Indiana University of Pennsylvania climate scientist Jonathan P. Warnock, Ph.D., directed the following remarks to state lawmakers on Thursday during a conference call hosted by the Clean Power PA Coalition. The remarks have been adapted here for print.
By Jonathan P. Warnock
INDIANA — Indiana County is a coal county. Our economics have been tied to coal for more than a century. I live within miles of three coal fired powerplants; I can see one of them right now. Coal helped Indiana County to grow.
However, automation has replaced miners, and burning coal is an increasingly expensive way to generate electricity. Penelec raised its rates for residential and commercial customers just two days ago. Maybe they wanted to help me make my point.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Pennsylvania has lost more than 10,000 coal jobs since 1990, and that is just in mining. It doesn’t consider power plant workers, truck drivers and others who have jobs tied to coal.
Our communities can no longer count on coal to drive the economy. We need new job sources, and our workers need training to help get them into these new jobs. We need the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and we need laws allowing RGGI funds to come to counties whose economies have been left behind by coal.
Accessible job training programs that can help workers shift careers as the energy industry changes and shift into jobs that exist in growing markets are vital. The state Department of Environmental Protection estimates RGGI would generate 27,000 jobs. Focusing the money and opportunities that create those jobs in places that have lost, and continue to lose, coal jobs, like Indiana County, is necessary for the health of the Commonwealth.
Furthermore, using RGGI funds to support solar and other renewable energy will provide jobs, lower the cost of electricity easing the budgets of Pennsylvanian families, and help in the fight against climate change.
DECLINES IN COAL JOBS aren’t the only issues facing Western Pennsylvania. Climate models predict average annual rainfall increases in western Pennsylvania for the foreseeable future. Storm water, flooding and sewer problems already plague us, however. Just last night as a storm pounded Indiana, I watched water levels rise rapidly in the streets.
Indiana Borough Council is already dealing with sewer backup issues in town this spring. These problems are costly to municipalities, businesses and citizens, and will only get worse. RGGI funding could support infrastructure programs that help solve our storm water problems, all the while creating jobs in the communities who need them most.
A more detailed look at the scientific literature provides an even darker view. According to the U.S. National Climate Assessment and climate-modeling studies in journals such as Climate Dynamics and the Journal of the American Meteorological Society, rainfall totals in Western Pennsylvania are expected to increase annually on average and they will also become increasingly seasonal. More and more rain will fall in the spring, while less and less will come in the summer and fall.
To be ready to face climate change, we must prepare to experience both flooding and drought conditions, potentially every year. RGGI funds can be used to support local small farms, ranches and orchards that will need help and new infrastructure to face these challenging conditions.
THERE ARE OTHER PROBLEMS to be addressed. Rising temperatures will tax our school systems as they struggle to pay for air conditioning; flood rains will strip soils further impacting our farms; spring rains and warm temperatures will increase the mosquito and tick populations, leading to more disease. RGGI funds can help solve these problems.
The Pennsylvania state legislature needs to act. We need the help of lawmakers to bring RGGI funds to the coal counties that need help the most. Past growth in the coal and natural gas industries helped to drive Pennsylvania’s economy. Now the counties that pushed that development need lawmakers’ help to grow, modernize and compete.
Jonathan P. Warnock, Ph.D., is a faculty member of the Department of Geography, Geology, Environment and Planning at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He is a member of the advisory board for Solar United Neighbors of Pennsylvania, a non-profit that has helped his household and approximately 30 others in Indiana County convert to solar over the past two years. He serves as a member of the Indiana Borough Council.