Pennsylvania shows the way toward a clean energy future

After hearing oral arguments last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is now deliberating on a case that could determine the fate of the federal Clean Power Plan (CPP). Opponents of the CPP, which sets the nation’s first limits on carbon pollution from power plants, have sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), claiming regulatory overreach by the federal government. While much of the controversy has focused on industry and states, this is an issue of tremendous consequence to local government. That’s why the Cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh support the Clean Power Plan and defended the EPA in court.

Cities and towns like ours are on the front lines when it comes to dealing with the very real effects of pollution and climate change. From managing flooding events to air quality concerns, mayors can’t wait idly by for federal and state government to act. Both of our cities are advancing ambitious, achievable sustainability agendas that are rooted in improving environmental and public health, increasing social equity, and driving economic competitiveness.

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In Philadelphia, we are leading by example: we've committed to reducing greenhouse gases 80% by 2050 and are improving energy performance in city-owned facilities. As part of the Rebuilding Community Infrastructure initiative, we are making energy efficient improvements to recreation centers, libraries and other city-owned buildings. We're releasing an update to our sustainability plan next month and are developing a comprehensive energy master plan that will guide our efforts to substantially increase energy efficiency and renewable energy generation.

In Pittsburgh, we purchase 30% of our municipal energy from renewable sources, enough to power 3,500 homes a year. The Pittsburgh 2030 District is an exciting public-private collaborative working to create high-performance buildings that will increase the competitiveness of our downtown. Partnering with the Department of Energy, we are advancing several migrogrid and district energy projects across the City.

Despite the progress our two cities are making, we know that it’s not enough. Ultimately, an alignment between local, state and federal government is essential to meeting the climate imperative. We believe that the next step in this direction is moving forward with the Clean Power Plan.

By providing states with a flexible framework for how they meet their emissions goals, the CPP has the potential to build upon and accelerate the work being done at the local level. The Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP) is the part of the CPP that explicitly aims to extend from the utility scale to the community scale. The CEIP is a voluntary early-action program designed to catalyze renewable energy and energy efficiency projects as a way for states to meet their compliance goals. It will drive projects that create jobs, lower utility bills, and increase energy efficiency and clean energy adoption.

In particular, the CEIP will focus investments in low-income communities, where families carry a higher-than-average energy burden and are disproportionately affected by climate change. Our cities know these challenges all too well: a 2016 report by ACEEE found that Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are among the top 10 major U.S. cities that have the highest energy burdens for low-income households. The clean energy future we’re working towards must be one from which everyone benefits. That’s why we submitted comments to the EPA supporting the goals of the CEIP and encourage the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to opt-in to the program.

Pennsylvania is the epicenter for the myriad issues being contested around the Clean Power Plan: an economy tied to coal production, the transition to natural gas, tremendous growth potential in renewables, and the need to secure a safe climate. And Pennsylvania, with its industrial legacy and well-trained workforce, like the country at-large, is well positioned to be at the forefront of the clean energy economy.

The Clean Power Plan is about more than power plants. It represents the country’s most aggressive effort to date to protect the health and well-being of our communities from carbon pollution and climate change. As U.N. Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change Michael Bloomberg—once a mayor himself—says, "We cannot address climate change effectively without putting cities at the center of the agenda." We couldn’t agree more and stand eager to work with our state and federal government to make the Clean Power Plan a success.


The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.