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Bill would have PA lawmakers approve Obama's carbon reduction plan

The stacks of the Homer City Generating Station in Homer City, Pa.

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

The stacks of the Homer City Generating Station in Homer City, Pa.

A bill that would allow legislators to weigh in on a federally mandated plan to cut carbon emissions may see a final vote before lawmakers end this year’s session. President Obama’s new climate change plan set a goal for Pennsylvania to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent by 2030. The EPA left it up to the states to decide how to reach their targets. In Pennsylvania’s case, the state Department of Environmental Protection develops plans to meet EPA mandated rules. But state representative Pam Snyder, a Democrat from the southwestern corner of the state, wants lawmakers to approve the carbon reduction plan crafted by DEP before it gets submitted to the EPA.
The House has already approved HB 2354, and today the Senate’s Environmental Resources and Energy Committee gave it a thumb’s up. Rep. Snyder says she worries Obama’s efforts to cut carbon emissions would include shutting down coal generated electricity plants, hurting the coal mining communities she represents. In the legislative memo for HB 2354, she writes that any plan that goes to the EPA for approval must go through the legislature first.

“In short, my legislation would make clear that the people who were elected to govern Pennsylvania will have the final say on what happens – not unelected, unaccountable regulators.  While EPA managed to develop this rule without Congressional authorization, the Pennsylvania General Assembly will be the final arbiter of how the Commonwealth approaches greenhouse gas regulation.”

The EPA says it wants to be as flexible as possible, giving the states as many options as it can to meet their target by 2030. But if a state fails to come up with a plan, the EPA will step in. That’s the risk that lawmakers are taking with HB 2354. If the legislature ends up rejecting the DEP’s plan, then federal regulators could be the ones to decide how Pennsylvania cuts its carbon emissions.
State Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware) says the bill is unnecessary and ends up politicizing something that’s actually a highly technical process. Vitali, a strong environmental advocate, voted against the bill in the House.
“[Snyder’s] from coal country and she’s trying to defend coal,” said Vitali. “The DEP is in the best position to analyse the cost and benefits of (carbon dioxide) reductions. [Lawmakers] don’t have the sophistication to analyze the costs of these measures and weigh them against pounds of CO2 reduced.”
Vitali says if the bill is approved, it would just slow down the process. Either way, Pennsylvania would still have to comply with the new carbon rules. HB 2354 could move quickly to a vote in the Senate either this week or next. Lawmakers have only five days left to vote on legislation this year.

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