Pa. Environmental Quality Board votes to join initiative to limit state's CO2 emissions | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pa. Environmental Quality Board votes to join initiative to limit state's CO2 emissions

click to enlarge Pa. Environmental Quality Board votes to join initiative to limit state's CO2 emissions
CP photo: Jared Wickerham
Cheswick coal-fired power plant in northeast Allegheny County
The Environmental Quality Board voted 15-4 on July 13 in support of Pennsylvania joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade program that uses carbon dioxide allowances to fund clean energy and energy efficiency initiatives. This takes Pennsylvania one step closer to enacting RGGI, and would make it the first large gas-producing state to do so. The measure still needs to be passed by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission for approval.

If the final form is approved by the IRRC, Pennsylvania would join 11 other states in RGGI. The commonwealth would create its own CO2 Budget Trading Program to limit the emissions of carbon dioxide through the auction of allowances that power plants can bid on for the carbon dioxide they emit. Money from the auctions would be invested into clean energy initiatives.

“Coming out of the pandemic, we must continue to prioritize public health by reducing emissions and air pollution,” state Sen. Carolyn Comitta (D-Chester) said during the July 13 meeting.

Comitta, who voted in favor of joining RGGI, noted that Pennsylvania is responsible for nearly 1% of the world’s emissions. Comitta also emphasized that while coal-fired plants will continue to close in Pennsylvania regardless of whether the state joins RGGI, doing so will allow a smoother transition to clean energy for workers. The auctions will generate an estimated $131-187 million per year, according to state officials. These funds, Comitta says, will be invested into creating tens of thousands sustainable jobs.

State rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Cranberry) remained skeptical of the program and stated that he believes joining RGGI will hurt Pennsylvanians since other countries continue to build coal-fired power plants. Metcalfe once professed that additional CO2 in the atmosphere — which contributes greatly to climate change — is necessary to keep his garden vegetables alive.

“Make no mistake, you are committing an assault on the constitution here today, on the law here today, and on the people of this state,” Metcalfe said of the vote during the meeting.

The final form of RGGI has undergone a public comment period, during which 449 people gave testimony and 14,038 comments were submitted. Of those, PennFuture, a nonprofit that advocates for a clean energy economy and sustainable communities, says a vast majority supported the rule proceeding.

“The science is clear: to combat climate change we need to do everything we can to cut our carbon pollution — particularly from fossil fuel generation — and cooperating with other states participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is currently our best chance to do that in a real, measurable, and cost-effective way,” says PennFuture senior director for energy and climate Rob Altenburg.

Gov. Tom Wolf signed an executive order in October 2019 directing the Department of Environmental Protection to draft a regulation to join RGGI as part of his January 2019 goal of reducing state greenhouse gas emissions by 26% by 2025 and 80% by 2050, compared to 2005 levels.

“Climate change is here,” Comitta said. “The transition to clean energy is already underway. We cannot afford to wait.”