Pennsylvania’s plan to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative will have environmental, health and economic benefits, according to a state Department of Environmental Resources official.
“What Is RGGI and Why Should Pa. Participate?” was the topic of the Washington & Jefferson College Center for Energy Policy and Management’s latest webinar, which was presented by Allen Landis, the executive director of the PA Energy Development Authority at DEP.
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) would take immediate steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by creating a cap-and-trade program for the electricity generation sector. Gov. Tom Wolf signed an executive order in 2019 that directed DEP to begin a rulemaking process that will allow Pennsylvania to participate in the RGGI, with the goal of reducing carbon emissions from the electricity sector.
RGGI is an initiative of 11 New England and Mid-Atlantic states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector while generating economic growth. Together Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia cap and reduce their power sector carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. This is achieved by setting a regional cap or limit CO2 emissions from electric power plants in the participating states. Fossil fuels burned to generate electricity are contributors to CO2 emissions, although natural gas pollutes much less than coal.
Landis explained that allowances equal to tons of CO2 that will enter the atmosphere from power plants are auctioned, and electric generators must buy the amount needed to cover their emissions. The proceeds from the auction will then be invested by the DEP in projects to curb air pollution. “The more you pollute, the higher the cost,” Landis said, helping to spur clean energy initiatives and emissions reductions.
DEP predicts 188 million tons of CO2 can be eliminated in the state by 2030, as the number of pollution allowances decreases each year. The CO2 reduction also means a reduction in sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide, which contribute to asthma and other respiratory problems. In addition, DEP’s modeling shows that while there may be slight increase in electric costs for consumers, the overall economic impact is minimal, but positive.
But that is not what some business and economic groups believe. Many in the energy industry oppose RGGI, claiming that electric rates for businesses and consumers will rise and thousands of jobs will disappear, while the underlying goal of reducing emissions will not be met as power plants nearby, nonparticipating states will pollute more.
Landis also explained that the proceeds from the auction at present can only be used in Pennsylvania to reduce air pollution and cannot be distributed as rebates to ratepayers. It would take legislative action to add other uses, he said.
DEP officials are now talking with stakeholder groups to determine how the proceeds should be used and developing a draft plan. In addition, DEP is focusing on “environmental justice concerns,” such as the impact on communities that depend on the coal industry, and making sure that disadvantaged communities are treated equally.
While DEP is hoping to be a RGGI participant in 2022, the plan still must receive final approval from the state Environmental Quality Board. RGGI has also come under fire from some state legislators who have tried to stop it, and there is the potential for litigation.