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EDITORIAL: New evidence Pa. must clear the air

York Dispatch Editorial Board
Traffic moves along Route 30 in York Tuesday, May 2, 2017. PennDOT is raising awareness about traffic safety with a new Pennsylvania Crash Information Tool that let's anyone drill down the smallest details behind crashes on Pennsylvania roads and compare wrecks by county over time. Bill Kalina photo

A newly published database of auto emissions compiled by researchers at Boston University is the latest bit of bad news when it comes to air quality central Pennsylvania.

The study found that transportation-related emissions have grown 46 percent from 1990 to 2017 in the Harrisburg metropolitan area, according to a New York Times analysis of the study. Emissions per person in and around Harrisburg grew by 22 percent.

The study limited its research to national metropolitan areas, given that driving in and around cities and nearby suburbs causes the bulk of transportation emissions — the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

The rest of Pennsylvania’s metropolitan areas didn’t fare much better than Harrisburg:

  • Allentown: 29 percent increase in emissions; 5 percent increase in emissions per person;
  • Scranton: 23 percent increase in emissions; 28 percent increase in emissions per person;
  • Philadelphia: 22 percent increase in emissions; 9 percent increase in emissions per person;
  • Pittsburgh: 8 percent increase in emissions; 15 percent increase in emissions per person.

The report should be required reading for Pennsylvania’s House Republicans, who are up in arms over Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s efforts to have the state join a regional initiative aimed at reducing greenhouse gases.

Yes, the initiative takes aim at emissions produced by energy providers, not transportation, but Pennsylvania’s eye-popping (not to mention eye-watering) carbon dioxide emissions need to be reduced on all fronts.

Wolf signed an executive order earlier this month instructing the state Department of Environmental Protection to work up a plan to join the nine-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. 

The initiative provides a market-based approach to reducing emissions by requiring larger power companies to purchase so-called “allowances” in regional auctions if they generate more than a predetermined amount of energy. States can then use those funds to reinvest in carbon-reduction programs, improve energy efficiency and invest in cleaner energy.

The results speak for themselves.

“The initiative has generated roughly $4 billion in net benefits for participating states’ economies since its inception in 2009,” reports the Dispatch’s Logan Hullinger, “and annual carbon emissions have dropped about 50 percent in the covered regions.”

You’d think a market-based solution to the existential crisis that is global warming would be embraced by Republican lawmakers.

You’d be wrong.

State Republicans including York County Reps. Kate Klunk, R-Hanover, Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, and Dawn Keefer, R-Franklin Township, are looking for ways to block Pennsylvania’s participation.

That’s as disappointing as it is indefensible. Especially with Pennsylvania the nation’s fourth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind only California, Texas and Florida.

Clearly, Pennsylvania’s participation in the regional initiative must not be impeded. But state leaders must also do more to reduce transportation emissions. Republican efforts to loosen annual emissions testing are exactly what’s not needed.

After all, as the Times reported, “The bulk of (greenhouse-gas) emissions, nearly 60 percent, come from the country’s 250 million passenger cars, S.U.V.s and pickup trucks, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.” Add the jaw-dropping number of tractor-trailers that frequent the state’s highways and the need for action becomes all the more apparent.

The governor has identified a potentially beneficial strategy for slowing carbon emissions from power plants. A similarly aggressive approach will be required to reduce the state’s staggering auto emissions.