State board rejects student's petition to limit greenhouse gases

HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania’s environmental rulemaking board rejected a Westmoreland County college student’s petition to significantly limit the state’s greenhouse gas emissions on Tuesday, agreeing with the Department of Environmental Protection that the state can’t act alone to create the conditions for a safer climate.

The 20-member Environmental Quality Board voted not to urge DEP to create rules, requested by 20-year-old Ashley Funk of Mount Pleasant, to reduce the carbon dioxide emitted from burning fossil fuels in Pennsylvania by 6 percent each year through 2050.

The board is made up of the heads of state agencies, members of the state Senate and House and representatives of a citizens advisory council.

DEP argued that it is implementing “balanced, cost-effective” programs that, coupled with market forces, have helped the state reduce its greenhouse gas emissions over the last decade. But neither the state nor the nation can act alone to meet the safe global concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere the petition hopes to achieve, officials said.

Ms. Funk said the state is required by its constitution to do more.

“I proposed a rule that I thought would help the DEP meet its constitutional obligation as a trustee of the atmosphere, and the DEP rejected it without providing an alternative,” she said. “I think that is unacceptable.”

Democratic state Rep. Greg Vitali of Delaware County said the rulemaking board is the appropriate place to take up the issue. Other board members suggested that climate change initiatives should be addressed by the general assembly.

“The legislature really has failed to act,” Mr. Vitali said. “What we are doing has been wholly inadequate.”

DEP Secretary E. Christopher Abruzzo, the board’s chairman, said the department shares the petition’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and defended the state’s work in that direction.

“We have crossed a line where things must be done to address the issues associated with climate change,” he said. “But we have to move away from this notion that nothing is being done. There is a lot of very good news in Pennsylvania.”

Ms. Funk’s attorney Kenneth Kristl, the director of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic at Widener Law School, said they will consider their options for next steps.

Outside legal observers have said the petition could be a promising avenue for testing the strength of the state’s Environmental Rights Amendment, which was recently reinvigorated by a state Supreme Court opinion in an unrelated case. The amendment defines the state’s obligation to conserve Pennsylvania’s public natural resources.

“The fact that we’re doing something does not mean that we’re meeting our constitutional obligations as a commonwealth,” Mr. Kristl said.

“I don't think this fight is over,” he said.

Laura Legere:

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