Pennsylvania Climate Impacts Report: Over a Year Late and Still Waiting

In our analysis last year of how all 50 states are preparing for the impacts of a rapidly changing climate, we ranked Pennsylvania among the leading states in the country when it comes to climate preparedness planning.  However, at the time, we also noted that state-level climate action was starting to stall, threatening the state’s progress.  Well, it now seems things have grinded to a full stop.  An update to the state’s climate impacts report has been stuck at the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for over 18 months, missing the report’s legally mandated deadline by well over a year

Pennsylvania’s Climate Change Act, signed into law in 2008 by then Governor Ed Rendell, required the state to develop a report on the potential impacts of climate change and update the report every three years thereafter.  The state released its first climate change impacts assessment in June 2009, an extremely comprehensive report describing potential climate impacts to human health, water resources, wildlife, agriculture, and numerous other sectors.  An updated report was submitted by Penn State researchers to the DEP in early 2012, but now as we’re quickly approaching the end of 2013, the report is still lost somewhere within the department.  Even groups like PennFuture, who are members of the DEP’s Climate Change Advisory Committee, have grown impatient and filed a public information request to get a copy of the missing-in-action climate impacts report.

The pending report uses improved climate models and has updates on the state’s climate vulnerabilities.  Here are just a few of the changes that Pennsylvanians are facing:

  • Over the last century, temperatures have increased more than 2°F, and by the 2050s, temperatures are projected to increase another 4 to 5°F;
  • Flooding in urban areas is likely to increase due to more paved areas and more extreme rainfall events;
  • Short-term droughts are likely to become more frequent;
  • More variable flows and rising water temperatures are likely to jeopardize freshwater stream habitat, home to fish like brook trout and other wildlife; and
  • Rising sea levels could allow saltwater to travel further up the Delaware Estuary, threatening a source of drinking water for more than 15 million people.  

While the report primarily identifies what may be at risk from climate change, it also points out areas where additional research is needed and some ideas on how the state can prepare for these changes.  Strategies like reducing water demand, capturing rainwater, discouraging building in flood prone areas, and protecting stream and wetland habitats can help to reduce the impact that climate change has on communities in the state. 

Unfortunately, the administration of the current governor, Tom Corbett, doesn’t seem interested in helping communities prepare for climate impacts—the DEP has repeatedly refused to include climate preparedness in the state’s forthcoming Climate Change Action Plan (another required report under the state’s Climate Change Act, which also has missed its deadline) and has refused to establish a climate preparedness subcommittee despite objections from members of the state’s Climate Change Advisory Committee.      

This seemingly growing trend of states withholding information about climate impacts from the public is startling.  In March, I wrote about South Carolina’s decision to withhold releasing a climate change report for public review (a decision which the state eventually reversed under pressure), and New Jersey faced criticism last month for quietly posting an updated assessment of climate impacts to its website.  States have an obligation to protect their citizens and with climate change increasingly threatening communities across the country, states should not be delaying or obstructing climate preparedness.  Instead, they should be leading the way and showing communities how they can become more resilient to the challenges posed by a changing climate.