Thursday, October 26, 2023

Bipartisan Climate Initiative Officially Launches Education Effort To Use PA Environmental Rights Amendment To Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Adapt To Climate Change

On October 26, the
Pennsylvania Bipartisan Climate Initiative launched as a nonprofit organization with an event at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia with a  mission to implement the full power of the Environmental Rights Amendment through a coordinated public education effort aimed at mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change.

“The global climate crisis requires immediate action, and we can start here at home in our Commonwealth, where we produce more than one percent of global greenhouse gases annually. Thankfully, in Pennsylvania, we have a superpower in our Environmental Rights Amendment (ERA), stronger than in any other state in the country. Now, we need to implement the ERA throughout the Commonwealth to move the needle on climate change and safeguard the health of our communities, especially those historically overburdened,” said Michael Sklaroff, Executive Director of the Initiative. “The ERA is surprisingly not well known in government or by the public. A superpower left on the shelf is not a superpower; this is where the Initiative comes in.”

Sklaroff recently retired from Ballard Spahr, where he established the firm’s national real estate department. 

He is a passionate advocate for action on the climate crisis and founded the Initiative as a collaboration dedicated to (1) educating the public about their constitutional rights to a livable environment and (2) educating public officials on their constitutional obligations as trustees for the environment.

“I could not be more excited to see the formation of the Initiative and I wholeheartedly join as one of its advisors,” said John C. Dernbach, emeritus Professor of Law, Former Director of Environmental Law and Sustainability Center, Widener University and an Advisory Board member. “I am proud that my work played a role in informing the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision in 2013 that brought the ERA back to life, and I believe the Initiative’s focused approach through education and advocacy can bring us to a better place.”

Pennsylvania’s powerful ERA contains four distinct features that no other state constitution has in full measure--

-- The ERA gives every Pennsylvanian, including future generations, a right to a livable environment;

-- Every public official, elected and appointed, is a trustee for the environment;

-- The ERA is self-executing: it needs no further act of the Legislature to be effective; and

-- The ERA is contained in Article I of the Constitution – the Pennsylvania Bill of Rights -- in the same place as religious freedom, the right to vote, the right to own property and freedom of the press.

“Climate change is a global issue, but Pennsylvanians know that the local impacts are increasingly severe. Residents in our communities are suffering from the effects of rising temperatures, tainted air and water, and storms,” said Advisory Board member Bill Peduto. “Leveraging the ERA is an important way to take action – by demanding that our elected and appointed leaders protect our right to clean air, water and a better future for all of us and generations to come.” 

During his tenure as Mayor of Pittsburgh, Peduto became an international leader in climate change action by enacting green initiatives and sustainability plans. 

Peduto was selected for the U.S. Conference of Mayors 2020 Climate Protection Award and is the longest-serving board member (representing all North American cities) for the Global Covenant of Mayors.

The Initiative is working to encourage Pennsylvania municipalities to incorporate ERA values into their comprehensive plans and to implement a Climate Action Plan that charts necessary action to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the climate crisis. 

The Initiative supports Drexel University’s Environmental Collaboratory in their work to curate best practices for communities throughout Pennsylvania, especially those that have been historically overburdened.

Former Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Ronald Castille, whose opinion in Robinson Township v. Commonwealth brought the ERA back to life, was in attendance and delivered remarks on his seminal decision. 

“The Environmental Collaboratory is a natural ally for the Initiative as we seek to foster climate and environmentally just solutions that are actionable in the near term. The ERA should be incorporated into comprehensive climate plans so that trustees take affirmative steps to address the public health and safety of all Pennsylvanians, especially those in underserved communities,” said Mathy Stanislaus, Vice Provost and Executive Director of Drexel University’s The Environmental Collaboratory

“The public health impacts of climate change are far reaching, from worsening asthma and heart disease due to poor air quality, premature birth due to excessive heat and mental health impacts due to flooding. Climate changes have a disproportionate impact on communities that have been overburdened by pollution and often have the fewest resources to mitigate them,” said Dr. Marilyn Howarth, of the Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine and Advisory Board member. “According to Yale Climate Opinion Maps 2021, 58% of Pennsylvanians believe local officials should do more to address global warming. The Initiative’s mission to educate and inform is the first key step before implementation.”

The Green Family Foundation is providing support for the Initiative in its educational and advocacy efforts for implementation of the ERA at all levels of government.

Allies of the Initiative are organizations across Pennsylvania invested in tackling the climate crisis and committed to public health, environmental justice and our constitutional rights. 

They include: Drexel University’s Environmental Collaboratory, Clean Air Council, POWER Interfaith, Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light and Urban Land Institute.

The Initiative’s Advisory Board is comprised of civic leaders, including-- 

-- Lynne M. Abraham, former Philadelphia District Attorney

-- Majid Alsayegh, co-founder and chair emeritus, Intercultural Journeys

-- John C. Dernbach, professor emeritus, Widener University Commonwealth Law School

-- Tyra Bryant-Stephens, M.D., Medical Director, Community Asthma Prevention Program and Chief Health Equity Officer, Center for Health Equity at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

-- Marilyn Howarth, M.D., Director, Community Engagement, Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology and Deputy Director, Philadelphia Regional Center for Children’s Environmental Health at UPenn’s Perelman School of Medicine

-- Peter Longstreth, President, Consular Corps Association of Philadelphia

-- Robert B. McKinstry, member, American College of Environmental Lawyers

-- Steve Mullin, former City of Philadelphia Commerce Director and Finance Director

-- William Peduto, former Mayor of Pittsburgh, and Executive-in-Residence Carnegie Mellon University

-- Sister Mary Scullion, co-founder and executive director, Project H.O.M.E.

-- David Thornburgh, former president and CEO, Committee of Seventy

            For more information, visit the Pennsylvania Bipartisan Climate Initiative website.

[Posted: October 26, 2023]  PA Environment Digest

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