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. Although Pennslyvania certainly has a lot of people, 58% of the commonwealth’s land is temperate forest. The commonwealth also has many lakes, rivers, and wetlands.
In the wake of climate change, Pennsylvania is facing more flooding, heat and respiratory deaths, and disruptions to 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. Precipitation as a whole is expected to increase another 8% across Pennsylvania 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.
Temperatures in Pennsylvania have already increased by 1.8°F in the last century, and are expected to rise another 5.4 by 2050. Mid-century temperatures in Philadelphia are expected to be similar to the historical temperatures of Richmond, Virginia. Pittsburgh will feel more like Baltimore or Washington D.C. As temperatures rise in Pennsylvania, heat deaths rise too. The heat also leads to increased air pollution because high heat slows the flow of air and aids a reaction that creates ground-level ozone, a powerful pollutant (12). Pennsylvania has the most premature deaths per capita caused by air pollution of any state. Within Pennsylvania, 2,724 deaths were caused by air pollution and Pennsylvania’s air pollution was also responsible for 306 deaths in Maryland, 715 in New Jersey, and 657 in New York.
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 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.
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.
In 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. Secondly, it establishes performance goals for Pennsylvania executive agencies concerning energy efficiency, electric vehicles, and renewable energy purchases. The Order also established a “GreenGov Council” to help agencies meet these goals.
In addition, Pennsylvania joined twenty three other states in forming the U.S. climate alliance in 2019, committing it to implement policies that advance the goals of the Paris Agreement.
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, which is the purest, least-polluting type of coal. In natural gas, Pennsylvania is second only to Texas in estimated reserves. In nuclear power generating capacity, it ranks second after Illinois. However, some of the nuclear power plants face economic challenges and a disastrous partial core meltdown at the Three Mile Island plant made the whole nation wary about nuclear. Because Pennsylvania is such an important energy generator, climate reform in the state would strongly impact the whole country.
Despite public distaste for nuclear, in 2018 nuclear power was the largest supplier of electricity in the state, followed by natural gas-fired generation, and then coal-fired power plants. In 2018 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. However, in 2017, 14.2% of the electricity sold to the state’s retail customers was generated by qualifying alternative energy sources. Find more information about Pennsylvania’s energy sources and usage here.