With 12.8 million residents, Pennsylvania is the fifth most populated state in America, behind only California, Texas, Florida, and New York. It’s also relatively large in land area, especially for the Northeastern United States, at 46,055 square miles with forests covering 58% of its land. The commonwealth also has many lakes, rivers, and wetlands.
In the wake of climate change, Pennsylvania is facing more flooding, heat and respiratory deaths, as well as disruptions to its agricultural systems. Like other northeastern states, Pennsylvania will see far more rainfall and extreme weather than experienced in the past. Already, between 1958 and 2010, the Northeast saw more than a 70% increase in precipitation during powerful weather events with the expectation that rainfall will increase another 8% by 2050. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has already experienced record-breaking impacts from floods and landslides costing the state over $105 million extra in 2018 alone.
Pennsylvania is one of seven states in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast to have record sweltering heat in July, 2020. Records date back to 1895. Temperatures in Pennsylvania have increased by 1.8°F in the last century, and are expected to rise another 5.4˚F by 2050. Mid-century temperatures in Philadelphia are expected to be similar to the historical temperatures of Richmond, Virginia while Pittsburgh will resemble the Washington-Baltimore metro areas. As temperatures rise in Pennsylvania, heat deaths rise too. The heat also leads to increased air pollution as it slows the flow of air and aids a reaction that creates ground-level ozone, a powerful pollutant. Pennsylvania has the most premature deaths per capita caused by air pollution of any state (4,800 in 2018).
Pennsylvania’s increasingly frequent hot days and extreme weather events are taking their toll on agriculture, one of the state’s most important industries. As just one example, a 2018 Penn State study found that corn production in Southeastern PA could be especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. This is having reverberating effects on Pennsylvania’s dairy industry, where corn is a major food for cows. Climate change’s effect on rainfall is also causing farmers to resort to irrigation, which has never been necessary in Pennsylvania. Farmers also endure the extra expense of adding more cover crops in order to protect their soil against erosion.
Pennsylvania is the country’s second-largest net supplier of energy to other states, after Wyoming, and the third-highest electricity-generating state in the nation, behind only Texas and Florida. Located in the coal-rich Appalachian Mountain region, northeastern Pennsylvania has virtually all of the nation’s reserves of anthracite coal. In natural gas, it is second only to Texas in estimated reserves. In nuclear power generating capacity, Pennsylvania ranks second after Illinois. Because Pennsylvania is such an important energy generator, climate reform in the state would strongly impact the whole country.
In 2018 nuclear power was the largest supplier of electricity in the state, followed by natural gas-fired generation; then coal-fired power plants, and renewable energy made up only 5% of the commonwealth’s energy consumption. Wind is the largest source of renewable energy in Pennsylvania, followed by hydropower, biomass, and then solar. Find more information about Pennsylvania’s energy sources and usage here.
In 2008, the state passed the Pennsylvania Climate Change Act requiring the development of an inventory of GHG emissions to be updated annually and administered by a Climate Change Advisory Committee, which was to set up a voluntary registry of GHG emissions, prepare a Climate Change Impacts Assessment, provide an update once every three years, and prepare a Climate Change Action Plan.
By 2019, Pennsylvania’s governor signed Executive Order 2019-1, which states that Pennsylvania “shall strive” to cut greenhouse gas emissions 26% (from 2005 levels) by 2025, and 80% by 2050. It also established performance goals for Pennsylvania executive agencies concerning energy efficiency, electric vehicles, and renewable energy purchases. Finally, the Order also established a “GreenGov Council” to help agencies meet these goals.
In September, 2021, Governor Wolf announced the Pennsylvania Climate Action Plan 2021 (as contemplated in 2008!) outlining a pathway to reaching Pennsylvania’s greenhouse gas reduction goals: 26 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050 from 2005 levels.
Under Wolf’s governorship, Pennsylvania announced in 2020 that it would join seven other states (Kansas, Maryland, Louisiana, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Wyoming) in committing to develop a safe carbon dioxide transport and storage infrastructure plan. By October, 2021, those states released their Regional CO2 Transport, Infrastructure action Plan, which included policies for states to consider to facilitate CO2 Transport and Storage project deployment.
Pennsylvania is one of twenty-four states and Puerto Rico committed to the U.S. Climate Alliance, which is working to implement policies that advance the goals of the Paris Agreement.