Gov Wolf touring route 30. from Flickr

Remember all that rain last spring and summer? Damage from landslides and flooding last year cost the City of Pittsburgh more than $12 million. Local leaders have every expectation that 2019 will be equally expensive — a problem our city shares with many communities across the state.

In response to the looming crisis, state leaders are pushing for more resources to help combat the flooding and landslides that have become an unfortunate fact of life in Western Pennsylvania.

Speaking at an open hearing at Point Park University on March 28, Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said action at the state level has become more critical as federal authorities have denied emergency funding for extreme weather events caused by global warming.

“In light of how little serious work is being done about the crisis at the national level, it’s up to states to make certain they’re prepared for these potentially devastating impacts,” said DePasquale. “The climate crisis will impact public health and safety, disrupt our economy and create new burdens on taxpayers.”

The open hearing last week was the second stop on the Auditor General’s statewide tour soliciting feedback to inform a special report on Pennsylvania’s response to climate change, which will be released this summer.

“I want our state to be ready for what the federal government’s own experts say is already happening and what is yet to come,” DePasquale said. The hearing included testimony from Point Park University President Paul Hennigan and Cheryl Moon-Sirianni, PennDOT’s Pittsburgh-area district executive.

Several days later, speaking at the Pennsylvania Municipal League conference, Gov. Tom Wolf touted his own solution: Restore Pennsylvania, an ambitious public works program that would invest $4.5 billion in critical infrastructure repairs over the next four years.

“Restore Pennsylvania will provide funding for flood prevention that will protect against severe weather, and save homes and businesses in flood-prone areas across the state,” said Gov. Wolf.

Under Wolf’s proposal, the money would come from a tax on oil and gas companies who extract non-renewable resources for sale and consumption in other states. Wolf, a long-time champion of the oil and gas industry, pointed out that states with major fossil fuel economies like Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Alaska reap billions from similar taxes.

“Restore Pennsylvania plan is the only plan anyone has to pay for critical infrastructure repairs,” said Gov. Wolf. “I have yet to visit a community that would not benefit greatly from this proposal and I’m determined to fight for the critical infrastructure improvements that will bolster every community in the Commonwealth.”

The proposal faces long odds in the current state legislature, where many Republican lawmakers have blocked similar tax proposals from Wolf in the past. But recent polling suggests that across the state, action on climate change is increasingly becoming a bipartisan issue.

According to the results of a poll from Franklin & Marshall College conducted March 18-24, 68 percent of registered voters think the state should do more to address the effects of climate change.

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.