Pennsylvania climate plan, recommendations released

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Pennsylvania's climate action plan arrived just in time for Christmas, but it's already a year late.

The draft document -- an update of a 2009 plan to decrease greenhouse gas emissions in the state -- comes out of the Department of Environmental Protection. It's based on workplans recommended by a 15-person committee representing industry, government and nonprofits.

The legislation that required this report said the update should have been issued at the end of 2012.

The latest climate action plan proposes expanding natural gas distribution pipelines to give more Pennsylvanians access to the fuel. It also advocates encouraging operators of coal mines to capture some of the methane vented into the air before, during, or after mining activity.

Cecil-based Consol Energy is involved in two such projects, one active and one pending. The captured methane from its mines is being converted to carbon credits that will be sold in California, which has the only cap and trade market in the U.S.

Patrick Henderson, Pennsylvania's energy executive, ruled out the possibility of establishing a statewide carbon trading market, which would involve setting a cap on carbon emissions.

While the 2009 climate action plan set a 30 percent reduction target for emissions by 2020, the current draft has no such goal, which disappointed committee member Christina Simeone, director of the PennFuture Energy Center for Enterprise and the Environment.

"A greenhouse gas goal is kind of part of the definition of what a greenhouse plan is," Ms. Simeone said. "We just have an emissions inventory and a bunch of workplans," many of them hinging on voluntary initiatives.

Setting an emissions target wasn't part of the climate action committee's mission, said Eric Shirk, a spokesman for the DEP.

"The work groups identified many different paths you can take to bring emissions down," he said. "It was more important to show options rather than just set a goal."

The DEP's secretary, newly-sworn-in Chris Abruzzo, generated some controversy at his confirmation hearing earlier this month when he said he isn't aware of any "adverse impacts to human beings or to animals or to plant life at this small level of climate change."

Mr. Shirk clarified that while climate change is occurring and having impacts, "Pennsylvania is doing its part" and can't fix the problem alone.

The climate action workplans drafted by the committee touch on a variety of emission reduction strategies, including increasing gas generation from landfills, manure and municipal solid waste.

Several items focused on building performance. One would require building systems to be fine-tuned regularly to make sure they're functioning efficiently.

Another would commit all new buildings and major renovations to be designed to consume up to 80 percent less fossil fuels than the regional average.

If all the workplans suggested by the committee were implemented, the DEP calculated that more than 17,000 jobs would be created by 2020, but gross state product would decline by $4.5 billion. In 2009, the DEP had said implementing the recommendations of that plan would create 65,000 new jobs and add more than $6 billion to the state economy.

It's not expected that all suggestions would be advocated, and the DEP, with the exception of nine legislative recommendations, isn't taking positions on which plans should be pursued.

Among its recommendations, the DEP called for clarification on who would be liable for carbon dioxide captured and sequestered underground, if that became a necessary or viable option.

The question is "Who owns it long term?" Mr. Henderson said. "Nobody's ever really done this. What if it leaks? Does the generator own it in perpetuity? Does the Commonwealth step in and say, 'This is of such consequence, we'll step up and take it on?' "

Neither the DEP nor the administration is bound by the findings of the report, which is expected to be delivered to the governor before the end of the year, and some were hesitant to suggest that the recommendations would translate into policy.

"The process has been nebulous," said J. Scott Roberts, former deputy secretary of the DEP who joined the committee last year.

"You have a committee that doesn't have a very clear mandate, doesn't have particularly strong leadership, and is guided by DEP that continually maintains that this is an advisory committee, and they're not bound by its recommendations," he said.

Anya Litvak: or 412-263-1455.

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