Sunday, July 13, 2008

Big environmental week in Pennsylvania

It's been was a big week for environmental headlines in the Keystone State with the resignation of Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen A. McGinty, the enactment of a $650 million energy bill and the additional signings of climate-change and biofuels legislation.

(DEP Secretary Kathleen A. McGinty with solar panels)

On Thursday, the Philadelphia Inquire broke the story of McGinty's resignation (effective July 18) with this lead:

"Kathleen McGinty, who in her five years as secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection led Gov. Rendell's ambitious agenda to enhance the environment, advance energy conservation initiatives and attract green businesses, is stepping down."

The Governor's Office confirmed the story on Friday with a news release praising McGinty for her accomplishments in the post:

"Katie's tenure as DEP secretary has been marked by many achievements that will have a lasting benefit for this commonwealth," said Governor Rendell. "From her first day in office, she brought a unique perspective to the way we view environmental challenges: that those challenges are economic opportunities in disguise. Operating under that philosophy, Pennsylvania has become a center of progress and innovation. "

The governor later announced that Joseph R. Powers, who has served as executive deputy secretary since 2003, would fill in for McGinty until a permanent replacement is announced.

The statewide activist organization, PennFuture, was quick to salute McGinty in a statement calling her an environmental 'trailblazer.'

"Katie hit Pennsylvania like a whirlwind, working with government, the private sector, public interest organizations and everyone in between to promote and improve Pennsylvania's environment and economy," said Penn Future's president and CEO John Hanger. "Thanks to her, Pennsylvania now has a solid plan to combat
warming. She helped convince global green energy companies Gamesa, Iberdrola and Conergy to locate here in Pennsylvania, bringing millions in investments and thousands of great paying green jobs. Recognizing the need for strong regulation to protect the health of Pennsylvania's babies, McGinty championed the rule that will result in a 90 percent reduction of toxic mercury pollution from our state's coal-fired power plants. She also led the fight for a new rule to guarantee that Commonwealth residents would have access to the very cleanest new cars available anywhere. And just this legislative session, she fought and won the $650 million clean energy fund, and legislation to support homegrown cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel "
PennFuture posted an interesting "Exit Interview" video with McGinty on its website.

The video takes a little time to download and it sounds like the interview was taped inside a large steel drum. Those quibbles aside, we recommend it since it gives McGinty an opportunity to expand on her accomplishments and some of the environmental challenges left for her successor (and the Rendell Administration) to grapple with.

McGinty's can-do approach, which seeks to find opportunities for economic development within solutions to traditional environmental problems, is credited by many as a big factor in helping to turn the Commonwealth--despite its significant problems with abandoned coal mines leaching toxic water, landscapes scarred by mountains of coal waste, and an energy industry wedded to coal and oil--into a national leader in attracting, promoting and subsidizing new companies in the alternative-energy fields of wind, solar and biofuels.

Turning to a few of the week's other big stories...

Rendell's signature of Special Session HB 1 will make some $100 million available to households and small businesses to offset the cost of installing solar energy systems. The new law also provides $92.5 million in loans, grants, reimbursements and rebates to support energy conservation and weatherization projects and $165 million for loans and grants to spur the development of alternative and renewable energy projects (other than solar) among businesses and local governments.

The global-warming legislation signed this past week will require Pennsylvania to conduct an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions and set up a registry for business and industry where they can track their emissions and get credit for pollution reductions.

(Mark Morey photo)

The governor also signed two bills which lend a hand to those companies working to develop homegrown biofuels.

Special Session SB 22 directs an investment of $5.3 million to in-state biodiesel producers annually through June 30, 2011. These companies will be able to take advantage of a 75 cents-per-gallon subsidy that will be capped at $1.9 million per year per producer.
HB 1202 aims to reduce the state's depedence on foreign fuels by establishing new requirements that every gallon of gasoline and diesel fuel contain a percentage of ethanol and biodiesel.
Legislation gladdens biodiesel producers - The Sentinel
Editorial: Pennsylvania expands beyond corn-based fuel - Daily Review

For more on the energy-funding law, see:
Rendell Signs Bill Establishing $650 Million Energy Fund (Gant Daily)
Solar Energy Big Winner in Pennsylvania Energy Funding Bill (Sierra Club)
Gov. Rendell signs bill establishing $650 Energy Fund (PADEP)

For more on the climate-change legislation, see:
Pennsylvania Assembly Passes First Global Warming Law (ENS)
Pa Climate Change Act Passes (Sierra Club)

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