PJM, which coordinates the flow of electricity from power generators to utility companies in 13 states and the District of Columbia, is facing complaints about how it ensures it will have enough capacity to keep the electricity flowing during a winter storm or summer heat wave. (Photo by fhm/Getty Images)
By Joseph Otis Minott
The so-called “Lower Energy Costs Act” now before the U.S. House of Representatives will do anything but, while eliminating necessary programs that will actually help individuals save money on utility bills, reduce air pollution and create new jobs in clean energy and climate resiliency.
The “Lower Energy Costs Act” (H.R. 1) combines a series of bad pieces of legislation that will encourage the reckless development of fossil fuels without regard to public health or the communities that have been harmed by fossil fuel pollution and the increasing effects of climate change.
In addition to a series of handouts to fossil fuel corporations and the removal of vital environmental protections, H.R. 1 truly takes money away from the communities that need it most by eliminating both the Methane Emissions Reduction Program (MERP) and the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, both passed within the Inflation Reduction Act last August.
Thankfully Pennsylvania’s own U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-1st District, has proposed amendments to H.R. 1 that will protect these two vital programs, in addition to an amendment that would prevent resource extraction in the Delaware River Basin.
The bill remains filled with other unnecessary handouts to fossil fuel corporations, but Rep. Fitzpatrick should be commended for standing up for these critical protections.
Make no mistake, the only way to reduce energy costs is to reduce energy consumption and expand truly renewable energy like solar. Expanded rooftop and community solar will give residents power to generate their own electricity, unlike anything offered in H.R. 1.
Rolling back environmental regulations and easing permit requirements, as proposed in H.R. 1, may save corporations money by removing protective safeguards, but there is absolutely no assurance that this dangerous deregulation will actually reduce utility costs.
Increasing liquified natural gas (LNG) exports, also proposed in H.R. 1, can only increase energy costs by bringing gas drilled in the United States to countries where gas is more expensive.
Last fall, over 30 LNG tankers circled Europe waiting for prices to rise. Improving energy efficiency will truly save Americans money on their utility bills while creating jobs.
Both the MERP and the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund would fund projects that could help homes, businesses and community centers reduce their energy consumption and in turn, air pollution. The MERP and the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund would serve communities impacted by the oil and gas industry as well as economically disadvantaged communities where residents are already using an oversized portion of their incomes to pay utility bills.
MERP funds will be used to increase air monitoring in communities on the frontlines of fossil fuel extraction in order to identify and resolve air pollution incidents as quickly as possible.
This funding will be especially necessary to help impacted communities participate in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Super Emitter Response Program (SERP) within EPA’s proposed rule to limit climate-changing methane pollution from oil and gas facilities.
EPA is proposing to allow third-party air monitoring experts to help communities identify and resolve pollution incidents, but the SERP needs MERP to fund that air monitoring. Without it, it is unclear how air monitoring experts will work with local communities. In addition, MERP funds can be used to update ventilation systems and improve insulation in homes, businesses and public spaces impacted by the gas industry, truly reducing energy consumption and utility expenses.
The Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund could also be used to upgrade ventilation and improve overall energy efficiency in low-income communities across the country, in addition to supporting clean energy like rooftop solar and geothermal heating systems.
Deploying these long-lasting technologies will lower utility costs for the people that need it most while reducing air pollution.
Communities will enjoy the benefits of this program for decades and the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund is unique in that it will establish local networks of community organizations to continually develop clean energy projects with an emphasis on community development financial institutions and credit unions that could finance clean energy projects that will eventually pay for themselves. This long-term investment in disadvantaged communities is exactly what will solve the climate crisis.
Perhaps the most reckless piece of this legislation is that it proposes to remove safeguards against the use of hydrofluoric acid at oil refineries – the exact substance that caused the June 2019 explosion at the former Philadelphia refinery, ultimately closing the facility and endangering tens of thousands of nearby residents.
The Methane Emissions Reduction Program and the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund will finally give impacted, underserved communities the tools to save energy and reduce air pollution while H.R. 1 could actually increase energy costs by promoting LNG exports, in addition to other steps backward for public health and sustainability.
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