This year marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, which is a challenging milestone to celebrate in the middle of a pandemic that is keeping many of us socially distant and preventing large gatherings like cleanup events. But while the classroom sit-ins that were the hallmark of Gaylord Nelson’s movement might not be possible right now, there is still ample reason to celebrate the successes we have realized as a nation, as well as look to the challenges we are still facing.
The theme of this milestone Earth Day is climate change – a problem that is bigger than any one person, state, or even nation can grapple with alone. There are many parallels between climate change and the current COVID-19 pandemic – namely the need for efforts to fight it must be done both on a large scale and by individuals at the same time.
In Pennsylvania, we have recognized climate change as one of the biggest issues facing Pennsylvania, and we are working to address it on multiple fronts.
We know that the driver of climate change is fossil fuel emissions – the exhaust from our cars and power plants and factories, among other sources – and we are taking steps to reduce them.
One of those steps is joining an effort with our neighboring states in the northeast to cut down on emissions from power plants called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative or RGGI for short. Being a part of RGGI means Pennsylvania will put a limit or cap on the amount of carbon dioxide that can be emitted by electric power plants and requiring them to pay for the pollution that they create. Power plants that generate less pollution will pay less and will be able to sell their electricity more cheaply. Carbon pollution will decrease, our air will be cleaner, and the revenue from the program will be reinvested into the Pennsylvania economy through projects to improve energy efficiency and reduce air pollution.
Another step is to cut down on another climate change-causing greenhouse gas: methane. This gas, which is the main component of natural gas, can be much more potent as a greenhouse gas. DEP has been developing regulations to prevent leakage of this gas, along with other air pollutants called volatile organic compounds (or VOCs) from natural gas wells and pipelines across the state, keeping it contained in pipelines. This regulation will apply to existing wells and pipelines, and complements requirements that are found in newer permits for natural gas wells and pipelines.
Fighting climate change is bigger than one agency though, and there are things that can and should be done by policymakers in the legislature and by leaders in the business community. The Pennsylvania Climate Action Plan outlines cost-effective ways we can reduce greenhouse gas pollution across the state. Smart farming practices, increased use of energy-efficient appliances and equipment in homes and offices, and updating building codes can all cut down on carbon pollution. These solutions don’t just fight climate change, in many cases they save money as well.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the power of working together as a society to tackle a worldwide threat at all levels – global, national, state, and individual. We can put the same effort into reshaping our environment and economy for the future and fight climate change. This is possibly the best way that we can make every day Earth Day, even if we can’t all celebrate together this year.