Year after devastating flooding in York County, DePasquale calls for climate action

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale gives the Reviews & Audits Update as the York County Economic Alliance hosts its Spring Legislative Luncheon at Wyndham Garden York in West Manchester Township, Thursday, May 17, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale on Wednesday evoked last year's Labor Day weekend floods in York County when calling for the state to ramp up efforts to combat the impact of climate change.

The recollection of last year's floods came during a news conference Wednesday, Nov. 13, at the state Capitol. DePasquale released a new report detailing how lack of aid and disaster policies leave local communities unable to combat climate change-charged incidents.

"Climate change is already costing Pennsylvania hundreds of millions of dollars," DePasquale said. "Without more action at the state level, those costs will continue to rise."

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As the federal government fails to offer aid with hyper-local storms such as those seen in York County, the state will likely have to take the torch and lead efforts going forward, DePasquale said.

DePasquale's report offers nine recommendations, including prioritizing the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, working with county and local governments to coordinate disaster prevention efforts and creating a resiliency fund dedicated to disaster response.

Gov. Tom Wolf should also increase funding in the 2021 budget for all state agencies involved with disaster cleanup, DePasquale added.

"Whether you believe in climate change or not, following these recommendations will still be a win for taxpayers, will be a win for public health and will be a win for the environment," he said.

2018 floods: Last year's Labor Day weekend floods in York County devastated homes, roads and bridges in the southeastern region of the county. Officials said 8 to 14 inches of rain fell within hours, causing at least $16 million in damages. 

The property of Amy and Paul Nevin is shown on Accomac Road in Hellam Township, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018. Flash flooding on Friday caused significant damage to the area. Dawn J. Sagert photo

York County spokesman Mark Walters said one of the biggest issues last year was that the county's estimated damages failed to meet a federal threshold for additional aid. 

For a federal disaster declaration to be declared — which provides additional support to damaged areas — there is a $18.6 million minimum for damages. 

"It's tough to meet the threshold, and I think there are circumstances like we had in August 2018 where people really needed assistance, but because there's threshold to meet, if (the costs aren't high enough), then 'nope.'"

County roads still bear the destruction of the floods as well, DePasquale noted on Wednesday. For example, Accomac Road in Hellam Township isn't expected to see permanent repairs until 2022.

The local flooding is one of many reasons for the state do do more, he said.

Impacts: In the report, DePasquale noted that the state spent at least $261 million on climate-related issues in 2018 alone, nearly half of which was to cover infrastructure repairs.

But funding at both the state and federal level are still insufficient, even though the state saves $6 in recovery costs for every dollar spent on emergency preparedness, according to the National Institute of Building Sciences.

"What concerns me most are the potential impacts we can't yet see — new costs that will strain state and municipal budgets," DePasquale said, adding that Pennsylvania falls behind other states in addressing those impacts.

DePasquale and Wolf have long advocated for more aggressive measures to combat climate change. Some more far-reaching efforts have stalled in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Addressing climate change has also been a key part of DePasquale's 2020 bid for the state's 10th District U.S. House race, where he hopes to oust Republican incumbent Rep. Scott Perry, R-Carroll Township.

RGGI: But the state hasn't been completely off the radar when it comes to initiatives aimed at reducing its carbon footprint.

In October, Wolf signed an executive order instructing the Department of Environmental Protection to create a detailed proposal to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Once in the nine-state initiative, Pennsylvania would be able to set a number of allowances to be given out to electric power plants that generate 25 megawatts or more. Each allowance covers one short ton of emissions, and the cap decreases each year.

From there, plants can purchase additional allowances from regional auctions, and the funds would be used by the state to reinvest in carbon-reduction programs and improving energy efficiency.

However, Republicans balked at Wolf's executive order, alleging it circumvented the Legislature and endangered the state's economy. 

The GOP has floated challenging the order on legal grounds.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.