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Pennsylvania’s House Environmental Committee Approves Bill Removing DEP’s Authority to Enact Carbon Reduction Program

On June 9, the House Environmental Resources & Energy Committee, chaired by Representative Daryl Metcalfe (Butler), met to consider House Bill 2025 (Struzzi). Instead of passing critical climate legislation that would curb Pennsylvania’s carbon emission pollution and combat the air quality challenges of our Commonwealth, Metcalfe’s committee approved legislation that would usurp authority from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to enact a carbon reduction program known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). 

PennFuture is adamantly opposed to HB 2025 and frustrated with the legislators who voted to advance the bill to the full House floor for consideration.

Despite being in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and battling an illness that aggressively attacks the respiratory system, the House Environmental Committee saw it necessary to spend time today in the People’s House peddling mistruths and conflating serious environmental policy with a suite of fables about “Tinkerbell outfits and unicorns,” communism, troubling disdain for “Dictator Wolf” and the “Chinese virus,” and vegetable gardening techniques. Following what has become a pattern for this Committee, today’s proceedings were absurd, dangerous and far afield of the behavior of credible elected officials.

The truth is that Governor Tom Wolf’s Executive Order 2019-07 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 RGGI. And that’s exactly what the current rule package does. Instead of letting power plants dump carbon pollution into our air for free, they will have to pay a price that is determined through an auction. In addition, millions of dollars in proceeds from Pennsylvania’s participation in RGGI could and should be reinvested in our communities via air quality projects.

The truth is that joining RGGI would allow Pennsylvania to make crucial dents in its carbon pollution while simultaneously raising millions of dollars in the process. RGGI states have reduced their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 47 percent, outpacing the rest of the nation by 90 percent. Scientists and economists both agree that carbon pricing is one of the best ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Further, reducing air pollution would save hundreds of lives, tens of thousands of hours of lost work, lead to strong net job creation, and result in an overall total of $5.7 billion dollars in benefits.

Utilizing the “polluter-pays” principle is a meaningful way of combating this pollution. Rather than subsidizing the cost of pollution for dirty plants, we would monetize the costs of that pollution and let the market make better-informed choices about what power to buy. The ten RGGI states have seen $1.4 billion in net economic benefits from 2015 to 2017. By linking Pennsylvania’s air quality program with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the Commonwealth could bring in as much as $350-500 million annually.

It was made clear today by Chairman Metcalfe’s own revelation that attacking RGGI is nothing more than another attempt to undermine Governor Wolf. In his own words, Metcalfe said that “impeachment is the only way to stop him.” It’s increasingly evident that this is a part of a grander scheme, and one that has shown for a long time to be anti-science and anti-reason.These games convey that the House leadership is not interested in Pennsylvania’s’ clean air and financial growth, but instead solely focused on protecting their polluter friends.

Thankfully, environmental champions on the House Environmental Resources & Energy Committee stood up and put facts on record in the committee room, which is shuttered to the public.

Rep. Leanne Krueger (Delaware) rightfully made the case that the “power for the Governor to join compacts [for Pennsylvania] is clearly in the Constitution,” and argued that, “we have a constitutional [duty] to protect clean air and pure water for all Pennsylvanians.” Minority Chairman Greg Vitali (Delaware) added that, “Pennsylvania clearly has authority to regulate carbon based on the [state’s] Air Quality Control Act.” Rep. Mary Isaacson (Philadelphia) showed that transitions and reinvestment in our communities is essential and that jobs spurred by Pennsylvania joining RGGI could be a great source of family-sustaining jobs for our workers.

Perhaps most compelling were the arguments put forward passionately by Rep. Danielle Friel Otten (Chester) who said that “protecting our environment is truly about protecting the health and safety of Pennsylvanians.” She mentioned that the leading cause of congenital heart disease and asthma in children is air pollution. Rep. Otten mentioned that joining RGGI has many benefits and that “we can use money from RGGI to reinvest in environmental justice communities and communities of color who are disproportionately impacted by the industry.” 

We wholly agree, and at the end of the day, as Rep. Otten succinctly and powerfully posited, “when we’re not protecting our children, seniors, and vulnerable populations, we’re not upholding our constitutional duties.”

PennFuture will continue to oppose this cavalier legislation and its companion bill in the Senate—SB 950 (Pittman)—and will continue to advocate for the advancement of Pennsylvania’s RGGI rulemaking package, which will bring about significant reduction to Pennsylvania’s carbon pollution along with increased economic benefits.

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