With Harrisburg mired in partisanship, Democrats and Republicans join forces to tackle climate change
[Harrisburg PA,] – With Earth Day only days away, Democratic and Republican legislators from every corner of the Commonwealth and from both chambers of the General Assembly came together to introduce groundbreaking legislation to make Pennsylvania a leader in the effort to solve climate change.
The matching bills were introduced by state Representative Chris Rabb (Philadelphia) and state Senator Charles McIlhinney (Bucks County).
The newly introduced legislation sets out to transition Pennsylvania to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. The scientific community in Pennsylvania and internationally have stated that we must eliminate global warming pollution by 2050 to avoid a climate change “tipping point” from which the planet cannot turn back.
"The vast majority of scientists agree: Climate change is real. And you don't have to be a scientist to notice its effects. We've seen so many weather extremes in recent years, including Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, Harvey, Irma and Maria. Those last three all happened just last year," Rabb said. "Our military – hardly a liberal bastion – is already preparing for the effects of climate change. The changing climate will force us to move some bases, and it threatens to increase instability around the world. As the bipartisan American Security Project says, climate security is national security."
While similar proposals are pending in state legislatures in California, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Washington (as well proposals in both chambers of U.S. Congress), Pennsylvania’s proposal is groundbreaking in that it is the first bill of its kind in the country to be introduced with a Republican legislator as its chief sponsor.
“Clean, renewable energy holds the key to promoting a healthier environment, a stronger economy and a brighter future for future generations,” said state Senator McIlhinney said. “The first steps in that process are developing a workable, realistic plan to transition to 100 percent renewable energy sources and ensuring our workforce is prepared to face the challenges of the new energy economy.”
Under this legislation, the Commonwealth would be required to come up with a statewide plan to transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, in line with the most current science. The proposals would create a Clean Energy Transition Task Force, a Clean Energy Center of Excellence, and a Council for Clean Energy Workforce Development to develop the plan forward for the Commonwealth.
Poll after poll shows broad bipartisan support for this issue from Pennsylvania voters. Last month, a poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research found that 71% of Pennsylvanians support Pennsylvania setting a goal of generating 100% of its electricity using clean, renewable energy like wind and solar power, including 52% support from Republicans polled.
In early April, a Franklin & Marshall poll showed that nearly 70% of Pennsylvanians believe that it’s more important to pursue policies that prioritize the availability of renewable energy over those that prioritize fossil fuel extraction.
“We have the technological ability and the support from Pennsylvania voters to transition to 100% renewable energy,” stated PennEnvironment Executive Director David Masur. “We owe it to our kids, our grandkids, and the planet to use these tools to solve climate change as quickly as possible, and the legislation announced today will do just that.”
At the news conference to announce this legislation, the sponsors were joined by a diverse set of constituencies showing their support for tackling climate change, including religious leaders, public health experts, Pennsylvania academics involved in drafting previous international climate agreements, and business leaders.
“As people of faith, we are called to protect and preserve what God has given us in order that future generations will have what they need to live and thrive. Now that renewables have entered the realm of the affordable and accessible, I believe we have a moral imperative to support passage of this proposal,” said The Rev. Sandra Strauss, Director of Advocacy and Ecumenical Outreach for PA Council of Churches.
"This legislation should be strongly supported because Pennsylvania has both a strong legal and moral duty to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions," noted Widener University Law Professor Donald Brown. "Pennsylvania has a moral duty to act because the Commonwealth's greenhouse gas emissions are already contributing to immense harms to ecological systems on which life depends and human health around the world."
At the same time, a broad network of nearly 150 Pennsylvania civic leaders and organizations released a new letter in support of the legislation and calling for immediate action to solve climate change.
"Clean energy jobs are the wave of the future, and Pennsylvania should get out front to be a leader," stated Thea Gudonis who works for the Pennsylvania-based solar company Solar States. "Solar is one of the fastest growing industries in the nation, with jobs that pay well and can't be sent overseas. If Pennsylvania doesn't jump on this opportunity certainly another state will."
"Not only will climate change have incredibly negative effects on our environment, but it poses an extreme risk to the public's health here in Pennsylvania and globally," noted Dr. Robert Little, President of the Harrisburg-Hershey chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility and a family doctor in Harrisburg for over 40 years. "This includes more asthma attacks, heat related deaths, and increases in diseases that were once rare in Pennsylvania like Lyme disease."
Still, legislators acknowledge that they face a daunting battle in the state capitol building, where lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry are numerous and incredibly influential.
“We see growing threats to our environment every day, and we can simply wait no longer to address climate change,” said Rep. Steve McCarter, D-Montgomery. “This legislation is Pennsylvania’s chance to commit to help preserve the one planet we have before it’s too late.”
But, with the science becoming clearer about what is needed to solve climate change and the closing window of time, legislators agree that the only path forward is to put politics aside and advocate for a clear and necessary plan to make Pennsylvania a leader in the fight against global warming.
Rabb said, "I'd like Pennsylvania to get a jump on the jobs of the future, a jump on a cleaner, sustainable future. As the father of two sons, I want them to have a better future, and I want them to have that opportunity here. Pennsylvania has an opportunity here to be a leader, not a follower. Let's take that opportunity and get this done -- together!"