over a year by leaders from both parties: Republican leaders Rep. Mike Turzai and Sen. Dominic Pileggi have three vacancies to appoint between them. Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa has one.

Vitali also points out that even when the climate reports are published, they’re nonbinding and don’t force the DEP to take any action.

“If you’re giving advice to an agency that doesn’t want to take it, you have to wonder how useful that is,” he said.

“A summer climate like Georgia”

The 2009 action plan report sets a target to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2020.

Raymond Najjar is a professor of Oceanography at Penn State University. He worked on the original 2009 climate change impact assessment and the update, which has yet to be released.

“The character of Pennsylvania is going to change,” he said. “If we go along a business-as-usual trajectory, we’ll have a summer climate like Georgia by the end of the century. We’re talking no snow on the ground.”

Simeone believes it’s important for Pennsylvanians to understand what these scenarios will look like.

“It has been very frustrating to continue to really work on this issue and not see it be prioritized,” she said.

A spokesman for the DEP and the governor’s office says both reports are being finalized and emphasizes they have not been deliberately held up. Although he couldn’t explain the delay or give a timetable for their release.


  • Balicon

    Governor Corbett will do anything to weaken and paralyze the DEP because he is a right wing ideologue who takes his marching orders from ALEC and his sponsors in the energy industry. Summary firings, suppressed reports, sexual harrassment and climate science denial all contribute to this atmosphere of decay in this important public agency. He wants to starve the DEP until it is so weak he can “drown it in a bathtub”. This is the people’s government Mr. Corbett, not yours to dismantle.

    • Mike Mangan

      This is the people’s government, Balicon, not yours to loot.

      • Don

        loot ?

  • Celia Janosik

    People in positions of responsibility are so irresponsible. The Fossil Fuel Industry cares nothing for We The People, for our health and our children’s future. The stakes are high, money is America’s god, talk about Rome burning while Caesar fiddles. Ever one has a fiddle, put it down and protest, do something useful before our water is twice the price of “Clean Natural Gas” and all our resources go into rebuilding what Mother Nature Destroys.

  • gofer1

    Why doesn’t somebody publish a report outlining what will happen if Pa reduces their emissions as stated? The warming is the past 16 years has been statistically zero worldwide,while “beer bubbles” have increased steadily. 25 years this has been pushed on people, no snow, more snow, no rain, more rain, more hurricanes,less hurricanes, higher temps,lower temps……how would anybody know if anything they did have an impact? It’s impossible to measure. You could never know whatever happened would not have happened anyway. Rich people need to quit worrying that all the “less fortunate” are using up all “their” resources.

    There are over 6,000 products made from oil and just about everything you touch has an oil connection. It’s the foundation of all prosperity and has lifted millions out of poverty and extended life spans. For all this it’s condemned and treated like a poison by “over-privileged” and uneducated people who have a need to “save the world” from capitalists. Strange. All this is not new. In 1899, “scientists” were postulating about the changing weather and melting glaciers. It’s just a old scare made over with technology, unfortunately billions of dollars are wasted on chasing ghosts and real problems are avoided to try and do the impossible.

  • glenncz

    Pennsylvania temperatures have risen since the 1970′s and are now back to the levels they were in the 1930′s and 1940′s. Go here and plug in temperature, Pennsylvania, June, 12 months, 1930-2013. Click Plot and you get a graph that reveals nothing extraordinary when comparing the annual temps of the past 20 years with those of the 1930′s and 1940′s. 80 years of economic and population growth and No Appreciable increase in Pennsylvania temperatures compared to 80 years ago. What’s all the Fuss about??? Thanks Corbett, ignore these science quacks, we want jobs and economic growth in Pennsylvania.

  • Mike Mangan

    It is the height of insanity for a single city, state, or nation even to try and “tackle climate change.” There is literally nothing Pennsylvania could do to lower the planet’s temperature. This is what the global warming nutters never talk about. How much would co2 emissions have to be reduced to produce how much of a drop in temperatures? They don’t have a clue. All of this is simply posturing that hurts the poor first and hardest.

    • mrtsolar

      Every reduction to the impact of the environment is important. Even if Pennsylvania has little impact, if we clean up our act, we benefit from improved health, cleaner air, water, and property, and we set an example that will catch on with neighboring states, and their neighboring states, and so on.

      If one person does something that’s different from the norm, and other people see that it works better than the norm and is more desirable, other people will join in. For example, many people I know thought I was crazy and stupid for buying an electric car. They tried every trick in the book of words to convince me not to buy it. Now that I have one, many of them wish they had an electric car. They really like it.

      Change (especially for the better) is contagious. If Pennsylvania changes to largely reduce emissions, out impact goes much further than just the direct reduction in emissions. Thinking that we can do nothing results in us not doing anything.

      To drop temperatures, we need negative emissions. The main goal is to get to zero emissions to stop the increase of the rate of warming. Once we get to zero emissions, we can work on reducing the atmospheric CO2 concentration. To do this, we’ve got to stop using fossil fuels. This includes coal, oil, and natural gas. I’ve already stopped using oil with my purchase of the electric car, and once my solar panels are installed next month, I will be free of coal. Next, is to eliminate propane usage. (One piece at a time, nearly wiping out my carbon footprint).

      By the way, I love my electric car. It is the best car I have ever driven. The couple of solar panels I have work wonderfully, even in bad weather. Solar definitely works in PA.

      • Mike Mangan

        Please, stay focused on reality. There is a reason why NO ONE in the warmist community uses actual numbers when urging emissions reductions. If they did it would force people to see how pointless individual efforts are. You could make every single human being that lives in Pennsylvania and all of the economic activity they engage in disappear tomorrow and you would not make a measurable dent in global temps.
        Driving an electric car is a rich, white liberal’s way of increasing their self esteem. Don’t punish poor people around the world in order to feel better about yourself.

        • mrtsolar

          How am I punishing poor people? By reducing demand on oil, which in turn helps to keep prices down (individually, not a dent, but factor in 149,999 others doing the same thing in the US alone), and reducing emissions which helps everybody breathe easier? I don’t drive my electric car to raise my self esteem, but because it makes good financial and ecological sense. My emissions are 1/5 of what a gas-powered car is (from coal at the moment, zero emissions once the solar is in). I’m not rich, either, making $30,000 a year. I get by on that because I am sensible about how I spend my money, buying only things I need, realizing that many things that would be nice to have serve no practical purpose, so there’s no point in having them. Payments on an electric car (plus the $12 a month in electricity it costs to drive it) are cheaper than keeping a gas-powered car fueled up and maintained.

          You want numbers? Take the emissions from all fossil-fuel sources, 33.4 billion metric tons, and zero it out. That’s what it takes just to stop the RATE of increase in temperature. In order to reverse the warming, we need to remove enough CO2 from the atmosphere to lower the concentration from 398 ppm currently back to at least 350 ppm. If it can go back to 290 ppm, that would be ideal and return the atmosphere to its pre-industrial state. Natural carbon sinks (plants mainly) can take care of most of the re-absorption of CO2, but we need to stop pumping it out before that can happen. The longer it takes to reach zero emissions, the harder it will be to lower temperatures because of feedback loops linked to higher temperatures, mainly the loss of polar ice, which currently reflects a large amount of sunlight, keeping temperatures down.

        • Don

          You appear to be the typical conservative, against anything positive but not having your own solution.

    • Andrew Sherwood Johnson

      So your solution is to do nothing. Like saying the ship is sinking, but I only have a bucket, so why bail water. (Note: if the other 100 passengers followed suit, you might save yourself. This is called “leadership.” You should try it.)

      • Mike Mangan

        US co2 emissions have dropped to a 20 year low without “doing anything.”

        Add to that the temperature plateau we’ve been in for the last 17 years and I am completely confident that we don’t need to “do anything.” Your analogy only works (theoretically) if the 100 passengers represent all of the nations of Earth. No country is going to follow our example if it’s to their disadvantage. Besides, with all of the respect we’ve lost under the Obama regime what makes you think anyone would follow our lead? Could you even come up with more wishful thinking?

        • Andrew Sherwood Johnson

          Correct – 100 nations. But, embarrasingly, even CHINA is showing more leadership that the US in this regard.

          In addition, CO2 emissions have dropped because of a) the global economic downturn, and b) coal plants are closing due to cheap natural gas, along with c) minor impacts from improved efficiency, neither of which will continue to reduce CO2 in the long-term.
          In any case, I’m glad you are confident. Clearly you (and Fox) have performed a scientific analysis complete with statistic probabilities (which is really what matters), that demonstrate the scientists are all wrong. I find YOUR wishful thinking very comforting.

          • Mike Mangan

            Ah, glad you mentioned the economic downturn. That’s why you people should never be near the reigns of power. Any idea that reducing the necessary amounts of co2 can be done without economic hardship and punishing poor people all over the world is insanity.
            Also, who would possibly care what China does on “climate change?” Do you see that motivating anyone in Congress beyond the usual nuts, Waxman, Markey, and Whitehouse? It’s no wonder why you people never accomplish anything.

          • Andrew Sherwood Johnson

            “who would possibly care what China does on climate change?”
            Uh … you do. You were the one who suggested that we should not change our ways because “no country is going to follow our example if it’s to their disadvantage.” Well, they already ARE … and we haven’t even SET an example yet.
            In other words, Americans have become the followers – not the leaders … (and not just in climate change: take a look at the state of education in the US). This ultimately puts US at a disadvantage ..

          • Mike Mangan

            Let the other nations “lead” all they want. We’ll just stay put and watch them lead their nations right off a cliff. You’ll get no support in this country, ever. You had your shot from 2006-2010 and you did nothing with it, of course.

          • Don

            You people?

  • Christine Adams

    We bought our first water furnace, a Geothermal unit made in Kittanning, 30 miles from our house, 27 years ago. LOCAL JOBS!! 25 years later, we bought a replacement Geothermal water furnace, at TWICE the Price, made in Illinois. CLIMATE CHANGE CAN CREATE JOBS!!! CLEAN,energy efficient JOBS!!!

  • Patrick Henderson

    Interestingly, neither Sherrick (an employee of DEP tasked by the Administration with doing his job) nor Simeone once expressed the concerns they readily share with StateImpact with the Governor’s Office. One thinks if they were actually concerned with the issue, rather than interested in taking partisan potshots, they would have spoken up. Likewise, Rep. Vitali received a two page letter from the Governor’s Office discussing climate change and efforts (and successes at reducing emissions; this letter was shared with StateImpact, so neither can accurately claim to not know the Governor’s thoughts on the issue.

    Patrick Henderson, Energy Executive
    Office of Gov. Tom Corbett

  • aprilktutor

    “A spokesman for the DEP and the governor’s office says both reports are
    being finalized and emphasizes they have not been deliberately held up.
    Although he couldn’t explain the delay or give a timetable for their
    release.” Man, if I said this to my boss, I’d be fired in a second. Stupidity is just as bad as maliciousness. Ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it. Saying you didn’t mean to? You don’t know when you’ll have it? Come on, how old are we, five? Seems like everyone in charge, from the governor on down, are worse than incompetent. Time to vote these a**holes out!

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