Can Pennsylvania be the model for 100% renewable energy policy?

How tapping into a bold vision supported by the public can accelerate local policy to save the planet.

If you were asked to name the top states for climate action and transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy, Pennsylvania probably wouldn’t make the shortlist, due in part to its long and rich history of fossil fuel extraction. Even today, it ranks second in the nation for fracking and natural gas production and third for coal. It’s also a state that’s firmly in the “purple” political column and went for President Donald Trump in the 2016 election. 

Yet, Pennsylvania’s reputation as a fossil fuel state might be changing. Legislators are vying to put the state in the same tier as California, New Mexico and Washington state by requiring a rapid transition to a 100 percent renewable energy economy in order to stave off the worst effects of climate change. 

Pennsylvanians of all stripes and from every corner of the commonwealth are ready for clean energy. And we know that if we’re going to truly tackle climate change, we need to rapidly get off of the dirty fossil fuels that are triggering this planet-wide catastrophe in the first place.

To that end, PennEnvironment has made significant headway by introducing a policy to transition Pennsylvania to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, and showing that Pennsylvanians want to lead the charge to fight climate change.

Here’s how we’re doing it.

Step 1: Have a bill that’s visionary, inspiring and bold

In May, PennEnvironment held a news conference at the state capitol to announce the introduction of our 100 percent renewables legislation in both the state House and Senate. We spent months reviewing the bill beforehand, getting input from different constituencies, and recruiting lead sponsors and cosponsors that would illustrate the broad and deep support for 100 percent renewable energy. 

By the day of our announcement, we had a bipartisan group of nearly 90 state representatives and senators in the Pennsylvania General Assembly signed on as original cosponsors of our legislation.

The legislation would commit the state to crucial benchmarks in the fight against climate change. By 2030, the legislation would require that 100 percent of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources. In addition, 50 percent of overall energy, which also includes transportation, heating and cooling, would have to be fossil fuel-free. Pennsylvania would then have to reach 80 percent renewable energy by 2040 and a full 100 percent by 2050. The Senate bill is the first 100 percent renewable energy legislation in the nation sponsored by a Republican legislator.

Of course, it helped that we were able to follow the examples of other states. Hawaii, California, New Mexico, Washington state, Maine, Nevada, New York and Puerto Rico have all passed similar legislation, and Colorado, Maryland and Massachusetts are considering doing the same. 

Standing with our Democratic and Republican cosponsors, solar business company employees and religious officials from many denominations, we made our big announcement, garnering statewide media coverage. The attention gave us the momentum to further push our vision for a Pennsylvania powered by 100 percent renewable energy.

Step 2: If citizens lead, politicians will follow

From the beginning of the climate change fight, one thing has proven true time and again: Concerned citizens must lead the charge and then elected officials follow. So to keep the pressure up and the momentum growing, PennEnvironment followed the introduction of our legislation with a massive show of support for this policy from the state’s residents. After months of planning and recruiting, we turned out nearly 400 Pennsylvanians to the capitol in June for our annual citizen lobby day, the largest environmental lobby day in Pennsylvania. Concerned residents from 37 different counties traveled to Harrisburg for the event. They advocated for 100 percent renewable energy by participating in nearly 100 face-to-face meetings with their respective state representatives and senators.

After a day of actions, meetings and a massive rally, a half-dozen more state representatives and senators added their names as cosponsors to our 100 percent renewables legislation.

Step 3: Set goals. Then beat them.

We followed our citizen day of action by hitting a huge milestone: Only seven months into the current two-year legislative session, the 100th cosponsor signed onto PennEnvironment’s 100 percent renewables legislation in the General Assembly.

Republican state Rep. Wendi Thomas, from the Philadelphia suburbs, was the 100th legislator to add her name as a cosponsor. Our 100 percent renewable energy legislation enjoys bipartisan support in both chambers and has 40 percent of members in both the House and Senate on our bills. We’re now only a handful of cosponsors away from having a majority of legislators’ support in both the House and Senate.

As states fall like dominoes in passing 100 percent renewables legislation, Pennsylvania may not be next in line. But we’re a shining example of how not just “blue” states can lead the way to 100 percent renewable energy. Rust belt states, purple states, historically fossil fuel states, rural states — opportunity abounds in pushing climate solutions when you have the people, vision and inspiration on your side. 


David Masur

Executive Director, PennEnvironment

Started on staff: 1994 B.A., University of Wisconsin-Madison As executive director, David spearheads the issue advocacy, civic engagement campaigns, and long-term organizational building for PennEnvironment. He also oversees PennPIRG and other organizations within The Public Interest Network that are engaged in social change across Pennsylvania. David’s areas of expertise include fracking, global warming, environmental enforcement and litigation, and clean energy and land use policy in Pennsylvania. David has served on the environmental transition teams for Gov. Tom Wolf and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney. Under David’s leadership, PennEnvironment has won the two largest citizen suit penalties in Pennsylvania history against illegal polluters under the federal Clean Water Act and the largest citizen suit penalty under the federal Clean Air Act in state history.