Pa. regulators advance plan to join RGGI

Source: By Arianna Skibell, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Pennsylvania regulators yesterday approved plans to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a carbon cap-and-trade pact among Northeastern states, despite the Republican-controlled Legislature’s attempts to thwart the move.

The Pennsylvania Environmental Quality Board (EQB), controlled by appointees of Gov. Tom Wolf (D), voted 13-6 to approve a draft rule that would limit carbon emissions from power plants. The proposal now moves to the state Office of the Attorney General for review and is open for public comment until Nov. 30.

“This is an important step for Pennsylvania’s efforts to combat climate change, which is already having and will continue to have a dramatic effect on Pennsylvania,” said Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Patrick McDonnell, who also chairs the independent EQB, in a statement.

Electricity generation is one of the leading sources of carbon dioxide emissions in Pennsylvania, according to the DEP. The proposed measure would curb emissions by an estimated 188 million tons by 2030.

The rule would require CO2-emitting electric power plants to purchase credits that are compatible with other RGGI states. The pact’s member states agree on a ceiling for carbon emissions, and power generators meet the cap or buy additional allowances through an auction. Participating states are Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Jersey and Virginia.

The EQB vote comes days after Pennsylvania’s GOP-controlled General Assembly passed a measure that would empower the Legislature to block attempts to join the regional cap-and-trade initiative (Energywire, Sept. 10).

The bill, which Wolf is expected to veto, would require the General Assembly to approve any state action intended to “control or limit carbon dioxide emissions by imposing a revenue-generating tax or fee on carbon dioxide emissions.”

Pennsylvania has five coal plants that employ thousands of union members in rural counties, many of whom are represented by the bill’s backers, state Rep. Jim Struzzi and state Sen. Joe Pittman, who are both Republicans. In a recent statement, Struzzi said, “The action to enter RGGI would have serious ramifications on Pennsylvania businesses, jobs, energy prices and future economic opportunities that are not being considered by the governor.”

Tom Schuster, Pennsylvania Clean Energy Program director for the Sierra Club, said joining RGGI would likely accelerate plant closures and lead to job losses.

“The unfortunate thing is that there is not a recognition among the folks who are opposing RGGI that those plants are going to close anyway,” he said.

Last year, 17% of Pennsylvania’s energy came from coal, compared with almost 50% in 2010, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Without joining RGGI, that number would drop to 3% by 2030, Schuster said. If the state joins, that number drops to 1%.

RGGI was founded in 2009 to incentivize electric generators to reduce emissions and invest in clean technologies. Wolf first announced his intent to join in October of last year.