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Itís Time to Move the RGGI Rulemaking Process Forward

It’s been a little over seven months since Governor Tom Wolf’s Executive Order 2019-07 which instructed the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to develop a cap-and-invest program to control carbon pollution from power plants in Pennsylvania that aligns with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

The concept of this rule is simple. Instead of letting power plants dump carbon pollution in our air for free, they will have to pay a price that is determined through an auction. Not only will that encourage more innovation in reducing emissions, but the money can be re-invested to further reduce air pollution. This has been very successful with the rest of the 10 RGGI states seeing benefits of $1.4 billion in net economic benefits from 2015 to 2017.

Having to pay to pollute isn’t popular with polluters, and their friends began the attacks right away. The chronically ill-informed Rep. Metcalfe (R-Butler) went so far as to declare that the Governor’s plan was illegal on the very day of the Executive Order—well before the actual plan was even written. Since then, the opposition has put a little more effort in their talking points, but the level of misinformation is still pretty high.

One common line of attack has been that the DEP is developing this program without the “robust public outreach” the governor promised—this couldn’t be further from the truth. As a member of DEP’s Air Quality Technical Advisory Committee (AQTAC) I’ve had a front row seat as the first drafts of the regulatory language were developed, but our meetings are always open to the public and always invite public comment either in person or in writing. More importantly, DEP has listened to the comments and responded by both making changes to their proposal and releasing more detailed information. It’s true DEP hasn’t adopted every suggestion (mine included), but they are still in the early stages. 

Developing a regulation in Pennsylvania is a slow process guided by a law known as the Regulatory Review Act, detailed in a 48 page manual for those who want to dig deeper. This requires a formal public comment period and review by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission, the Legislature, and the Attorney General among other steps. When this is pointed out, opponents fall back on their second claim that this is just the “bare minimum” and therefore still not “robust” enough.   

Of course that is also a lie. The law doesn’t require that DEP go through the AQTAC review process, by doing that alone they are already doing more than the minimum. In fact, while some have raised concerns that COVID-19 would make transparency in regulatory development more difficult, virtual meetings are turning out to be a success. At its peak, our last AQTAC meeting had more than 200 attendees—far more than the capacity of our normal meeting room.

Public participation is a very important part of any rulemaking process. There are certainly voices that need to be heard and concerns that must be addressed to make sure the final rule is the best it can be, but I can say with confidence that the corporate complainers aren’t interested in a better rule. They want to kill this rulemaking process by whatever means necessary and saying outreach hasn’t been robust enough is nothing more than a convenient soundbite. How do we know this is true? The same people who are doing the complaining are also trying to stop the DEP's rulemaking process before the formal public comment period even starts.  

Next week, on May 19th, the DEP is going to make a presentation to the Citizens Advisory Council (CAC) and ask them to recommend that the package be sent to the Environmental Quality Board (EQB) for consideration. If approved by the EQB, the DEP will then open the formal public comment period and start the public participation process in earnest.

The opposition are sure to make their voices heard at the meeting. They may complain about the lack of outreach, but that’s just a cover for their real ask of a gift for polluters. It’s important that the people be heard as well, and that is what CAC should recommend. Unfortunately, that isn’t a sure thing. 

There are enough representatives on CAC tied to polluting interests that the “Citizens” Advisory Council could actually recommend not moving forward with the public comment period and, therefore, not giving any other citizens a voice in the matter. We need to let them know that opening a public comment period on the rule is the right thing to do. If you want your voice heard at the meeting, you can contact Keith Salador at ksalador@pa.gov or (717) 787-8171 to get on the list to testify.

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