Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Pennsylvania

Brunners Island Power Station_PA_iStock_695x352

Steam rises into the clear blue sky from the Brunners Island Power Station, a coal-fired electric-generating facility on the Susquehanna River in southern Pennsylvania.


The state is taking a stand against climate change and protecting human health, the environment, and the economy in the process

Over the last several decades, Pennsylvania’s climate has changed, fueling wild fluctuations in rainfall, hotter summers and warmer winters flash floods, polluted runoff, unhealthy air and water, and more disease-carrying pests.

Adding to these challenges, just a few weeks ago scientists concluded that climate change impacts will make it roughly 10 percent harder to restore the Chesapeake Bay and the rivers and streams that form its watershed. Overwhelming research indicates these trends will continue to worsen unless something is done. 

Pennsylvania is poised to take action by joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI)—a cooperative effort among the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The first step to joining RGGI is the adoption of a market-based carbon dioxide (CO2) emission regulations to tackle climate change head on. The proposed regulation, the Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Budget Trading Program, is under consideration by the state’s General Assembly right now.

According to the United States Energy Information Administration, Pennsylvania ranks fifth in the nation when it comes to generating annual fossil-fuel fired CO2 emissions—a major contributor to regional climate change impacts. The proposed regulation and program would help reduce CO2 emissions greatly and by doing so, ultimately protect human health, our environment, and our economy.

Protecting Human Health

Climate change already has, and will continue to, impact human health in a variety of ways. It inflames respiratory problems like asthma and infections by increasing irritants in the air, such as pollen and mold concentrations. Disease-bearing mosquitos and ticks spread further and live longer due to rising temperatures and milder winters caused by climate change. And higher temperatures caused by climate change put vulnerable populations at greater risk for deadly illnesses like heat stroke, heart failure, and more.

Data in the Department of Environmental Protection’s Regulatory Analysis Form outlines, in detail, the health impacts from emissions that would be avoided by 2030 if the proposed CO2 regulations are adopted. This includes lower incidences in emergency room visits for asthma, acute bronchitis, upper and lower respiratory symptoms—not to mention a decrease in lost workdays. Overall, this proposed carbon-reduction program is an opportunity to protect Pennsylvanians and their health from the worst effects of climate change.

Protecting Our Natural Resources

Pennsylvanians and their environment are already experiencing adverse impacts from climate change. Higher temperatures and an increasing number of extreme weather events have led to record rains and flooding as seen during the summer of 2018, as well as increased periods of drought, heat waves, and large storms. Other impacts have included: decreasing water supplies, degrading water quality, causing more disease and pests to impact our agriculture, killing native trees and plants, and more.

Climate change is upending normal weather patterns, leading to periods of both intense precipitation and drought, both of which pose great difficulties for Pennsylvania farmers:

  • Increased precipitation leads to difficulty in planting crops and harvesting meaningful yields and an increase in plant disease and destruction caused by pests.
  • More frequent droughts will require an increase in irrigation to sustain crops and may lead to a large decrease in water quantity throughout the state.
  • Higher temperatures also impact livestock such as dairy cows and poultry as heat-induced stress decreases milk and egg production.
  • To mitigate the heat, farmers must purchase extensive, and potentially expensive, cooling systems to protect the animals. Forests and plants that typically help by naturally reducing carbon dioxide, can also become overwhelmed and stressed if changes are not made to CO2 emissions.
  • Higher temperatures and ground level ozone can contribute to destroying chlorophyll, reducing survivability of tree seedlings, and increasing plant disease and pests.
  • These impacts to our forested and natural areas can ultimately impact outdoor recreation and tourism. (Currently, during this pandemic it has been shown that outdoor recreation has been utilized much more and has helped with both mental, physical, and emotional health.)

What’s more, without making changes in greenhouse gas emissions in the state, water quantity and quality will be greatly impacted. Climate change is leading to sea level rises, which greatly impacts the Delaware River estuary and Philadelphia’s drinking water supplies. It also leads to flooding and nutrients rushing into our local waters which can and has led to harmful algal blooms. Higher temperatures in local waters also leads to problems with aquatic species spawning and more. Native fish may need to migrate to cooler areas to survive, impacting Pennsylvania’s sport fishing and more. Swimming and recreating in local waters can become increasing dangerous due to poor water quality from increased pathogens. Many of these incidences are currently happening throughout the state and will continue to increase if changes do not take place to mitigate the harm.

A Greener Economy

The CO2 Budget Trading Program promises to support a green economy. According to the National Resources Defense Council, states in RGGI have:

  • Created 45,000 job-years (a job-year equals one year’s worth of full-time employment for one person);
  • Added $4.3 billion in economic value to the region;
  • And outpaced the economic growth of non-RGGI states by 4.3 percent (between 2008 and 2016) all while cutting power plant carbon pollution faster than the rest of the nation.

According to economic models in the Department of Environmental Protection’s Regulatory Analysis Form, between the year 2022-2030 the proposed regulations will lead to a Gross State Product of $1.9 billion and a net increase of more than 27,000 jobs in Pennsylvania. There are also many other economic benefits that may be more difficult to project but will certainly be impactful, including less emergency funding having to be spent for extreme weather events, such as increased flooding, increased droughts, and tornado/storm damage. There will also be less infrastructure damage caused by flooding, outdoor recreation and tourism industries will be protected, drinking water issues and costs (in protecting water quality and improving quality) will be mitigated, and more.

If Pennsylvania is to protect human health, mitigate environmental impacts, and support a greener economy, it must consider the adoption of market-based carbon dioxide emissions regulations.

Harry Campbell 90x110

Harry Campbell

Director of Science Policy and Advocacy, CBF

[email protected]

Issues in this Post

Air Pollution   Advocacy   Climate Change   Green Infrastructure   Pennsylvania Office  


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