Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday ordered the state Planning Board to come up with recommendations on land use, planning, zoning, and storm-water management that would reduce flooding in communities affected by climate change, such as Philadelphia’s Eastwick section that was hit particularly hard during Tropical Storm Isaias in August.
The Planning Board is only advisory and no timeline was established for the plan.
Wolf, a Democrat, said during an online news conference that he was issuing the executive order at least partly out of frustration with the GOP-led legislature, which refused to take action on his “Restore Pennsylvania” plan to fund billions in infrastructure improvements through a natural gas severance tax. Republicans have said there’s already an impact fee on fracking.
“This is something that we need,” Wolf said of a Planning Board climate strategy. “We need to get started as quickly as possible addressing global climate crisis.”
The Wolf administration said local governments can’t count on federal help for every flooding incident. Officials cited 2018, the wettest year on record for the commonwealth, when more than 5,000 homes were damaged but none qualified for federal reimbursement. Flooding that year cost the state $63 million in damage to infrastructure.
“These storms are only becoming more frequent,” Wolf said. “They’re not going to go away.”
Too often, communities struggle with infrastructure put in place in the early 20th century that can’t handle “the needs of our climate,” the governor noted.
Currently, the commonwealth is taking public comment on joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a market-based program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that counts Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont as members.
Wolf said the order will not be on the scale of Restore Pennsylvania, “but it’s the best we can do right now.”
Under the order, the Planning Board will come up with best practices on reducing impacts of flash flooding, establish goals and “investment principles” regarding infrastructure, and “institutionalize” those goals.
“We ought to be working together to make sure that we’re not again working at cross-purposes,” Wolf said. “When we talk about how we’re going to build a new highway or build new pipes, we want to make sure that we’re actually addressing the most pressing problems facing Pennsylvanians when it comes to things like flood mitigation.”
According to a state Department of Environmental Protection report on climate change, Pennsylvania has seen a 10% increase in average yearly precipitation over the last century. By 2050, the average yearly precipitation is projected to increase by an additional 8%, the report said.
State Sen. Anthony Williams spoke at the news conference about the impact of Tropical Storm Isaias on Southwest Philadelphia’s Eastwick section and those living near Cobbs and Darby Creeks. The storm flooded low-lying areas and displaced more than 300 people. The area borders the site of a Superfund landfill, and residents fear continued flooding will cause pollution to seep out.
“Residents of Pennsylvania and particularly those in the Eastwick and Darby area who’ve been overrun are just tired — emotionally tired and drained from the consequences of climate change,” Williams said.
She said damage to homes and businesses from storms had left communities ill-equipped to tackle the issues by themselves.