Last week’s votes mark a shift in attitude from last year, when none of the committees voted to recommend the draft rule.
Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative
Pennsylvania will take steps to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) — a consortium among Northeastern states that requires polluters to pay for their emissions.
RGGI is a cap-and-trade program intended to limit emissions from power plants. Nine states, either through legislation or regulation, have agreed to set up such programs. They are Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Patrick McDonnell said New Jersey and Virginia are expected to join within the next two years.
Following the signing of an executive order by Gov. Tom Wolf on Oct. 3, DEP will “draft a regulation to present before the Environmental Quality Board for approval,” followed by a public comment period, according to a news release. At a news conference, Wolf said he expects a “robust” conversation with legislators, who could approve legislation for a cap-and-trade program.
In announcing his executive order, Wolf said climate change is a crisis, that carbon emissions must be lowered, and that RGGI has been effective in reducing emissions.
McDonnell said the cap-and-trade program works because power plants have to buy allowances if they exceed state-set emissions levels, and have to factor that cost in when they provide bids to PJM Interconnection, which manages the flow of wholesale electricity in all or part of 13 Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern states and the District of Columbia. Because PJM buys the cheapest electricity first, McDonnell said, it will encourage emissions reductions.
It’s “a low-cost solution to a very high-cost problem of climate change,” he said.
Scientists say governments around the world need to quickly and dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius — a threshold seen as necessary to avoid the worst effects of climate change, including extreme weather, droughts, and food shortages.
Among states, Pennsylvania is the fourth-biggest carbon polluter. The state is already experiencing climate-related impacts, including increased precipitation.
Wolf’s candidate is leading the administration’s effort to have the state join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative which Republican lawmakers oppose.
The move is one of several attempts by lawmakers to prevent the state joining the program through regulation.
If Wolf is successful, Pennsylvania would become the first major fossil fuel state to adopt a carbon pricing policy or join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee on Tuesday passed Senate Bill 119 along party lines.
The move shocked some environmental and consumer protection groups, who say Republicans are holding the Public Utility Commission hostage over an unrelated policy decision.
An update to the proposed regulation to join the cap-and-trade program adds a set of equity principles and a commitment to assess air quality.
Some Republican lawmakers criticized the agency. Its leader said it’s understaffed.
Environmental groups claim there’s overwhelming support for the rule, which they say will be a big step in addressing climate change.
Of 2020, the Penn State professor says, “I think we’re going to look back at it as the year where we turn the corner on climate.”