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Ten Tools to Take Climate Action in Pennsylvania

November 17, 2021 10:00 AM

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Climate change is a major challenge facing Pennsylvania, and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is leading many efforts to fight back and protect communities.  

The DEP Energy Programs Office began developing state climate action plans about 10 years ago, as required by the Pennsylvania Climate Change Act of 2008. Under Governor Wolf, we’ve accelerated and expanded work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to equip Pennsylvania’s communities, businesses, and individual residents to address climate change impacts occurring now and projected for the near future. In 2019, the governor set a state goal for greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced 26 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050.  

Here are ten things to know about climate change in Pennsylvania, and tools from DEP to take action whether you’re a government official, business owner, farmer, community or environmental group, educator and students, media organization, or concerned resident. 

Find more materials at Because climate action is a team effort across state government, check other state agencies, too.  

1. Pennsylvania’s average temperature is rising. 

Pennsylvania has become warmer and wetter over the past 120 years. The average state temperature has climbed nearly 2° F since 1901, and our average annual rainfall has increased about 10 percent, while extreme weather events have increased. It’s projected that by the middle decades of this century, we'll be another 5.9° F hotter on average, with more days over 100° F, while average rainfall continues to increase 8-12 percent. 

2. Climate-related changes are happening now, and more are projected for the near future. 

As Pennsylvania’s climate has become warmer and there have been more swings in extreme weather, we’re already seeing more frequent flood damage to communities, businesses, homes, and crops and livestock, as well as coastal sea level rise. It’s projected that more flooding will increasingly stress utility systems and roads and bridges around the state.

Flooding, ticks, and agriculture: Climate Impacts

Hotter average temperatures and more frequent heat waves and flooding will also affect Pennsylvanians' health, increasing respiratory illnesses; vector-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease; and heat stroke. All of these risks will be compounded for already overburdened and vulnerable Pennsylvanians, such as those living in Environmental Justice areas or locations geographically susceptible to climate change impacts.

Other changes include shifts in labor, such as seasonal outdoor work; a decline in the winter recreation industry; and expansion of invasive species that are crowding out native plants, fish, and animals.  

3. Pennsylvania’s greenhouse gas emissions are tracked yearly.

As a large state and an energy giant, Pennsylvania is one of the biggest generators of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. We emitted about 269 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2018 (the latest year for which data are available), with industry, electricity production, and transportation the largest sources. 

Although there was an uptick in greenhouse gas emissions over the past couple of years, the overall trend since our baseline year 2005 is a modest decline in emissions, spurred by several factors: the replacement of coal-powered electricity with natural gas, continued installation of energy efficiency measures, and increasing use of renewable energy, such as wind and solar.

Big picture: Pennsylvania needs to achieve deeper reductions if we’re going to lower statewide greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050 and avoid worsening climate change impacts. 

  • Find state greenhouse gas emissions data and trends at: 2021 Pennsylvania Greenhouse Gas Inventory, a public report from the DEP Energy Programs Office covering the residential, commercial, industrial, transportation, electricity production, agriculture, waste management, and forestry and land use sectors. 

4. Pennsylvania is acting to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. 

At Governor Wolf’s direction, DEP is developing a rulemaking to enable Pennsylvania to join 10 Northeast states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. RGGI caps carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, sets up an auction system for plants to purchase emissions allowances, and invests the proceeds from these purchases in energy efficiency, clean energy sources, and related jobs for Pennsylvanians. Thousands of Pennsylvanians commented on the draft rulemaking this fall. DEP is currently reviewing this input and developing a final draft for further review by stakeholder groups. 

How RGGI Works infographic

5. Pennsylvania’s state climate action plan can guide your efforts. 

Pennsylvania Climate Action Plan 2021 is your go-to resource for starting climate action, whether you’re working on a state level; in a community, business sector, or classroom; or individually. It recommends 18 strategies—in energy, transportation, forestry, farming, recreation, and other areas—that will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protect Pennsylvanians’ health and safety, and create opportunities for new jobs and other economic benefits. A focus on our Environmental Justice areas is incorporated throughout.  

6. DEP is helping to fund increased use of electric vehicles. 

Two programs—Alternative Fuels Incentive Grants and Driving PA Forward—provide funding to support purchases of electric vehicles and installation of charging stations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollutants. We've funded over 1,000 chargers installed by local governments, schools, businesses, and organizations in locations around Pennsylvania. We also provide individual consumers rebates for electric cars and electric motorcycles: about 6,155 rebates totaling over $9.1 million in just the past five years! 

Working with PennDOT, DEP is supporting development of “electric vehicle corridors” around the state. We’re targeting funding to support fast-charging installation along high-traffic highways, with the goal of having chargers available every 50 miles, and located no more than 5 miles off the road. High-population areas, including Environmental Justice areas, will benefit from the healthier air quality as we reduce emissions. 

Electric Vehicles in Pennsylvania

7. Counties, cities, townships, and boroughs across Pennsylvania are developing local climate action plans.   

Over 55 entities, representing more than 300 municipalities, are participating in the Local Climate Action Program of the DEP Energy Programs Office. They’re paired with college students and ICLEI USA to quantify greenhouse gas emissions and identify climate-related vulnerabilities. They incorporate 2021 Pennsylvania Climate Action Plan recommendations into development of local plans. They learn how to ensure that residents in Environmental Justice areas are included in the planning process and further engage community members in the process. 

8. Clean energy is the fastest growing energy job sector in Pennsylvania.   

State Data

Data show that clean energy is a leading creator of quality jobs in Pennsylvania. The sector added 7,794 jobs from 2017 through 19, for an 8.7 percent average job growth rate, compared to a 1.9 percent average overall job growth in the state.  

Five industries—energy efficiency, clean energy generation, alternative transportation, clean grid and storage, and clean fuels—together employed over 97,000 Pennsylvanians in 2019, and 75 percent of these workers earned higher wages than the statewide median. 

Solar Energy

While development of this cleanest of energy sources is growing, solar still supplies less than 1 percent of electricity in Pennsylvania. A partnership of experts led by the DEP Energy Programs Office identified 15 ways to increase this to 10 percent or more, including grid-scale solar and smaller, distributed systems. They also identify the benefits of going solar, including over 60,000 new jobs and other economic benefits, reduced negative public health impacts, and environmental benefits.   

9. Through outreach and funding support, DEP helps to increase energy efficiency and promote clean energy in agriculture.

The DEP Energy Programs Office and Penn State Extension are expanding outreach to farmers on the benefits of energy efficiency and clean energy to their operations as well as the natural resources they depend on. The DEP Small Business Advantage Grant Program and other funding programs help farmers make energy investments. 

10.  DEP has developed a Clean Energy Plan for Pennsylvania. 

Over 85 percent of Pennsylvania’s greenhouse gas emissions are from production and use of energy. Clean energy and energy efficiency are key to reducing these emissions. What new directions in clean energy should Pennsylvania pursue? The DEP Energy Programs Office has developed a set of recommendations for the next one to three years to support energy conservation and efficiency, advance clean energy technologies, and ensure energy security and resilience. We’re beginning to carry out this plan to help give all Pennsylvanians cleaner, healthier, and more affordable and reliable energy choices. 

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