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Pennsylvania Environmental Regulators Reject Teen's Climate Change Petition

Mount Pleasant resident Ashley Funk sued the state to compel the DEP to reduce carbon emissions.

courtesy of Ashley Funk

Mount Pleasant resident Ashley Funk sued the state to compel the DEP to reduce carbon emissions.

Pennsylvania’s Environmental Quality Board has rejected a petition from a Westmoreland County woman to regulate carbon dioxide emissions. Ashley Funk was 18 years old at the time she sued the state to force the Department of Environmental Protection to take action on climate change. Funk, now 20 and a student at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, says she filed the petition as a way to take action on climate change.
“We all agree that Pennsylvania needs to address climate change, the question is how,” says Funk. “I think the (Department of Environmental Protection) is talking about climate change but they haven’t shown to us that the steps they are taking are going to do anything. That we will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by the percentage that is needed in our state.”
Funk filed the petition as part of a national campaign organized by the environmental group, Our Children’s Trust. It seeks a reduction in carbon emissions by six percent each year until 2050. The targets are based on the work of climate scientist Jim Hansen. The lawsuits appeal to the duty of governments to protect the “public trust,” a concept that dates back to Roman times, according to the organization’s website. Funk, who is represented by attorneys from Widener University’s Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic, also drew on a section of the Pennsylvania Constitution known as the environmental rights amendment. 
The Department of Environmental Protection submitted a 53-page recommendation to the Environmental Quality Board advising the members to reject Funk’s petition, which they did with a 17-3 vote. The DEP’s report lists several initiatives that are already working to achieve reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and says the state is making progress.

Overall, Pennsylvania’s gross GHG emissions are expected to be lower in 2020 than in 2000, with reductions in the residential, commercial, transportation, agriculture and waste sectors.52 The total statewide emissions sinks are also expected to increase, creating additional net GHG benefits through 2020.

The DEP also points to the state’s Climate Change Action Plan as its current policy map for reducing emissions. But State Representative Greg Vitali, who sits on both the Environmental Quality Board and the state Climate Change Advisory Committee, dismissed that argument.
“It’s a totally inaccurate assertion because this petition was calling for regulating a six percent reduction [in greenhouse gases],” Vitali told StateImpact. “Our Climate Change Action Plan doesn’t require anything. There’s a real difference between something that compels action and the state’s Climate Change Action Plan, which compels nothing.”
Vitali says the Action Plan sets no measurable targets to reduce carbon emissions.
The DEP report also says state reductions would have a minimal impact on a global problem.

…by totally removing Pennsylvania’s emissions from global totals, the calculated global CO2 concentration would only be 0.014 percent lower than the actual global concentration.

That argument frustrates Funk.
“There’s this overall consensus to just push it off to another person or another time,” says Funk.
The decision to reject Funk’s proposal comes as the DEP may be compelled to reduce carbon emissions by federal authorities. The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed its new Clean Power Plan to force states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. The goal is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent by 2030.

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