News From Upriver: Pa. Official Blames Climate Change for Degradation of Susquehanna

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale speaks during a news conference at the state Capitol in Harrisburg on Wednesday. Photo by John L. Micek/Pennsylvania Capital-Star

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania’s elected fiscal watchdog pointed to the Susquehanna River, which empties into the Chesapeake Bay watershed, as one of the casualties of climate change, and said new state spending on flood control infrastructure could go a long way toward cleaning up the waterway.

“Most states [in the watershed] have been upset at Pennsylvania for many years now,” Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale (D) said during a news conference at the state Capitol. “Improving our infrastructure would stop that pollution feeding into the Chesapeake.”

On Wednesday, DePasquale, also a 2020 congressional candidate, released a report that made nine recommendations for the state to fight climate change, which he said poses a long-term threat to public safety and health, even as it exerts an increasing strain on state and municipal budgets, with taxpayers asked to bear those costs.

The Susquehanna, which starts in upstate New York and snakes through Pennsylvania, has been included on the state Department of Environmental Protection’s list of “impaired” waterways because of long-standing pollution issues.

In August, Maryland Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), who chairs the interstate Chesapeake Executive Council, called on Pennsylvania to up its game in protecting the downstream bay.

The report’s recommendations include reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by embracing clean-burning alternative energy; funding increases for those state agencies, such as the Departments of Environmental Protection, Conservation and Natural Resources, and Transportation, that have front-facing roles in planning for severe weather events; and offering incentives to encourage people to buy electric vehicles.

“The longer we fail to act, the greater the risks to our environment, our economy and our future,” DePasquale said. “Climate change is a challenge that also presents an opportunity. By acting and investing now, we can not only save lives, but also protect our economy and create jobs along the way.”

DePasquale, said the Republican-controlled General Assembly can directly address the threat of climate change by passing Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s $4.5 million, bond-funded infrastructure plan, Restore PA.

That initiative, which has faced opposition from both the GOP and progressives because of its reliance on a severance tax on natural gas drilling, would pay for road and bridge improvements, as well as flood mitigation, among other programs. 

That would benefit the Susquehanna, and, in turn, the Chesapeake watershed, he said. 

“Whether you believe in climate change or not, following these recommendations will be a win for everyone,” he said.

John L. Micek is the editor of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, a sister site to Maryland Matters.