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Pa. Takes Key Step Toward Joining RGGI

Pennsylvania moved one step closer to joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, after the state Environmental Quality Board this week approved the final regulation for the plan.

While the administration of Gov. Tom Wolf plans to have the state join the 11-state consortium in 2022 that will cap CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel powered plants and require producers to buy allowances for each ton emitted from their smokestacks, the plan still has to overcome several hurdles.

The proposal now goes to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission and the state attorney general’s office for final review. However, there are efforts underway in the state Legislature to block the state’s entry without its approval. The state Senate approved the legislation in June with a veto-proof majority and the state House is expected to consider it in September.

In addition, Republican legislative leaders who have been vocal in their opposition to the plan are expected to take legal action, arguing that the state Department of Environmental Protection does not have the regulatory authority to join RGGI, and that because the cap-and-trade program will generate millions in revenue annually through the sale of carbon allowances, it is a tax and not a fee, which would then require action by the General Assembly.

Hayley Book, senior adviser for energy and climate, noted in her presentation of the RGGI plan that Pennsylvania is one of the top five states for CO2 emissions from electric generation, producing more than some small countries. Participation is RGGI will result in a reduction of between 97 and 227 million short tons of CO2 in Pennsylvania by 2030 as the emissions limits decline in each year of participation. That will result in significant public health benefits, as well as environmental benefits.

Republican lawmakers and several other members of the EQB expressed concern about the impact on communities with coal-fired power plants and coal mining, which will be hard hit as electric generators move to cleaner forms of energy. Those concerns have also been echoed by union and business leaders.

While RGGI modeling done by DEP suggests that those jobs will be replaced by new jobs in clean energy fields, those claims were met with skepticism. “This is going to cost thousands of jobs,” Republican Sen. Gene Yaw said. “They are not going to be replaced by people putting up windmills and solar panels.”

He called RGGI “a superficial stab and addressing climate change” and said a more comprehensive program was needed.

Republican Rep. Daryl Metcalfe argued that the EQB action was illegal, saying that “RGGI is plainly and simply a tax” that would require legislative action to implement and said the vote was “opening the door to a number of legal challenges.”

However, Democratic Rep. Greg Vitali, said that climate change is a “critical problem that needs to be addressed yesterday.” He said the Legislature has for years failed to take action on the issue.

RGGI “is a small, modest first step toward addressing climate change,” Vitali said. “We have a moral obligation to our children and grandchildren to take it.”

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