Note: The following guest column appeared in the Daily Local News online on June 2, 2022.
Summer means spending more time outside. Whether you’re camping, hiking, boating, fishing, or just enjoying a picnic or backyard barbecue, idyllic summer days are an important reminder of what is precisely at stake in the fight against climate change. And they’re also a reminder of our obligation to act now to protect and preserve our environment and natural resources for our children and grandchildren.
Fortunately, Pennsylvania is on the cusp of a major victory in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and investing in our clean energy future. Earlier this spring, the Commonwealth finalized the regulation to participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a market-based cap and invest program currently made up of eleven Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states.
RGGI, which is supported by more than 70 percent of Pennsylvania voters and a growing contingent of business leaders and organizations, is a proven way to cut emissions while generating proceeds that can be invested in strengthening Pennsylvania’s growing clean energy, commercial, and industrial sectors.
Here’s how it works: RGGI states set regional limits on emissions for fossil-fuel-fired electric power plants. Plants can then purchase permits to emit up to that limit through quarterly auctions. Those limits decline each year, leading to decreased emissions. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, linking with RGGI would reduce air pollution by hundreds of millions of tons.
At the same time, Pennsylvania would realize an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars per year in proceeds generated from the permit auctions. These funds can then be directed to investing in renewables, assisting workers and communities affected by the transition from fossil fuels, supporting environmental justice communities, and lowering utility costs.
As we consider our options to invest RGGI proceeds, there is no shortage of priorities. Right now, almost every Pennsylvania family is experiencing the impacts of fossil fuel price volatility both at the gas pump and the utility meter, as well as in the form of rising consumer costs. RGGI states, including our neighbors in Maryland, have invested heavily in energy efficiency and customer bill assistance programs that continue to save ratepayers money. By investing in energy efficiency now, we can lower overall usage and significantly reduce costs in the future. In fact, the average residential electricity bill in RGGI states will be 35 percent lower in 2031 than it was in 2017, according to modeling by the Analysis Group.
In addition, RGGI will help better protect Pennsylvania electric ratepayers and families by reducing our over-reliance on fossil fuels. As we have seen with the spike in oil prices related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, true energy independence means independence from finite fossil fuels. Renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and other innovative home-grown technologies can reduce our over-reliance on fossil fuels and bring more stability to ratepayers currently grappling with market forces beyond our control.
When it comes to jobs, DEP estimates show linking with RGGI is anticipated to create 27,000 jobs, while RGGI states report that training thousands of workers in clean energy and compliance has led to overall job gains. In Pennsylvania, we’re paying special attention to assisting coal workers and communities that are already facing the impacts of the decline of coal due to the availability of natural gas. My Senate Bill 15, the RGGI Investments Act, will assist coal workers to transition to jobs in clean energy, while requiring that nearly a third of the program’s annual proceeds be invested back into communities that have been dealing with coal power plant closures for the last two decades. Other RGGI states, like New York and Massachusetts, have already deployed RGGI funds to replace local tax revenues as well as prepare coal plant sites for reuse.
The bottom line: RGGI works. As it is in nearly a dozen states, RGGI results in reduced emissions, cleaner air, family-sustaining jobs, economic growth, and more. Ongoing legal maneuvers aimed at delaying or hindering our entrance into RGGI are not only shortsighted, but they also threaten to undermine the most consequential and promising step to address climate change that the Commonwealth has ever undertaken.
So, as you enjoy the outdoors with friends and family this summer, remember we not only have a responsibility to protect and safeguard our environment, it is our Constitutional duty to do so. After all, Article 1, Section 27, of the Pennsylvania Constitution states, “The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come.”
It’s time to live up to our Constitutional duty and embrace the promise of a safe, healthy, prosperous clean energy future. It’s time for Pennsylvania to join RGGI.