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Despite roadblocks from Legislature, RGGI rulemaking process advances

In February, PennFuture wrote a blog post debunking a number of myths surrounding Pennsylvania’s future participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). In the seven months since that time, we have some more modeling data and new insights into the benefits of RGGI, but the fossil fuel industry and their friends are still spreading many of the same myths, and sometimes outright lies, to kill the program before it starts.

Particularly in the Legislature, the bias is so blatant it would be comical if the issue was not so serious. Representative Daryl Metcalfe has held several hearings in the House Environmental Resources and Energy committee where he only invited notorious climate deniers, fossil fuel industry advocates, and anti-RGGI speakers to attend. Rep. Metcalf also angrily upbraided the committee’s minority chair for pointing out the minority wasn’t given the customary courtesy of inviting speakers or even making opening remarks.

The Senate followed this pattern by having a hearing that they pretended was about the impacts of RGGI on employment, but didn’t invite any of the hundreds of employees from the Beaver Valley nuclear plant whose jobs have already been saved by RGGI. They also ignored the fact that RGGI is expected to result in a net increase of 27,000 Pennsylvania jobs and didn’t talk to anyone from the industries that will see the most growth, they only talked to workers in a limited subset of the fossil fuel industry.

The Legislature didn’t stop there. They have also pushed bills not just to limit the DEP’s authority to adopt a cap-and-invest program, but also to stop practically any action at all to address the growing climate crisis. Fortunately, while these bills passed in the Legislature, they didn’t garner the support of two-thirds of the legislature so it is doubtful proponents will garner enough votes to override Governor Wolf’s expected veto.

Although the RGGI proposal has already received unprecedented scrutiny before external reviewers, advisory committees, the Legislature, and in the media, we constantly hear the refrain from the opposition that the people need to have their voice heard. As those making such claims should know, the Regulatory Review Act (RRA) has detailed requirements for just such public participation. 

The fact this was always a disingenuous claim intended to disrupt the process is clear. The Environmental Quality Board (EQB) was asked on September 15, 2020 to formally open a public 60-day public comment period and hold at least five public hearings on the proposed rule (both more than what is required under the RRA) and the opposition opposed doing so. 

Fortunately, a majority of the EQB members did see the need to initiate the full public participation process and voted to formally propose the rule. With that vote the DEP can move forward and give everyone the opportunity to submit written comments or testify at one of several public hearings. These comments—along with responses provided by the DEP—will all become part of the official record as the package moves forward and will also be made available to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC).

It’s clear that, as much as the fossil fuel industry and their friends try, they cannot refute the fundamental truth that coal generation is failing in Pennsylvania and nationwide because it can’t compete with cheaper alternatives—primarily natural gas but increasingly wind and solar energy as well. They may lie to workers and pretend that these coal jobs will be around for years to come, but their actions of the industry and those of their financiers speak louder than words. If they believed that coal could be competitive, we would see investments in new plants—we aren’t. 

Some may hope new technologies like carbon capture and storage (CCS) will make it possible to burn coal without emitting huge amounts of greenhouse gasses, but for all its potential benefits, CCS isn’t going to make coal generation cheaper. Ignoring the facts and wishing things were different won’t reverse the decline of coal generation. 

Fortunately, we have the opportunity to invest in sustainable alternatives, which can happen by implementing a cap-and-invest program compatible with RGGI as the EQB has just proposed. As Senator Santarsiero pointed out at the EQB meeting, polls have repeatedly shown that strong majorities of Pennsylvanian’s support strong policies like these to promote clean air and cut carbon pollution. Now is the time for their voices to be heard.

The Legislature could, of course, play a constructive role in reducing carbon emissions, providing sustainable jobs for our workers, and supporting communities impacted by the inevitable closure of coal-fired power plants. Two bills have been introduced that would do just that—SB15 (Costa) in the Senate and HB 2856 (Comitta) in the House both take just such an approach.

PennFuture looks forward to championing both bills, and the ongoing rulemaking process surrounding the proposed cap-and-invest program in Pennsylvania.

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