Pennsylvania Enacts Climate Change Legislation
On July 9, 2008, Governor Rendell signed into law Senate Bill 266, the Pennsylvania Climate Change Act, making it the first statewide piece of climate change legislation passed in Pennsylvania. Previously, the House and Senate had passed similar, but separate, pieces of climate change legislation. Recently, however, the House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 266, clearing the way for a single climate change bill to be forwarded to the Governor. The Act is effective immediately.
While the Pennsylvania Climate Change Act does not set targets for greenhouse gas reductions, it does establish a number of programs designed to require the Department of Environmental Protection ("DEP") to study and report on climate change issues. First, the Act requires DEP to submit within nine months to the General Assembly a report on the potential impact of climate change in Pennsylvania and the potential economic opportunities resulting from any mitigation strategy. The Act also requires DEP to compile an annual inventory of greenhouse gas emissions from all sources within Pennsylvania. In addition, the Act requires DEP to submit to the Governor and General Assembly within fifteen months a "climate change action plan" that, among other things, is supposed to evaluate cost-effective strategies for reducing or offsetting greenhouse gas emissions from various sectors within Pennsylvania and recommend any legislative changes necessary to implement the action plan. A new action plan must be submitted every three years. The Act also directs DEP to establish within 90 days a greenhouse gas registry where entities can record voluntary reductions or avoidances of greenhouse gas emissions.
To assist DEP with these efforts, the Act creates a Climate Change Advisory Committee whose charge is to advise DEP regarding the implementation of the Act. The Governor, the Senate and the House of Representatives will appoint eighteen members of the Committee, and the Secretaries of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Department of Community and Economic Development, as well as the Chair of the Public Utility Commission, will serve as ex-officio voting members of the Committee. The Committee is required to meet within sixty days and regularly thereafter.
Finally, the Act contemplates that the U.S. Congress may enact federal climate change legislation that touches on the programs established by the Act. If the DEP Secretary determines that any federal legislation is as or more comprehensive than the Act, the Secretary must publish this determination in the Pennsylvania Bulletin along with a notice that compliance with the federal law will constitute compliance with the Act.
Previously, in February 2007, Governor Rendell had announced that his office would present a climate change strategy for Pennsylvania by the end of April 2007. Release of that strategy, however, has been delayed in large part due to efforts to first pass the Governor's Energy Independence Strategy. It is generally presumed that the final drafting and release of the long-awaited climate change strategy will now be coordinated with the release of the climate change action plan in fifteen months as required by the Act.