Now Is the Time for Sustainable Investment

This summer has been packed with climate wake-up calls. Dangerously high temperatures, wildfires, and severe storms have devastated communities across the country. Just this week, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a new report which outlined in extensive detail how humans have influenced the Earth’s atmosphere, ocean, and land. We are already experiencing the impacts of climate change, and, according to the report, we need all hands on deck to prevent conditions from worsening further.

Pennsylvania is a manufacturing hub for wind, hydro turbine, and ENERGY STAR products.

Given these realities, Pennsylvania has an important role to play in the coming years. Securing a sustainable future for Pennsylvanians will require the state to minimize its own contribution to climate change while protecting citizens against future threats, both environmental and economic. That will require action not just to cut emissions, but also to overhaul our energy economy in the best interest of workers and communities.

Two recent reports highlight possible opportunities for sustainable investment that would help move the state closer to both goals. DEP’s Pennsylvania Clean Energy Industry Workforce Development Needs Assessment and Gap Analysis Report, published in April, presents strategies for preparing workers to join the growing clean energy sector. As Pennsylvania inevitably transitions away from coal, creating new opportunities for impacted workers will be key.

“As Pennsylvania focuses on economic recovery and growth, the clean energy sector will undoubtedly help move Pennsylvania forward because this area is rife with opportunities for employees and employers alike,’’ said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “This demand is only going to keep growing, and it will need a strong workforce.”

This is a good time to invest in the clean energy economy. Jobs in Pennsylvania’s clean energy sector grew 6% over the last 5 years. This includes jobs in energy efficiency, clean energy generation, alternative transportation, clean grid and storage, and clean fuels. Pennsylvania also has the advantage of being a manufacturing hub for wind turbines and Energy Star products.

Securing a sustainable future for Pennsylvanians will require the state to minimize its own contribution to climate change while protecting citizens against future threats, both environmental and economic.

Despite these factors, employers in the industry say they are finding hiring difficult. According to the report, many of the hiring challenges boil down to a lack of trained workers. The report recommends the state facilitate on-the-job training opportunities and hands-on industry experience for workers.  These programs would support workers in the transition from jobs in the fossil fuel industry to the clean energy workforce, Sec. McDonnnell said.

The green stormwater industry in Pennsylvania has also grown significantly in recent years, providing the state with another opportunity for sustainable investment. A new report from the Sustainable Business Network outlines how Pennsylvania can invest in green stormwater infrastructure, which uses plants, soil, and permeable surfaces to manage stormwater where it falls. According to SBN, the green stormwater infrastructure industry grew 9.2% from 2011 to 2019. Thanks to that growth, the report says, more than half of GSI workers earn at least $15/hour, even without a high school diploma or equivalent. However, there is also an $8.4 billion gap in funding for stormwater management needs in Pennsylvania. Not only would investing in green stormwater provide jobs for thousands of people across the state, but it would also help safeguard communities against increasingly severe weather events like floods and extreme heat.

Building bioswales and other green stormwater infrastructure can provide jobs while preventing stormwater runoff and flooding.

Such upfront investments can be costly, but there’s good news: the state is set to reap substantial revenues from Pennsylvania’s proposed membership in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a multi-state carbon market with a thirteen-year-long track record of cutting emissions while boosting member states’ economies. Legislation introduced in the General Assembly earlier this summer maps out some of the ways RGGI proceeds could be reinvested to employ Pennsylvanians on critical projects like plugging abandoned oil and gas wells, upgrading or retrofitting buildings for improved energy efficiency, and developing carbon capture and storage technology. The bills, sponsored by Senator Carolyn Comitta and Representative Dianne Herrin, would also dedicate a portion of RGGI revenues to direct assistance for displaced workers and lower-income utility customers.

RGGI is just one opportunity for Pennsylvania to be a climate leader. As we’ve seen in the IPCC report, as well as the DEP’s Pennsylvania Climate Impacts Assessment released earlier this year, there won’t be a better time to invest in programs to minimize future climate risks. Now is the time for actions that will help ensure a sustainable future for our communities and environment.

More information on climate change and decarbonization, including our updated Climate and Policy Recommendations, is available here.