October 10, 2014
The U.S. is ratcheting up efforts to combat climate change, with the final carbon rules for power plants expected from the Environmental Protection Agency next year. When Pennsylvanians elect a governor in November, they will, in part, be making a choice over how the state should move toward complying with the new rules. One way is by joining with other states in a cap and trade program.
Under President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, Pennsylvania would have to cut its carbon dioxide emissions more than 30 percent by 2030.
“I want to be part of any compact that’s trying to make our air cleaner, and I think RGGI tries to do that.”
RGGI is an agreement between nine Northeastern states to voluntarily reduce the amount of carbon dioxide coming from electricity generation, through a cap and trade program.
Adam Garber is with the advocacy group PennEnvironment. He says Pennsylvania could use RGGI as a way to meet the EPA mandates.
“By joining an existing framework, it’s going to be easier for Pennsylvania to show that it’s meeting these standards,” he says.
Garber says Pennsylvanians are ready for this kind of action, as witnessed at the recent U.N. Climate Summit.
“I think after you see 400,000 people march in New York City, including thousands of Pennsylvanians, it’s very clear what people in the state want, which is a world not threatened by climate change, a world where we’re getting more energy from renewables like solar and wind. I think the political will and the people will is there, and it’s a question of the politics.”
RGGI was first proposed by a Republican, former New York Gov. George Pataki. New York, Vermont, Connecticut, and others voluntarily agreed to cap the emissions of carbon dioxide coming from the electricity sector.
Any plant that generates 25 megawatts or more of electricity in RGGI states must purchase one allowance for each ton of carbon dioxide it emits. The allowances are sold in quarterly auctions. Proceeds go toward energy efficiency and clean energy programs, and to lower consumers’ energy bills in member states.
But as the politics of climate change heated up, conservatives vilified cap and trade programs. In 2011, Republican New Jersey Governor and possible presidential contender Chris Christie pulled his state out of RGGI.
“RGGI does nothing more than tax electricity. Tax our citizens, tax our businesses, with no discernable or measurable impact upon our environment. So, we will withdraw from RGGI in an orderly fashion by year's end," Christie said.
Christie said New Jersey electricity generators were at a competitive disadvantage because Pennsylvania coal plants didn’t have to pay for RGGI’s carbon allowances.
But in the three years since, environmentalists say exiting RGGI have cost New Jersey $114 million for clean energy projects.
RGGI says proceeds in 2012, the latest available numbers, for all its members combined were expected to return more than $2 billion to ratepayer bills, while offsetting 8 million tons of carbon dioxide.
Governor Corbett’s Energy Executive Patrick Henderson says Pennsylvania is in a whole different ballgame. It has many more coal-fired power plants, produces much more power, and emits more carbon dioxide than the current RGGI states.
“Pennsylvania compared to those states is an absolute anomaly. Several of those states don’t have a single power plant, at all,” Henderson says.
Pennsylvania, on the other hand, is one of the nation’s top energy producers, and exporters of electricity to other states.
That’s why the EPA’s plan to limit carbon emissions has Pennsylvania’s coal industry worried.
Workers from coal plants and mines concerned about their jobs rallied in Pittsburgh last month to stop what they call the “War on Coal,” Henederson says.
He says the new federal regulations might force some coal plants to close. He says the RGGI standards are even tougher than the federal rules, and joining would overburden Pennsylvania's coal plants.
But Democrat Tom Wolf says Pennsylvania could negotiate a fair deal with RGGI.
“It’s basically exercising leadership,” Wolf says.
The proposed federal rules require each state to have a final plan in place in 2017. If they work with other states in a regional compact, like RGGI, they get an extra year to comply.
Photo of Dem. PA Gov candidate Tom Wolf, campaigning in Pittsburgh: J.S.Jordan; Photo of Rep. PA Gov Tom Corbett, at a Labor Day rally for coal in Pittsburgh: J.S.Jordan.