Pennsylvania would add 27,000 jobs and $1.9 billion in economic gains by joining a coalition of mostly Northeast states trying to curb carbon dioxide emissions, the state’s Democratic administration said on Wednesday.
The messaging comes as Gov. Tom Wolf’s (D) seeks to win over Republicans in the state legislature to support his plan to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
The Pennsylvania legislature on Wednesday passed a Republican-sponsored bill that would mandate that any rulemaking addressing carbon dioxide emissions receive the general assembly’s approval. Some Republicans have been upset Wolf wants to bypass the legislature in seeking to join the carbon trading program.
Wolf also needs lawmakers’ engagement to broaden how RGGI revenues are used, beyond just reducing air pollution.
If the state Department of Environmental Protection wants to direct proceeds to investments such as electric bill assistance to low-income consumers, it needs the legislature’s support, said Mandy Warner, director of climate and clean air policy at the Environmental Defense Fund.
Hayley Book, a senior adviser on energy and climate at the state’s environmental agency, confirmed that direct assistance to consumers, such as rebates or energy discounts for low-income households, is the only category of investment for which DEP doesn’t have the authority to spend revenues.
Wolf ordered the agency in October to craft a proposed rule that would let the state enter RGGI. The agency has until Sept. 15 to finish its work, a target that is “looking great,” Book said.
Fifth-Biggest CO2 Emitter
Pennsylvania would represent a key addition to the 11-state compact. The state was the fifth-biggest carbon dioxide emitter in the nation in 2017, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Pennsylvania’s DEP also said joining RGGI would save 639 lives by 2030 due to lower carbon emissions, and bring about more than $6 billion in health benefits through 2030 from reduced sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides pollution.
Covid-19 has amplified the need to eliminate air pollution, according to DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell.
More than 90,000 Pennsylvanians have been diagnosed with the virus, he said. Studies have shown that the coronavirus can be more dangerous to those with existing respiratory problems, which can be caused or exacerbated by air pollution.
“An argument against reducing air pollution through RGGI is an argument for making people sick,” McDonnell said in a statement.
Historically, the benefits from reducing air pollution have accrued to low-income communities and communities of color, although DEP hasn’t broken down its study of health effects with that much detail, Book said.
Critics Push Back
Critics have argued that RGGI doesn’t lower carbon emissions because member states end up importing fossil fuel energy from other states.
The DEP has “grossly exaggerated the generation and emissions that occur without RGGI,” and hasn’t taken into account the leakage of generation into other, non-RGGI states in the PJM Interconnection LLC capacity market, said Vince Brisini, former deputy secretary at the Pennsylvania DEP’s Office of Waste, Air, Radiation, and Remediation.
Brisini also bristled at Wolf’s bid to join RGGI via executive order.
“I don’t think that’s the right process because this is a huge policy decision,” he said. “This is something that you should have legislative debate on.”
Virginia formally entered RGGI on July 1, becoming the first Southern state to do so. The state would become a full participant in the program on Jan. 1, 2021.
Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Wednesday said Virginia’s membership “is sending a powerful signal that our commonwealth is committed to fighting climate change and securing a clean energy future.”
Other members in the greenhouse gas trading marketplace are Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
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