PA Climate Impacts Assessment Update

In 2008, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed the Pennsylvania Climate Change Act (Act 70) which directed the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to conduct a study of the potential impacts of global climate change on Pennsylvania over the next century and issue a report to be updated every three years. A team from Pennsylvania State University led by Dr. James Shortle conducted a study and on June 29, 2009 issued the initial report entitled “Pennsylvania Climate Impact Assessment Report to the Department of Environmental Protection.” The Penn State team used various General Circulation Models (GCMs) as predictive tools to project climate change impacts and found:

  • It is very likely that Pennsylvania will warm throughout the 21st century; not a single GCM simulates cooling under the high (A2) or low (B1) emissions scenarios.
  • It is likely that annual precipitation will increase in Pennsylvania and very likely that winter precipitation will increase in both emissions scenarios.
  • Projected climate change for the Commonwealth over the next 20 years does not differ between the high and low emissions scenarios. Pennsylvania’s projected climate by the end of the century differs significantly between the two scenarios.
  • By the end of the century, the median projected warming according to the A2 scenario is almost 4 degrees C (7 degrees F), which is nearly twice that of the B1scenario.
  • By late century, the median B1 and A2 annual precipitation projections increase by six and 10 percent, respectively. Corresponding winter projections are eight and 15 percent.
  • Warming will lead to a longer growing season, with median B1 and A2 projections of nearly three and five weeks lengthening, respectively, by late century. Corresponding frost day decreases are nearly four and six weeks.
  • It is likely that Pennsylvania’s precipitation climate will become more extreme in the future, with longer dry periods and greater intensity of precipitation when it occurs.
  • There is substantial uncertainty in projections of future tropical and extratropical cyclones for Pennsylvania. Current research suggests fewer storms but with increases in intensity.

The Penn State team issued to DEP issued its Pennsylvania Climate Impacts Assessment Update in May 2015 which DEP released on August 27, 2015. The main conclusion by the team can be summed up in one sentence in the Executive Summary: “Pennsylvania’s current warming and wetting trends are expected to continue at an accelerated rate.” The report discusses impacts through sectoral assessments related to agriculture, energy, forest resources, human health impacts with the team noting:

The sectoral assessments presented in this report consider exposures, sensitivities, and adaptations in assessing potential impacts. Importantly, impacts are not exclusively negative. For example, warmer, wetter environments can be beneficial for some crops, and warmer winters can reduce human health risks associated with cold weather. Accordingly, impacts are risks or vulnerabilities in many cases, but provide for opportunities in others.

In its discussion of the impacts to the energy sector, the team noted the following which should be of interest to readers of this blog:

Several new issues have emerged since the 2013 Update.

  • Declines in energy commodity prices, particularly for electricity and natural gas, will present challenges to some technology options that could contribute to climate change mitigation. Unless otherwise supported through incentive programs, the economics of renewable power generation in the Commonwealth (primarily wind and solar photovoltaics) will continue to be negatively impacted. With current market conditions, large-scale renewable energy projects in Pennsylvania face increasing costs due primarily to locational factors (for example, many of the best wind sites have already been developed).
  • Recent extreme weather events have focused attention on how climate change may affect the reliability of energy delivery systems. Recent work has attempted to quantify the reliability benefits of a more distributed model of electric power production and delivery, but additional research is needed.
  • Updated climate models suggest that pressures on water quantity available for the energy sector in Pennsylvania may not represent a significant energy system stressor, although the models do project some changes in seasonal variation.

In releasing the report, DEP Secretary Quigley commented:

This report shows that climate change is reality and it will get worse, and it will affect key sectors of the economy, our health, and our quality of life. We must respond to this challenge, and do so in a way that strengthens Pennsylvania’s economy and improves the environment we live in. The entire state will experience the effects, and we must all take note of the consequences of our changing climate as detailed by Dr. Shortle and his colleagues.

It will be interesting to see how the political sector in Harrisburg reacts to this report. Perhaps Governor Wolf will reconsider his goal of extracting funds from the shale gas industry to be used for funding education and consider sharing that funding with the renewal power developers since Dr. Shortle’s team concluded that renewable energy projects may not be able to compete without incentives or subsidies.

Stephen Smith focuses his practice on environmental and energy-related matters including regulatory counseling and litigation, administrative law, governmental affairs and lobbying. He represents clients before federal and state courts and administrative agencies. He provides client counseling and advice on compliance, permitting and agency communications as well as business transactions.
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