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Group’s report brings no consensus on RGGI, but supporters and opponents both take validation

  • Rachel McDevitt
Talen Energy's Brunner Island plant in York County is switching from coal to natural gas.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Talen Energy's Brunner Island plant in York County is switching from coal to natural gas.

Environmental advocates are urging Gov. Josh Shapiro to let the state join a program to cut power plant emissions, following a report from his working group.

The group on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative could not agree that RGGI is the best program for Pennsylvania to reduce emissions.

But it did agree that “a cap-and-invest carbon regulation for the power sector that generates revenue to support the Commonwealth’s energy transition would be the optimal approach…to benefit the environment by reducing emissions.” It would prefer the program cover all states with which Pennsylvania shares an electric grid.

Environmental advocates aren’t deterred by the report.

“I don’t find it disappointing, I think it is a recognition that–yes, RGGI was not going to ever be the end-all, be-all policy for the power sector, but it is such a strong foundation and, again, it is ready now,” said Mandy Warner with the Environmental Defense Fund.

RGGI is established, but Pennsylvania has been barred from participating while Commonwealth Court weighs whether joining under the Wolf Administration’s regulation is legal.

Warner said the state should start with RGGI and then look to work with other states to manage emissions across a wider region.

Alli Gold Roberts, state policy director for Ceres, a nonprofit that pushes businesses toward environmental sustainability, said the debate on RGGI will shift from the program itself to what to do with the new revenue once the state joins.

“Once money is on the table, communities and partners and advocates are going to be really interested in getting a slice of that pie and I think it would be really hard to pull back,” she said.

Former Gov. Tom Wolf had proposed a plan that would send money from RGGI to communities that are losing jobs because of the transition to cleaner energy. His plan also would have invested in communities that have historically dealt with high pollution levels.

Republican lawmakers resisted Wolf’s plans to join RGGI. They passed a few bills that would have banned the state from joining, which Wolf vetoed. They did not put forward a plan on how the revenue could be used. Without a new law, any revenue from RGGI would go to the state’s Clean Air Fund, which can only be used to reduce air pollution.

Opponents to RGGI found validation in the group’s report. Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman (R-Indiana), whose district holds some of the state’s last coal-fired power plants, has long fought against the state joining RGGI. He said the group’s failure to find consensus on the program shows that the governor should immediately withdraw Pennsylvania.

“The question remains: what will Gov. Shapiro do now that his working group has completed their task? If the governor is so eager to accept their recommendations, he should immediately withdraw our commonwealth from RGGI and look for a legislative solution which respects the need for family sustaining jobs, and positively impacts Pennsylvania’s economy,” Pittman said in a statement.

PennFuture president Patrick McDonnell, who oversaw Wolf’s push to join RGGI as his Department of Environmental Protection Secretary, said it’s not surprising the working group could not reach consensus, but the report is telling.

“It doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel when RGGI provides PA with the meaningful renewable energy policy to reap the federal benefits and move us toward a cleaner, sustainable energy future,” McDonnell said.

Shapiro’s office told the Associated Press it is reviewing the group’s report while it waits for a decision in the court case.

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