Even with Inflation Reduction Act, regional greenhouse gas compact is an essential tool | Opinion

The fate of RGGI in Pennsylvania now largely depends on the election this November

The court struck a blow at the ability of administrative agencies to solve evolving problems like climate change (Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images/Minnesota Reformer)

By Joseph Otis Minott

After decades of grassroots activism and unfulfilled promises at the federal level – and after 18 months of painstaking, stop-and-start negotiations – Democrats in Congress have finally made meaningful progress in our shared fight against climate change with passage of the historic Inflation Reduction Act.

The new law is the most significant climate action in U.S. history – by far – committing $369 billion to climate and clean energy efforts projected to slash U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030. It’s a landmark accomplishment worth celebrating, particularly here in Pennsylvania – the second largest producer of fossil gas in the nation and which generates only 4% of its electricity from renewables.

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Unfortunately, while Democratic lawmakers in Washington D.C. make marked progress on climate change, significant action in Harrisburg remains stalled thanks to a handful of powerful fossil fuel sympathizers. Pennsylvania’s years-long effort to participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) has been temporarily blocked by a court challenge, preventing our state from stepping up to curb emissions and ensure a healthier planet for future generations.

Outside of the courts, the fate of RGGI in Pennsylvania now largely depends on the election this November. Just look at what’s happening in Virginia. Voting for the future of our climate and civilization has never been more crucial.

Thankfully, the IRA will put a price on climate-warming methane pollution from large sources in the oil and gas industry, with a $900 per ton fee starting in 2024 that increases to $1,500 a ton by 2026; these fees will be owed by companies that fail to comply with the upcoming methane pollution standards from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for oil and gas facilities.

This is an essential tool for reducing methane emissions, which are already causing 30 percent of the global warming that we are experiencing today. Additionally, at least $60 billion of investments will be devoted to programs prioritized by environmental justice communities and advocates.

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Nevertheless, RGGI is a powerful and necessary complement to the inflation reduction law’s initiatives. The cap-and-trade program for carbon emissions would establish a declining cap on pollution, incentivize cleaner energy production in the markets, and lead to hundreds of millions of dollars every year that will go directly into the state’s Clean Air Fund.

These funds would go toward investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy programs to further reduce air pollution while driving down utility costs for Pennsylvanians. RGGI has proven to be a major success in our eleven neighboring states that have each adopted their own RGGI-compatible program since 2009.

For months now, RGGI has been the law in Pennsylvania. Nevertheless, ongoing lawsuits have blocked the state from fully participating in any of the quarterly RGGI auctions, and we’re already feeling the effects.

Because of these holdups, Pennsylvania most recently missed the September auction, losing out on likely more than $200 million of proceeds that could have gone toward tackling climate change and reducing energy costs.

Today, RGGI’s future is in the hands of Pennsylvania voters.

Moreover, the Inflation Reduction Act will provide billions of dollars to states and municipalities via grant programs over the next decade to invest in climate change solutions. We can’t afford to have a climate denier in office, one who will fail to make wise, effective investments with these federal dollars.

Meanwhile, RGGI proceeds can also be invested in a wide range of energy and environmental projects, from facilitating good, high-paying jobs in our state’s growing renewable energy sector to reducing prices across our energy grid to tackling environmental justice challenges in communities throughout the Commonwealth.

These funds will be available on a predictable, recurring basis every quarter when Pennsylvania participates in RGGI – all by making polluting power plants pay.

RGGI is a meaningful and necessary component of our state’s climate change efforts. Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly support this kind of action on climate.

It’s up to all of us to make sure lawmakers recognize that. Contact your elected officials and voice your support for RGGI. Tell them what environmental projects matter most to you and how RGGI proceeds should be spent.

Joseph Otis Minott is the president of the Clean Air Action Fund. He writes from Philadelphia. 

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Capital-Star Guest Contributor
Capital-Star Guest Contributor

The Pennsylvania Capital-Star welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation on how politics and public policy affects the day-to-day lives of people across the commonwealth.