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Public Hearing on Climate Change

Pennsylvania Legislative Service
Kati Lawson

Public Hearing on Climate Change
House Democratic Policy Committee
12/16/13, 10:00 a.m., Room 416, Main Capitol

Click on a name to download testimony.

  • Dr. Richard Alley, Evan Pugh Professor, Pennsylvania State University
  • Tom Peterson, President and CEO, Center for Climate Strategies
  • Holly Shields, Policy and Advocacy Coordinator, Delaware Valley Green Buildings Council
  • Bruce Burcat, Executive Director, Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Coalition
  • Rick Price, Executive Director, Pittsburgh Region Clean Cities
  • Erik Johanson, Manager of Strategic Business Planning, Southeastern Pennsylvania Public Transportation Authority (SEPTA)

Members Present: Chairman Mike Sturla (D-Lancaster), and Representatives Steve McCarter (D-Montgomery), Patty Kim (D-Dauphin), Greg Vitali (D-Delaware), Mary Jo Daley (D-Montgomery), Tim Briggs (D-Montgomery), Michelle Brownlee (D-Philadelphia)

Chairman Vitali said the genesis of the hearing was the report released in the spring that underscored the urgency of the issue of climate change. He said an important part of the issue with climate change is super storms like ones that have hit recently putting climate change in the forefront of people’s minds; he said the issue of climate change should never be pushed to the background.

Dr. Richard Alley, Evan Pugh Professor, Pennsylvania State University, testified on behalf of his 25 years of experience as a scientist at the Pennsylvania State University, his 240 scientific papers, and service with national and international teams on major scientific assessment bodies. He said his testimony was to present the basic information on climate change. Alley noted disputes between scientists being a fundamental part of science.

“Governments…developed methods, often called ‘assessment,’ to obtain the most useful information from scientists for policy making and other government functions,” explained Alley. “Assessment involves asking scientists to volunteer for the public, in the public eye, to summarize the state of science, and to show what is solid, what is still speculative, and what is known to be wrong.” He said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the assessment agency for the entire world via the United Nations and World Meteorological Organization. “Scientific assessments such as those of the National Academy of Science, the US Climate Change Science Program, and the IPCC have for decades consistently found with increasingly high scientific confidence that human activities are raising the concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere,” stated Alley. “This has a warming effect on the climate.”

Alley then explained the fundamental cause of climate change based upon reports of the US National Research Council, the IPCC, and many other sources. “The carbon dioxide that humans have released by fossil-fuel burning, plus the smaller supply from sources including deforestation and cement manufacture, has raised the concentration in the atmosphere and is moving into the ocean, with some being taken up by processes including reforestation,” explained Alley. He said the average temperature of the Earth is increasing, evidenced by research from National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Alley said the sun’s energy output has decreased very slightly so the pattern of warming is consistent with the combined effects from the known cause of climate change. He pointed out scientists cannot accurately make climate-change predictions because they cannot predict what decisions policymakers will make.

Alley said the impacts of climate change will include an increase in record high temperatures and heat waves, and a decrease in record low temperatures and cold snaps. “In general, the changes will cause both ‘winners’ and’ losers,’ but as the changes become large, the losers are expected to dominate the winners,” stated Alley. “Losers are especially projected to occur among poor people in hot places now, and future generations.” He said humanity will be economically better off if the science of global warming is incorporated properly into planning. Alley said a climate change event pushing Earth past its tipping point is not a high likelihood in the near future, but cannot be ruled out entirely. He concluded by saying the human release of carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel burning has a warming influence that will become much larger if humans continue to burn most of the available fossil fuels. “Inclusion of the solid science in planning can lead to decisions that improve human welfare,” stated Allen.

Rep. McCarter said he usually sees 99 percent of scientists agreeing upon climate change; he asked Alley to explain the one percent of naysayers. Alley said within the climate science community about 97 percent of scientists agree climate change is manmade and the three percent that disagree are given a disproportionate voice in the public discussion on climate change. He explained the Earth is warming despite the cooling influences of a dimmer Sun and the absorption of heat by the ocean.

Rep. McCarter explained he heard a comment recently that Pennsylvania has done enough to help with climate change. Alley said the current policies have a new affect of promoting fossil fuels over renewable energy so we have not gotten to a point yet where we have done enough to curb climate change.

Rep. Kim said as a legislator she cannot get anyone’s attention until a problem affects them personally; she asked what kind of tipping point will catch the attention of climate change naysayers. Alley said he does not know for sure, but many Americans are “getting it” because they are seeing scientific proof of climate change.

Rep. Vitali asked how the shift towards using natural gas will affect climate change. Alley explained coal powered plants always run at full power even when full power is not needed. He said natural gas powered turbines can be turned up and down when needed. “If utilizing natural gas is not being done to work on new renewable fuel sources it is just going to add to climate change,” said Alley.

Tom Peterson, President and CEO, Center for Climate Strategies, said states play a critical role in understanding and acting on climate change issues, saying Pennsylvania has moved forward with implementation of a variety of actions across economic sectors in cooperation with local and federal governments. He explained the changes made by states have been made through comprehensive climate and energy planning and implementation, integration with national programs, and innovation on finance and markets. Peterson pointed out the recession, beginning in 2008, dramatically intensified the focus on win-win economic opportunities. “During this time, many states developed serious budget shortfalls and reduced agency capacity for climate and clean energy programs,” said Peterson. He said despite the reduction of programs following the recession, many states have once again started to create more secure and sustainable energy policies. Peterson said his organization and the US Department of Energy maintain a database of energy efficiency and renewable energy actions in every state.

Peterson said there are six major dividers between climate change action and positive macroeconomic performance: cost effective actions increase economic efficiency and expansion, energy savings action cuts energy costs and stimulates labor investments, shifts to indigenous versus imported energy cut capital outflows, actions supported by local versus distant supply chains cut job outsourcing, new investment stimulates domestic labor investment, and labor intensive activities create more jobs. “The bottom line is that state actions on climate change, whether for direct or indirect purposes, are widespread; generally have been found to be good for the economy and jobs; and play a significant role nationally in the major recent decline of US carbon trajectories,” stated Peterson. He then pointed out examples of actions in key areas including comprehensive planning, regional coordinating actions and studies on energy and climate impacts, and the expansion of international relationships and exchanges. Peterson concluded by saying Pennsylvania is well positioned to advance its interests in key climate change policy strategy areas.

Chairman Sturla asked if people are more willing to engage in the climate change discussion because they live near rising sea levels. Peterson said coastal areas are a point of concentration in the United States and worldwide, but a focus on forest fires further inland is also acting as a warning for climate change.

Holly Shields, Policy and Advocacy Coordinator, Delaware Valley Green Buildings Council, explained her organization is an independent, mission-based chapter of the US Green Building Council (USGBC) with many individual members and institutional partners across the state. She said DVGBC advocates for high-performance buildings because of the major impacts the construction and operation of buildings has on climate change. “Buildings account for 73 percent of electricity consumption, 38 percent of carbon emissions, and 32 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States,” explained Shields. She said Pennsylvania has many Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) credentialed professionals and commercial projects. Shields called for the legislature to institute an energy benchmarking policy for state-owned or leased buildings over a certain size using the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Energy Start Portfolio Manager tool. She said green building rating systems seek to reduce or eliminate the negative impact of buildings on their occupants and the environment. “Pennsylvania has the opportunity to become a leader in climate change mitigation through green building practices,” concluded Shields. “To substantially reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, the Commonwealth should support policies that increase building energy efficiency, improve construction codes and encourage the construction of high-performance buildings.”

Bruce Burcat, Executive Director, Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Coalition (MAREC), said Pennsylvania is a key state in the MAREC footprint of wind energy capacity. He explained the development of wind energy in the Commonwealth is directly linked to the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard, which he called a very important piece of legislation that has been very instrumental in the development of renewable energy resources. Burcat expressed his support of HB 100 and SB 1171, which he described as increasing the Tier One requirements of Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards (AEPS) from eight to 15 percent. “Wind energy in the United States is expected to have avoided 98.9 million metric tons of carbon which is equivalent to 4.4 percent of power emission from cars in the United States,” pointed out Burcat. He explained the decrease in cost to create energy from wind power had decreased because wind turbine technology continues to be perfected. Burcat said there is additional room on the power grid for wind energy and other renewable energy sources. He explained it is important for states to act decisively on the reduction of fossil fuel emissions and concluded by presenting several examples of economic benefits from AEPS.

Chairman Sturla asked how the committee as policymakers could craft energy policy at a retail level where it can make an impact with smaller sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Shields said LEED buildings reduce energy use and utilizing LEED building techniques should be encouraged. She also suggested providing information and financing options for people who want to update their homes to be more energy efficient. Burcat said it is important for the General Assembly to keep groups from passing out faulty information telling consumers increased energy regulations will raise prices.

Rep. McCarter asked if it is important to encourage people to buy Energy Star products. Shields said it is and argued encouraging consumers to buy those products will educate them on ways to save energy and money.

Rep. McCarter then asked if there is any green building certification legislation at the state level. Shields said there is not, but confirmed her organization has been working on HB 34, which passed through the House and is currently waiting on a vote in the Senate.

Rep. Daley said recently a group of older Pennsylvanians told her they were upset with how often they were contacted to change electrical providers. She asked if there is potential in educating consumers on how they can switch to renewable resource powered electric providers. Burcat said it is complicated for some people to switch to such providers but contact from the supplier to the consumer is necessary as long as accurate information is provided by the supplier.

Rick Price, Executive Director, Pittsburgh Region Clean Cities, explained that along with Greater Philadelphia Clean Cities in Pennsylvania, his organization is responsible for educating the entire state of Pennsylvania about alternative fuels and replacing petroleum based fuels. He explained the Clean Cities Program is fuel neutral and no one fuel is the “silver bullet” in replacing gasoline or diesel in the state. He said natural gas could reduce some Green House Gases in Pennsylvania up to 95 percent as well as being less expensive. Price said propane can also reduce pollution and cost less than oil because it has some possible application for school buses and municipalities. “The enforcement of the state anti-idling law would also help reduce pollution, as many Class Eight Tractors idle at truck stops and along interstates,” concluded Price. “The vehicles burn about one gallon of fuel per hour when idling. The use of Truck Electrification stops could save up to eight gallons a day per vehicle.”

Erik Johanson, Manager of Strategic Business Planning, Southeastern Pennsylvania Public Transportation Authority (SEPTA), testified on behalf of how Act 89 is a generational investment in curbing the growth of greenhouse gas emissions and to mitigate the effects of global climate change. He explained the conclusion of IPCC in 2007 was that emissions must be reduced by 50 to 85 percent by 2050 to limit global warming to an increase of four degrees Fahrenheit. “At 28 percent, the US transportation section is behind only electric power generation as the largest contributor to US greenhouse gas emission,” explained Johanson. “The value of Act 89 as a climate change initiative is rooted in its strategic investments to improve the efficiency of Pennsylvania’s transportation system.” He explained the Act invests in transit capital infrastructure to deepen transportation-sector emissions reductions. Johanson called Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) effective and comprehensive. He heralded the sections of Act 89 that invest in transit-oriented development projects that will reduce trip lengths, car dependency, and ultimately result in fewer vehicle miles traveled in Pennsylvania. “Taken as a whole, Act 89 makes a meaningful contribution to curbing global climate change by improving transportation system efficiency and investing in transit, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure,” stated Johanson. “These investments are a foundation for a stronger Pennsylvania economy.” Johanson concluded by noting the effects of global climate change are already noticeable in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Rep. Vitali asked about the difference between electric-powered cars and vehicles running on natural gas. Price said hybrid vehicles are being used with electric energy but the technology is not “one size fits all.” He said transit agencies look at the return on their investment in deciding which resource to use to fuel their transit fleets.

Rep. McCarter complimented SEPTA then said he hopes SEPTA maintains local stations because requiring people to drive long distances to use rail lines seems to be diminishing their purpose. Johanson said the issue of park and ride stations is interesting from a sustainability aspect because people have to drive to a transit hub to utilize the service. He said 40 percent of SEPTA customers drive to regional rail stations and SEPTA is looking to encourage the 60 percent who walk or bike to stations because parking is limited. Johanson said transit oriented development encourages people to live closer to the rail station because expanding parking is so expensive.

Rep. Vitali then allowed individuals in attendance to ask questions.

Larry Menkes, founder and CEO of Sustainable Transitions US, said his local SEPTA building keeps the lights on all night. He recommended all SEPTA buildings be LEED buildings. Menkes said lack of state support has caused many green business initiatives to stall, saying “if Pennsylvania sets an example others will follow.” Johanson said SEPTA has been using Act 77 to update their facilities as well as educating employees on how to be more energy efficient.

Richard Whiteford of the Climate Reality Project asked about the social cost of carbon emissions. Alley said he believes the government’s estimate is $40 per ton for carbon emissions, though he cautioned the number is an underestimate.

Local activist Jack Miller asked if the use of natural gas is beneficial in terms of climate change due to fugitive methane leakage. Alley said if current action is being taken to keep global warning below two degrees Celsius, every little thing matters and methane suppression is important. He explained nature has stored large quantities of methane that will make the human impact even worse in the future.

Michael Martin of Dauphin County said he is concerned about homeowner associations that do not allow the use of solar panels and other renewable energy resources. Shields said that topic is difficult because it is up to the individual association what rules they pass, but her organization encourages the use of renewable energy resources because they benefit the community. Rep. Vitali thanked Martin for bringing his concern to his attention and said he would explore the problem caused by those regulations.

Rep. McCarter asked what types of national security issues can result due to climate change. Peterson explained there are two sources of increased security concern: the first is climate change impacts are getting worse so problems in places affected by climate change will either require direct military response and readiness or create conditions that will affect the prices the United States pays for resources they need. He said conflicts in those affected areas will get worse and draw the US into resource wars. Rep. McCarter then asked if administrations that deny climate change leave states in a poor position to connect with other countries. Peterson agreed saying, “If you want to do global business and you are not willing to talk about carbon and its impacts you are on a dead end pathway for the relationships of the future.”

Thomas Au of the Pennsylvania Sierra Club asked how successful his organization is in using Act 129 money to help public institutions look at and revamp their energy use. Shields said she does not have the figures with her but having funds to institute energy efficiency policies is very helpful for organizations.

Whiteford asked how much information Peterson has on the climate change refugee situation. Peterson said he is not the best source of information on that topic; “I can say there is a lot outside of the US that is of a high level of concern to our defense and security agencies and our diplomatic arena.”

Menkes asked how much time is left to avoid the catastrophic results of climate change. Alley presented the analogy of saving for retirement, saying “all delay is costly but it helps us whenever we start; we are not all doomed, we can beat this, but the long we wait to start the more costly it gets.”

Rep. Vitali thanked the testifiers, panel members, and audience for showing interest in the issue of climate change.