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Model shows participation in RGGI would reduce pollution by 180 million tons

On April 24, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) held a joint web conference to present recent modeling completed by ICF on the potential impact of Governor Wolf’s plan to implement a cap-and-invest program in cooperation with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

The results show the plan marks a significant step toward reaching our carbon pollution goals by saving 180 million tons of carbon pollution while maintaining Pennsylvania's status as a significant energy generator and exporter.

While this is great news on its own, ICF focused its modeling on the impacts of putting a cap on carbon admissions. The RGGI program also has an “invest” component where we can see even more benefits, but those weren’t modeled. When Abt Associates looked into these broader impacts seen in the other RGGI states they found it saved hundreds of lives, tens of thousands of hours of lost work, led to strong net job creation, and resulted in an overall total of $5.7 billion dollars in benefits.  

Of course, no matter the benefits, you can’t talk about reducing carbon pollution without generating attacks from polluters and their friends.  

One of their top-line arguments is that RGGI is going to kill coal. As we’ve said before, coal generation in Pennsylvania is already on its last legs without RGGI—it went from 47 percent of our generation in 2010 to just 17 percent last year, and ICF predicts it will continue to drop to just 3 percent of our generation by 2030 even without RGGI.  

This is not surprising since there are few remaining large coal-fired power plants in Pennsylvania, all of them are rapidly approaching retirement, and no one is planning to build new plants. When RGGI is added to the mix, coal retirement speeds up a little bit to just over 1 percent of our generation by 2030. With RGGI making less than a 2 percent difference in overall coal generation, it’s clear whatever problems the industry is facing, it is not RGGI that is killing coal.

The next line of attack is asserting that RGGI will raise prices. It’s true that ICF’s modeling shows a slight increase in energy prices by 1.1 tenths of a cent a kilowatt-hour over business-as-usual.  While this works out to less than $1 per month on the average household bill, when adjusted for inflation energy prices are predicted to be lower with RGGI than they are today.

It is also important to remember that there is a big difference between the price of energy and what consumers actually pay. If gas prices go up, people respond by driving less or buying a car with better gas mileage—the same thing happens with your electric bill. Consumers can invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy to reduce their bills. Better still, the fees generated by the RGGI program can go into programs that make those investments even cheaper, and this wasn’t considered in the ICF modeling.

The last big attack comes in a lot of different forms, but it’s that  RGGI isn’t going to fix the climate change crisis on its own, so it’s not worth doing at all. Any elementary school student would probably realize that saying “other people litter, so why not throw my trash out the window too?” is a cop-out.

We all have a responsibility to act but Pennsylvania, as a huge source of the emissions that created the crisis, may have a greater responsibility than others to solve the problem. The investments and actions we take today will have long-lasting impacts well beyond 2030 and play a significant role in meeting our climate goals.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tells us to avoid the worst effects of climate change we need to get to net-zero emissions by 2050. With electric generation being the largest source of carbon pollution in Pennsylvania, it’s clear that we are not going to reach that goal, or even the lesser Paris goals, without doing all we can.

Failing to adopt the RGGI program means that we need to find a way to reduce 180 million extra tons of carbon pollution from some other source, and it’s very likely that source isn’t going to provide over a billion dollars in net benefits as we would see from RGGI.

These are not the last of the attacks we are going to see. Representatives from DEP did a great job at the briefing responding to these attacks, but as we go forward they are going to increase in frequency and intensity. 

Be sure that PennFuture will be there every step of the way, pushing back against fallacies and mistruths, and doing what we can to keep you educated, informed and engaged with this long process.

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