IUP climate scientist: join RGGI for jobs

Jonathan Warnock, Ph.D., climate scientist at Indiana University of Pennsylvania; member, Indiana Borough Council

Following are written remarks by IUP climate scientist Jonathan Warnock, Ph.D., a member of the Indiana Borough Council. His remarks were posted Dec. 14 on the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection website for public comments on Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposal to join the Northeast Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

Nearly 12,900 comments were submitted, including 79 from citizens of Indiana, Pa. The nine-week public comment period ended Jan. 14.  

Mr. Warnock’s comments have been edited to reflect updated information.

By Jonathan Warnock

INDIANA — I am an associate professor of Geoscience at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. As a scientist, I study Antarctica, its oceans and its ice sheets over the past 15 million years. I am a climate scientist.

I am here speaking as a citizen of Pennsylvania, and I am representing the majority opinion of the 12 members of the borough council of Indiana Borough.

Joining the RGGI is extremely important. The effects of climate change are here, and already affecting western PA. In Indiana we struggle with storm water. Homes routinely flood. Properties are extensively damaged. An increasing amount of tax money is spent managing storm water.

Record-breaking and near-record-breaking rainfall occurs in Indiana County most years now. Fields flood, damaging or destroying crops and leaving farmers struggling to pay the bills. The science is clear; this is a result of climate change. We need the RGGI to begin to address climate change. We can no longer wait to push these problems onto future generations.

 

The effects of climate change in PA do not stop at flooding and infrastructure. Climate change-related winter and spring temperature fluctuations are affecting our trees. This year our fruiting trees budded out early, as we had an unusually warm winter. A typical early May frost killed the buds. Without climate change, these trees would not yet have budded and they would have produced fruit. Instead, the trees this year are barren.

The impacts of this loss range from the level of the individual homeowner up to large orchard businesses losing revenue. Much of Pennsylvania’s industry, from agriculture to logging to tourism, is tied to our woods. The longer we wait to address climate change, the more our forests will suffer. This will reduce our quality of life, change our way of life, and lead to continued job losses.

Forests aren’t the only problem. Rising temperatures and flooding are already affecting agriculture, industry and public health. These changes are only expected to be magnified in the future. We need to take action to stop these losses.

 

THE ECONOMIES and quality of life in Indiana Borough and Indiana County have long been tied to coal. However, as automation replaces miners and power-plant workers, energy industry jobs have declined.

Like much of Western PA, Indiana is struggling with unemployment, a decreased tax base and poverty. The RGGI can help to solve those problems by creating jobs, job training programs and providing tax revenue the state can use to support coal country.

RGGI can be an important economic driver and job creator. This is important because coal jobs in Pennsylvania have been dropping for a long time. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, PA has lost more than 10,000 coal jobs since 1990, and that is just in mining. It doesn’t consider power plant workers and others who have jobs tied to coal.

The second reason behind my comment was that for RGGI to be successful, planned economic investments need to go to places like Indiana County to build viable job training programs and to assist those who lose jobs to RGGI. The PA Department of Environmental Protection estimates RGGI would generate 27,000 jobs. Focusing the money and opportunities that create those jobs in places that can lose coal jobs, like Indiana County, is necessary.

Given the expectation for continued decline in coal jobs, this is an opportunity to act now rather than after jobs are gone. Further, RGGI revenues need to make it into programs to help people make their homes more energy efficient, as planned. This will save money at home and create jobs for contractors and renovators.   

 

RGGI CAN WORK. We have already seen how similar initiatives in Western PA coal-fired power plants have helped to reduce sulfates in the atmosphere and the associated dangers of acid rain. The states that have already joined the RGGI have seen both a decrease in carbon emissions and raised billions to invest in clean energy, viable training programs that lead to job training and jobs themselves.

Pennsylvania has benefited from coal, and now we have a responsibility to address the damage that coal has done to our climate. Indiana County has been a leader in this area, with two successful solar co-ops having led to more than two dozen homes, including mine, going solar over the past two years.

Indiana Borough has been leading in Western PA in the fight against climate change. Joining the RGGI fits with Indiana Borough’s climate action plan. It will improve public health, save money, create jobs, and protect our natural resources.

The Borough of Indiana asks you to support Pennsylvania joining the New England and Mid-Atlantic RGGI for the sake of our community, our economy and our future generations. Thank you for your time.

——————————

Jonathan P. Warnock, Ph.D., is a faculty member of the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Department of Geoscience. He serves as a member of the Indiana Borough Council.

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