Pennsylvania’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) will be considered next week by the Environmental Quality Board, which could vote on the plan that would result in the state joining the coalition next year.
The RGGI would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by creating a cap-and-trade program for the state’s power plants. Gov. Tom Wolf signed an executive order in 2019 that directed state Department of Environmental Protection to begin a rulemaking process that will allow Pennsylvania to participate.
RGGI is an initiative of 11 New England and Mid-Atlantic states to cap and reduce their power sector carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. This is achieved by setting a regional cap, or limit, on CO2 emissions from electric power plants in the participating states. Allowances equal to tons of CO2 that will enter the atmosphere from power plants are auctioned quarterly, and electric generators must buy the amount needed to cover their emissions, with the proceeds going to the states. Pennsylvania’s participation in RGGI is estimated to bring in about $300 million in the first year.
The expected July 13 vote by the EQB is on the final rulemaking for the CO2 Budget Trading Program, which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the state’s power plants and would allow Pennsylvania to join RGGI in 2022.
However, Wolf’s plan to join RGGI has been met with opposition from the coal industry, labor unions, and many Republican legislators as well as lawmakers representing coal mining communities, including those in the Southwestern part of the state. The state Senate recently approved a bill to block Pennsylvania from joining RGGI. It will go to the state House for consideration, but is almost certain to be vetoed by the governor.
Wolf and Democratic lawmakers also recently announced their plan to use the money generated from joining RGGI to help communities affected by the decline of fossil fuels and to invest in clean energy.
The plan for how to use that money would allocate 37.5 percent to the Energy Communities Trust Fund to help with working retraining and economic development in communities impacted by the closing of coal-fired power plants, and give 12.5 percent to environmental justice communities, which are low-income areas that have pollution issues. The remaining half would go to the Clean Air Fund, to be used for clean energy and other projects.
Legislators have also argued that the state cannot join the initiative through the regulatory process, as Wolf is doing, and that legislative approval is needed. In addition, they claim jobs will be lost and electric bills will rise.
The RGGI states have reduced power sector CO2 pollution by 45 percent since 2005, while the region’s per-capita GDP has continued to grow, a release from the governor’s office states.