Thursday, April 21, 2016

Remarks: Make A Choice For Change, To Innovate, For Sustainability

By John Quigley, Secretary, Department of Environmental Protection

These remarks were delivered at the awards ceremony Tuesday for recipients of the Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence hosted by the PA Environmental Council.  
The remarks touch on the choices made on environmental issues leading up to today and the choices ahead on climate change, Clean Power Climate Plan, meeting Chesapeake Bay cleanup commitments and the state budget.
The text of the remarks follows--
Thank you for the invitation to be with you this evening.
On behalf of Governor Wolf, I’d like to congratulate all of this evening’s award recipients and thank you all for your great work.
A special thank you to PEC for their continuing, valued partnership.
We’re recognizing projects demonstrating: Energy efficiency; Educational outreach; habitat restoration; land conservation; Stormwater remediation; Electric and hybrid vehicles and mass transit; Air and water pollution remediation; waste reduction; solar energy.
Pretty cool stuff!
These projects and the women and men and the organizations who made them possible also demonstrate citizenship of the highest order, and the power of partnerships.
Perhaps more importantly, they also, individually and collectively, reflect something more. They embody and eloquently express a choice. A choice for change. A choice to innovate. A choice to envision a brighter, healthier, and more prosperous future. The essential choice we all must make for sustainability.
I’d like to reflect this evening on the idea of choices.
The poet Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose.”
In our Commonwealth today, we face that choice on many fronts. Between the necessary truth of finding a sustainable path forward, or – at our peril - the repose of the status quo. And the choices between truth and repose will affect us all today, and generations of Pennsylvanians yet to come.
I’ll start with an obvious example.
Tonight’s awardees run the gamut of environmental excellence. The 13 exemplary projects and 17 organizations support DEP’s mission of protecting Pennsylvania’s land, air, water, and public health.
We’re honoring an inspiring breadth of groups - governmental entities and communities, non-profits, private businesses, universities, county conservation districts, schools, clubs, civic partnerships, and hospitals. A real cross section of Pennsylvania.
Climate Change
We’re conducting history’s largest uncontrolled chemistry experiment and have changed – and continue to change - the chemical composition of our atmosphere. We’ve corrupted with carbon what Carl Sagan famously described as our “thin blue line,” disrupting our fragile globe’s climate.
As a result, the Pennsylvania we know today is being fundamentally altered by the impacts of climate disruption. Scientists from Penn State University have found that warming is accelerating – if we do not choose another course and continue in carbon repose - by 2050, Pennsylvania will be 5.4°F warmer than it was in the year 2000.
By 2050, Philadelphia’s climate will be similar to current-day Richmond, Virginia, and Pittsburgh will be similar to current-day Washington, DC.
Right now, Philadelphia averages less than 1 day a year when temperatures exceed 100 degrees. But by 2100, unless we choose to change course, even Erie in northwest Pennsylvania could see as many as 16 days a year with temperatures above 100 degrees. In Erie!
You all know that there’s global scientific consensus that we must limit global temperature rise to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels to avoid catastrophic impacts. And there are many who say that 2 degrees Celsius is actually too much warming, and that the worst impacts will come with a far lower rise in average temperatures.
Pennsylvania, according to Penn State scientists, is on pace – if we fail to choose a different path – for an increase in average temperature of 3 degrees Celsius by 2050 – just 34 years from now.
The choices we have made have brought significant – and alarmingly fast - changes and disruptions to our state’s climate, in ways that will affect key sectors of the economy, our health, and our quality of life. And even our safety.
Remember that this year, we’ve already had tornadoes in Lancaster and Bradford counties. In February - the warmest month - in terms of above average temperature – in recorded history.
Climate disruption is an existential threat. And we must make a choice. A choice for sustainable, low- and ultimately zero-carbon energy, for energy efficiency – and for the tens of thousands of jobs that will accompany them.
EPA Clean Power Climate Plan
And the first step toward that sustainable future, we face a choice in the Clean Power Plan.
Under the Clean Power Plan, Pennsylvania is required to reduce our carbon emissions by 33 percent by 2030. We believe the goals of the plan are ambitious but achievable. Let’s look at the math to explain why.
In 2007, Pennsylvania’s sources that are subject to the rule were emitting 134 million tons of CO2. By 2014, due to the Great Recession, changes in the electricity markets including fuel switching for to cheap natural gas, and compliance with other environmental regulation, Pennsylvania’s emissions had decreased to 107 million tons of C02 – a reduction of 20 percent from 2007 levels.
Pennsylvania will enter the compliance period in 2022 with a target of 106 million tons of CO2 - only a million tons less than we’re emitting today. Then, over the next eight years, by 2030, the state will have to reduce emissions to 91 million tons.
So, between 2007 and 2014, CO2 emissions in PA fell 27 million tons. Between 2022 and 2030, they will need to fall another 15.6 million tons.
The CPP will require coordinated and concerted effort, including focus on renewables and energy efficiency, but the goals of the CPP can certainly be achieved by Pennsylvania.
We can make that choice – and Pennsylvanians want us to.
Last year, DEP conducted an unprecedented 14-city listening tour to ask Pennsylvanians about the energy choices we need to make. After 14 stops across the Commonwealth and 60 days of public comment, here’s what we found:
More than 2,000 citizens, generators, businesses, trade groups, legislators, and non-profit organizations filed written comments or testified at our 14 public listening sessions.
More than 80 percent of commenters said they wanted Pennsylvania state to expand clean energy.
More than 90 percent expressed support for the DEP's development of a Pennsylvania-specific State Plan, and
Almost 70 percent said they wanted Pennsylvania to submit its Plan on time.
Interestingly, less than half of Pennsylvania's generation capacity asked us to delay submission. Indeed, two of Pennsylvania's largest generators specifically asked DEP to submit a State Plan in September, 2016.
The plain facts of the matter are that the Clean Power Plan presents a huge opportunity for states to accelerate the development of their economies while protecting the climate. The smart states are going to demonstrate that.
And the naysayers are going to be in a position where they’re going to have to race to catch up to the economic progress enjoyed by leading states.
Will Pennsylvania be among the smart states – the economic and environmental winners? That’s a choice – and Governor Wolf intends for Pennsylvania to be among the winners.
But whether or not we have a Clean Power Plan, the new energy reality facing Pennsylvania is this: we need to get to a low- and ultimately zero-carbon energy future.
We’re going to see retirements of coal plants and continued strength and growth in the gas sector, continued cost declines and continued growth in the renewable energy sector.
And the cheapest ton of carbon to keep out of the atmosphere will continue to be the one we don’t create through efficiency.
Will we choose repose and the status quo, or will we choose to lead? Lead in the development of advanced technology to capture carbon from coal and ultimately natural gas plants, securing indigenous resource use for the long term?
Lead in creating a cleaner, healthier, and more vibrant future? Governor Wolf chooses to lead.
What is perhaps the second biggest challenge after climate disruption to preserving Pennsylvania’s natural heritage comes from our status today as the nation’s 2nd largest producer of natural gas.
Over the next few years, an unprecedented wave of natural gas infrastructure development will touch every Pennsylvania county, affect scores of communities, and many more landowners. Its cumulative impacts - if we’re not careful - will impact Pennsylvania’s natural resources, sensitive habitats, and water quality for a long time to come.
Governor Wolf wants to use as much of Pennsylvania’s natural gas and co-products as possible in Pennsylvania – to generate lower-carbon electricity, to create manufacturing opportunities, to spur combined heat and power systems, enable microgrids, and to support the deployment of much more renewable energy.
Natural gas-fired generation has been recognized as the perfect complement to renewable energy, as gas-fired facilities can respond to demand and variable renewable generation quickly.
So, shale gas presents the Commonwealth with an immense opportunity – if we choose it - to strengthen our economy and protect our climate, as long as methane emissions are minimized – something else the Governor is leading the nation in doing.
But these opportunities do not come without costs. Pennsylvania needs to get ahead of the impacts of this buildout, and avoid the mistakes of our past. George Santayana famously wrote that he who fails to remember the past is condemned to repeat it.
Our state’s history is punctuated by waves of natural resource extraction, from Drake’s first oil well in Titusville in 1859, to the timbering over of millions of acres in the Northern Tier to fuel the early days of the Industrial Revolution, to the rise of King Coal.
In each case, those waves of development left enduring environmental and economic scars – many of which continue to blight the landscape, foul our waterways, and harm communities.
In the face of the oncoming wave of infrastructure development, we must choose a better, smarter course - and we have an opportunity to do that in a way that helps to overcome the current stranding of gas and the current low price regime that plagues the industry.
Governor Wolf’s Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force has outlined the many dimensions of that smarter choice. Its work will be a success if we choose to implement it - and promote sustained collaboration of stakeholders across state and local governments, and in communities, and in company board rooms, to work toward the responsible development of pipeline infrastructure in the Commonwealth.
Drilling Regulations
We also face a choice about how all that gas is produced.
Over the last 5 years, DEP has worked to craft common- sense additional protections for public health and natural resources based on the facts on the ground and our experience with natural gas production – conventional and unconventional alike.
The rulemaking was subject to an unprecedented level of public input, including 20 advisory board meetings, 2 public comment periods, 135 days of public comment, 12 public hearings, and almost 28,000 public comments.
And now the industry and some in the General Assembly would stop those enhancements to environmental safeguards and send us back not only to square one, but all the way back to 2001 – the last time drilling regulations were updated.
Again, we face a choice – one with profound implications for public health, safety, and the environment. Governor Wolf has chosen the path of truth.
Chesapeake Bay Cleanup
Pennsylvania’s local water quality is not making the grade, and we’re far behind on our legal responsibilities to help restore the Chesapeake Bay.
After 30 years of collaborating and educating, and after $4 billion in Federal and state subsidies, phosphorous is down only 25 percent, nitrogen is down 6 percent, and sediment has been reduced about 15 percent.
We face a choice of continuing on the same path to inadequate progress, or to try a different approach. Repose is easy. Truth is hard.
State Budget
And finally, there is the state budget – perhaps the most basic choice of all when it comes to investing in a sustainable future.
Pennsylvania faces a $2.3 billion structural deficit that Governor Wolf is doing everything he can to address in a responsible way. That structural deficit is the result of years of repose - choosing one-time fixes over sustainable, recurring revenues.
I’m here this evening representing an agency that has been severely degraded because of those choices.
After years of relentless budget cuts, DEP has over 670 fewer staff than it did eight years ago. Over 440 of those positions performed the basic agency functions of inspections and processing permits. Our regulatory responsibilities haven’t diminished; indeed, we’ve seen a 20 percent increase in workload in the last decade.
Last January, a few days after I took office, I visited our Bureau of Air Quality staff on the 15th floor in the Rachel Carson building. I found over 40 empty cubicles, and on the chairs formerly occupied by hard working civil servants, I found stacks of paper two and three feet high.
In recent audits, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has cited DEP for severe understaffing in our coal mine inspection, air quality monitoring, safe drinking water, and stormwater programs.
We’ve been unable to maintain the certification of our mobile laboratories, and our main laboratory – which has seen its staffing level cut from 101 in 2007 to 57 today, was recently described by a peer review report from the Association of Public Health Laboratories as “at a breaking point, putting at risk the laboratory’s capability to meet program and partner needs.”
As a result, DEP’s ability to protect public health and the environment, and to perform basic functions like inspections, testing, and evaluating permit applications in a timely fashion, have been stressed to the limit. In our southcentral office, 4 permit writers currently face a mountain of over 200 permit applications.
Choosing further cuts will jeopardize the citizens we serve and the environment that we are obligated to protect - and harm the state’s economy.
DEP’s staffing level is not the only issue we face. DEP’s Information Technology budget in 2004 was $23 million, and at that time the agency received an “A” grade from the Office of Administration, which rated us then as among the most capable agencies in state government from an IT perspective.
Today, we are at the bottom of the class, rating at best a “D.” Merely adjusted for inflation since 2004, our IT budget should be $29 million today.
Unfortunately, it stands at $16 million – 43 percent less in nominal terms than 11 years ago. And that’s not because personal computers have become cheaper. This represents a cumulative $83 million divestment in the agency’s IT capacity over the period.
Make no mistake - that was a choice.
One of the results of that choice is that agency staff are using antiquated tools to permit and monitor industries equipped with 21st Century technology.
To process the air quality permit application for the proposed Shell cracker plant, we had to wire together 6 desktop computers just to do the necessary calculations - and then run those calculations overnight, because that was how long it took those old processors to do the computations.
DEP still sends inspectors into the field with clipboards and carbonless forms. We don’t have wi-fi. It takes forever to load webpages on regional office computers. And we are not nearly as transparent as we should be in today’s information age.
Our Choices
All of these conditions, too, are the result of choices.
For our part, here are the choices that under Governor Wolf’s leadership, we intend to make, and to work towards at DEP. We choose to:
-- Enact enhanced protections for oil and gas development.
-- To implement nation-leading permits and regulations to minimize methane emissions from oil and gas development – increasing industry efficiency and combatting climate disruption.
-- To plan for the future – we will be updating the long overdue state water plan beginning this year, and doing more robust work on climate change, adaptation, and resilience.
-- To equip the agency with mobile technology and 21st century systems, and innovate, using GIS, remote sensing, robotics, and other technologies.
-- To build on groundbreaking scientific analysis like our study of smallmouth bass in the Susquehanna River, and advance that work in 2016.
-- To build on systems like our nation-leading well integrity reporting system. It has already enabled operators to avoid risk and protect public health and the environment by significantly increasing their well plugging activities.
-- To expand our volume of data-driven work to enable more surgical rulemaking aimed at specific problems that we can more readily identify.
-- To dramatically expand our air quality monitoring network to obtain more data about Pennsylvania’s air quality needs.
-- To expand the use of technology and look for ways to partner with citizen-scientists to continuously and ubiquitously monitor Pennsylvania’s air and water quality.
-- To target resources like water quality BMP installation for maximum impact, and create a culture of compliance for our shared responsibility to protect local water quality in Pennsylvania.
-- To maximize transparency, building on innovations we’ve already made like our eComment tool to enhance public participation in and transparency of regulatory process,
-- To provide vastly improved access to data and information
-- To engage with citizens – especially the most vulnerable – in more effective ways.
-- To innovate in the delivery of environmental education to achieve broader impacts
-- To get DEP off paper in the next 3 years. That work is already underway with eGrants, eBidding, ePermitting, ePayments, and mobile technology pilots.
These are the kinds of choices we at DEP are making in service of our mission of protecting Pennsylvania’s air, land, water, and public health for today’s Pennsylvanians, and for generations of Pennsylvanians yet to come.
And in service of the work that all of you here tonight have embraced in such exciting and exemplary ways - the work of building a sustainable future for Pennsylvania.
So, we all have the choice between repose or truth. Some of the choices we face as citizens are personal. Others are political. Many are societal.
All of you in the body of work we celebrate tonight have made the choice for truth – for sustainability.
You’ve chosen to lead, and to serve by your example. You’ve chosen truth over repose.
Thank you for choosing truth.
What’s In Gov. Wolf’s New Budget For The Environment?  Not Much

No comments :

Post a Comment

Subscribe To Receive Updates:

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner