Keystone Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant in Armstrong County, about 50 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. (Capital-Star photo)
In March, Pennsylvania passed up millions of dollars that could have gone toward tackling climate change and reducing energy costs for millions of Pennsylvania residents. It’s not the first time Pennsylvanians have missed out on this money, and it’s going to keep happening unless Pennsylvania is finally allowed to participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Recently, we’ve started a movement at rggi4pa.org to change this trajectory.
RGGI is a market-driven cap-and-invest program that requires regulated power plants to acquire allowances for the carbon emissions they emit. One allowance is equal to one ton of carbon pollution, and the supply of allowances declines predictably over time, incentivizing energy industry polluters to reduce emissions. States distribute these carbon credits or allowances at quarterly auctions. The most recent auction held in March generated nearly $270 million in proceeds for the 11 participating states.
In Pennsylvania, proceeds from these auctions would go into the state’s Clean Air Fund. Money in this fund must be used to reduce air pollution. Here’s just a partial list of how RGGI and auction proceeds could improve quality of life and reduce costs for Pennsylvanians.
Not surprisingly, RGGI is projected to significantly reduce air and climate pollution in Pennsylvania. One recent study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Kleinman Center for Energy Policy, estimated RGGI could help the state reduce CO2 emissions by 225 million tons between 2020 and 2030. Tens of thousands of tons of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions would also be eliminated, according to state estimates.
This reduction in pollution will have a tangible benefit for Pennsylvania families and businesses through improved health and fewer medical costs – especially for at-risk groups. Joining RGGI would prevent more than 600 premature deaths from respiratory illnesses, along with 30,000 fewer hospital visits and 83,000 lost workdays due to health impacts.
When it comes to energy costs for Pennsylvanians, the Kleinman Center study found that joining RGGI would have little effect on utility costs and electric bills. Past analyses of energy costs in RGGI states found that since 2008, electricity prices in RGGI states have fallen by 5.7%, while prices have increased in the rest of the country by 8.6%. At the same time, the state estimates RGGI would lead to an increase in Gross State Product of nearly $2 billion and that Pennsylvania residents could see a cumulative increase in Disposable Personal Income of $3.7 billion by 2050.
Finally, joining RGGI would give Pennsylvania more resources and options for fostering a transition to renewable energy production. Training programs and transition services would give energy workers the support they need to take on good, high-paying jobs in wind, solar, and other sectors. The state estimates joining RGGI would create 30,000 jobs.
Pennsylvania joined RGGI in April of last year. However, it has yet to participate in an auction or collect any proceeds. That’s because fossil fuel interests in Harrisburg have blocked our state from participating in the auctions by tying up RGGI’s implementation in state court.
Rather than embrace this proven initiative, Republicans continue to prop up the fossil fuel industry by clogging up courts with unjustified lawsuits. They’re putting dirty energy industry donors and lobbyists ahead of voters and communities already feeling the impacts of climate change.
The reality is these voters and communities would benefit greatly from RGGI auction proceeds if state politicians would get out the way. The potential in these proceeds should have bipartisan appeal – improved health, better jobs, and more money in Pennsylvanians’ pockets.
Whether Republicans and their fossil fuel supporters are willing to admit it or not, climate change demands action, and a transition to clean energy is happening. RGGI offers a proven framework and a historic opportunity to ensure Pennsylvania families are ready for this transition and can fully benefit from it.
Joseph Otis Minott is President of the Clean Air Action Fund. He writes from Philadelphia.
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