EXPLAINER | Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative
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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.

Reid R. Frazier / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Bruce Mansfield coal-fired power plant in Shippingport, Pa.

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.

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