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Wolf sets goal for Pa. to cut greenhouse gas emissions

  • Amy Sisk
Gov. Tom Wolf announces targets for greenhouse gas emissions reduction in Pittsburgh Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019.

Sabrina Bodon / WESA

Gov. Tom Wolf announces targets for greenhouse gas emissions reduction in Pittsburgh Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019.

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Scientists have been studying the link between climate change and extreme weather events such as Hurricane Sandy, shown here in a NASA image, which left more than 1.3 million Pennsylvanians in the dark in 2012.

Gov. Tom Wolf has set a new goal for the state to combat climate change: reduce greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent by 2025.

Long-term, the governor wants to see an 80-percent reduction by 2050.

He announced the goals Tuesday in Pittsburgh, saying they are based off the state’s 2005 greenhouse gas emission levels.

“We’re about halfway there, which means we have work to do,” he said.

The goals stem from the state’s draft Climate Action Plan, released in November by the Department of Environmental Protection. The draft states that if every state and nation met comparable goals, global temperature rise could be kept below the 2-degree Celsius threshold that experts say is necessary to mitigate the catastrophic consequences of climate change.

In his announcement, Wolf called for more wind and solar energy. He said he is open to beefing up the state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard — which requires utilities to buy certain amounts of power from alternative sources — though that would require the Republican-controlled legislature to act.

Wolf also cited recent efforts already underway to reduce emissions, such as a proposed rule to cut methane emissions from natural gas well sites and a new law bolstering in-state solar energy.

Wolf did not say whether the state should act to help the nuclear power industry. Nuclear power generation does not release carbon emissions, but it’s struggling to compete with cheap natural gas and renewables.

“I haven’t decided what the state ought to be doing,” Wolf said.

Asked about emissions tied to the state’s growing petrochemical industry — including an ethane cracker plant under construction in Beaver County — he indicated his support for the industry.

Wolf said it’s important that natural gas production to fuel facilities like Shell’s cracker plant is done responsibly.

“If you want an either-or situation, I’m not your guy,” he said. “I want to do both. I want to have an energy efficient future, I want to have a strong environment and I want to have a good economy in Pennsylvania, and I think we can do all of those things.”

The shift away from coal-fired electricity to natural gas power generation has helped the state achieve greenhouse gas reductions below its 2005 levels, according to the state’s draft climate action plan.

“We encourage policymakers, including Gov. Wolf, to support common-sense energy and climate-related solutions that encourage responsible natural gas production and use given the overwhelmingly clear benefits of this American resource,” said David Spigelmyer, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a trade group for Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry.

Many environmental groups praised Wolf’s emissions reduction goals, including the Environmental Defense Fund.

Andrew Williams, director of legislative and regulatory affairs for EDF, said Wolf’s efforts to cut methane emissions are a good step. To achieve major reductions, he said he would like to see even more action.

“There needs to be a limit placed on carbon emissions from the power sector,” Williams said. “We’re talking about setting a firm statewide limit on the CO2 emissions coming from the power sector that would then incentivize the development of a cap-and-trade program.”

A program like that would set a limit on the state’s emissions and allow companies to buy or sell allowances based on what they emit. Other northeast states have joined together to form a regional cap-and-trade program, but Pennsylvania is not a member.

Some environmental groups urged the governor to be far more ambitious in setting goals. Food & Water Watch, for one, said the state should aim for 100 percent renewable energy by 2035 with significant job growth in clean energy.

Wolf on Tuesday also announced the “GreenGov Council,” a committee that will work with all state agencies to reduce energy use and bolster energy efficiency within state buildings. The council has several of its own targets:

  • A 3 percent reduction in overall energy consumption per year.
  • Replace 25 percent of the state car fleet with electric vehicles by 2025.
  • Offset at least 40 percent of the commonwealth’s annual electricity usage with renewable energy.

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