EDITORIAL: Rally around Pa.'s new climate goals

York Dispatch Editorial Board

With a pledge to join the U.S. Climate Alliance, and the release of a new 230-page roadmap for combating climate change in Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf delivered a powerful two-pronged response last week to one of the state’s — and world’s — most pressing challenges.

And none too soon.

Changing climate conditions continue to contribute to new and dangerous weather patterns across the nation and around the world. For the latest example, look no further than the waterlogged Midwest, where historic flooding along the Mississippi River is blamed for deluging cities like Davenport, Iowa, and Rock Island, Ill.; closing hundreds of roads, and causing at least four fatalities.

Pennsylvania hasn’t been immune. Flash flooding from powerful pop-up storms last summer caused major damage in areas such as Hellam Township.

More:U.N. report says nature is in worst shape in human history

So, urgency is a top priority. Unfortunately, in the backwards world known as the Trump administration, climate change isn’t even acknowledged, let alone combated. President Donald Trump’s indefensible decision to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement couldn’t have been more foolish or destructive.

Which is why the U.S. Climate Alliance was formed.

“In the absence of federal leadership, states and cities are taking action to reduce emissions and protect their communities, economies, infrastructures, and environments from the significant risks of a warming climate,” writes Democrat Wolf in a message accompanying the state’s updated Climate Action Plan.

Pennsylvania becomes the 24th state to join the effort, which aims to uphold the policies adopted for the Paris agreement and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

With Pennsylvania on board, the Climate Alliance, which also includes Puerto Rico, now represents 55 percent of the U.S. population and 40 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

FILE - In this Dec. 4, 2018, file photo, birds fly past a smoking chimney in Ludwigshafen, Germany. Development that’s led to loss of habitat, climate change, overfishing, pollution and invasive species is causing a biodiversity crisis, scientists say in a new United Nations science report released Monday, May 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Probst, File)

The more members, the better. Those targets are ambitious and getting more difficult to realize every day — particularly with the Trump administration hellbent on rolling back existing environmental safety measures and expanding offshore drilling.

Of course, Wolf’s moves do not only serve the greater good. As one of the nation’s largest fossil fuel producers, Pennsylvania is often near the bottom of the rankings when it comes to air quality. That’s not just a minor inconvenience — the World Health Organization says air pollution can reduce life expectancy.

The state hasn’t been standing still on the issue. In fact, greenhouse gas emissions declined some 12 percent in the decade from 2005-15. But the new targets are far more aggressive: A 26 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050.

And that’s with the presumptive decommissioning of the nearby Three Mile Island nuclear power plant (and the Beaver Valley Power Station outside of Pittsburgh). For all of their downsides, nuclear power plants do generate carbon-free energy.

All of which is why it is imperative that lawmakers of all stripes get behind the updated emissions-reducing efforts.

Unfortunately, some are less enthusiastic than others.

Take state Sen. Gene Yaw, R-23rd District, who chairs the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee. He responded to Wolf’s announcements with a statement fretting about Pennsylvania’s energy markets and indicating the state is already doing enough to cut greenhouse gas emissions. That’s not only disappointing, it’s unhelpful.

Pennsylvania high school students, who held protests across the state on Friday in support of more urgent action on climate change, would be well advised to direct their energy toward such reticent office holders.

Meanwhile, the state’s updated action plan includes more than 100 proposals for reducing carbon emissions, from increasing the use of clean energy resources to promoting agricultural best practices to new conservation and energy-efficiency programs.

It will take all that and more to reach the new gas-cutting goals.

That’s why bold ideas and a consensus on the need to act must be watchwords in Harrisburg — and throughout the state.

The time for excuse-making and delay has been washed away by the rising waters of our warming planet.