Pa. voters must hold elected officials accountable on climate protection

 Gov. Tom Wolf is shown at a news conference at the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Tuesday, May 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, file)

Gov. Tom Wolf is shown at a news conference at the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Tuesday, May 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, file)

It’s been a few weeks since President Trump put partisan politics ahead of the health of future generations with his announcement that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. Since that shortsighted decision, there have been plenty of new distractions from the fact that the United States has joined Syria and Nicaragua as the only nations in the world that will not participate in the agreement.

It’s all too easy to shift our outrage to the next tweet, the next round of Congressional testimony or the next controversy. Yes, many of these ever-emerging scandals deserve our anger. Many call for immediate advocacy and outreach. But few decisions will so negatively impact our nation and the health of people around the world for generations to come as President Trump’s decision to abandon the Paris accord.

Make no mistake: It is by far the most significant misstep of President Trump’s short time in office.

Today, we send a clear message to President Trump and Pennsylvania’s political leaders. We have not forgotten. We are still committed. We still demand action.

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Pennsylvania has become a key front in the battle to protect our climate. Our state is the second-largest natural gas producer in the country. In his speech announcing the withdrawal from the Paris agreement, President Trump specifically mentioned Pittsburgh and alluded to the Corsa Coal Corp. mine that recently opened in Somerset County. Yet serious environmental hazards continue to plague our state. More than 130,000 tons of methane leak from Pennsylvania’s 8,000 active fracking wells every year. And the problem is getting worse. Methane emissions increased by 28 percent between 2014 and 2015, outpacing the increase in methane gas production.

We applaud Pennsylvania political leaders, including Mayor Kenney in Philadelphia and Mayor Peduto in Pittsburgh for their swift, powerful words condemning the president’s actions and their commitment to abiding by the guidelines of the Paris agreement and, in many cases, setting much more ambitious targets for cutting carbon emissions in the decades to come. The Clean Air Council is resolved to holding these elected officials to these goals.

At the statewide level, while Gov. Wolf released comments criticizing the president’s decision, we have yet to see him take a strong stand and side with the environment and the future in the wake of President Trump’s announcement. We demand stronger action from Gov. Wolf. Now is the time to take bold steps and commit to abiding by the standards that the rest of the world now champions. Now is the time to lead.

We have reached a critical juncture in how our nation and our state will react to the growing threats to our climate. As the federal government turns its back on the future of our planet, it falls on state and local leaders to take a greater role in protecting our environment. In Pennsylvania, that means curbing methane pollution as well as carbon emissions.

We call on all Pennsylvanians to hold our elected officials accountable and demand that they deliver on the commitments they’ve made to protect our environment. We will not be distracted by new controversies or satisfied with mere lip service. It’s time to come together as a state to protect everyone’s right to breathe clean air.

Joseph O. Minott is executive director of the Clean Air Council.

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