Gov. Tom Wolf’s plan to make Pennsylvania a part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) was met with more than 1,500 comments both for and against the proposal during the recent public comment period that included 10 online public hearings.
The RGGI is a regional partnership among ten states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic that are wholly or in part connected to the same regional electrical distribution grid to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from electric generation. If Pennsylvania joins the group, it will become the 11th member-state of the RGGI. The Initiative establishes a carbon cap-and-trade system between the collective of states, with revenues from the auctioning of carbon credits being used for other projects to combat climate change. If Pennsylvania were to join, the revenues would be directed into the state’s Clean Air Fund.
Some industry groups, including the Marcellus Shale Coalition, were critical of the plan. The MSC noted that from 2005 to 2017, the share of electricity being generated from natural gas-fired power plants has risen from 5 to 34 percent, resulting in a 39 percent reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The MSC said that from 2008 to the present, the state has achieved a reduction of 184 tons for CO2, exceeding the goal of the RGGI. The transition is likely to continue with or without the RGGI.
Coal groups, including Canonsburg-based Consol Energy, oppose the plan. The company “supports nearly 18,000 jobs, contributing $4.7 billion annually to the state’s economy,” including the largest longwall mining complex in North America in Washington and Greene counties. Consol stated that the plan would have “dire economic consequences” that could “significantly affect our ability to produce and sell our coal.” Consol also argues the plan is illegal.
Other opponents argue that the mandates of the RGGI would lead to a $432 million increase in electricity bills for state residents within the first year of joining, as well as the overall ineffectiveness of the Initiative’s aim, as reductions in emissions in Pennsylvania would simply “leak” into other states, thus nullifying any benefit.
But other businesses are in favor of joining the RGGI. Shell, which is building a state-of-the-art petrochemical plant in Beaver County, said it supports efforts to combat climate change and plans to become a net-zero emissions business by 2050. The Beaver County plant will use a natural gas-powered cogeneration plant that also produces steam to power its operations.
“The cap and trade structure that is the heart of RGGI is an effective way to transition Pennsylvania’s power sector to a low carbon future and generate funding for programs to reduce carbon across the broader economy including sustainable transportation and energy conservation,” Hillary Mercer, Shell’s vice president of Pennsylvania Chemicals, said in the written comments.
Advocates point to the state Department of Environmental Protection’s estimate that joining the RGGI would result in the creation of approximately 27,000 jobs and a $2 billion net increase in Gross State Product as carbon credit revenues would be invested in renewable energy, thus creating jobs and stimulating state production. In addition it would also have environmental and health benefits by reducing harmful pollutants, including sulphur and nitrogen oxide and lowering the risk of respiratory disease such as asthma for those living in high-pollution areas.
The DEP, which is responsible for implementing the plan, is now reviewing the comments received and will bring the draft final regulatory language to the Environmental Quality Board for final approval in the summer.