LAWMAKERS, CLEAN POWER PA COALITION DISCUSS RGGI

By Matt Hess, Pennsylvania Legislative Services | April 29, 2021

 

A host of Democratic lawmakers and the Clean Power PA Coalition held a press conference today to discuss the benefits of Pennsylvania entering the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

 

Mark Szybist, senior attorney, Climate and Clean Energy Program, Natural Resources Defense Council, explained that the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is expected to release final-form regulations on RGGI next week. “We are heartened that the Wolf administration has taken action using its existing legal authority to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. The final regulatory language follows probably the most extensive and accessible public comment period we’ve seen to date. Last fall and last winter DEP held 10 public hearings. 449 people testified and of those, 441 provided supportive testimony. DEP received over 14,000 written comments, over 95 percent of which were in support of DEP moving forward with the program.” He remarked on the program’s proven record of success in slashing pollution, protecting public health, and investing in communities.

 

Mark Dugan, speaking on behalf of the Center for Coalfield Justice, noted that he lives in Greene County and comes from a family of coal miners and his grandfather died from complications related to black lung. “Our community’s economic opportunities are declining whether or not RGGI would be enacted, but it is critical that through this regulation the government ensures that environmental justice communities are not burdened even more by pollution. The legislative body and the governor must use the revenue generated from RGGI to support workers in transition and communities experiencing tax loss…RGGI proceeds can build an economy for the future. We should not mess up the opportunity to clean up the environment while creating thousands of sustainable jobs,” he stated.

 

Sofia Portillo, speaking on behalf of CASA, emphasized that Pennsylvanians have a constitutional right to clean air and water. “Climate change disproportionately affects brown and Black communities, not just in our cities but around our world…We need more green spaces in our cities, solar power infrastructure, lead removal, home weatherization, and clean energy programs to educate communities about the importance of using 100 percent clean energy. RGGI is a good step in the right direction and it’s extremely important we focus on doing it right by focusing on brown and Black communities on the front lines,” she stated.

 

Sen. Carolyn Comitta (D-Chester), minority chairman of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, said climate change is the “existential threat of our time” and spoke in support of RGGI. “RGGI is the way forward for Pennsylvania communities, workers and families. Our environment, our public health and our economic health are all intertwined and we’ll all benefit from Pennsylvania’s participation in RGGI,” she stated.

 

Rep. Leanne Krueger (D-Delaware) noted efforts to address climate change have been thwarted by Republican majorities in the House and Senate. “I support RGGI because it’s good for the environment and the economy. RGGI proceeds can be directed to invest in growing our local economies and position Pennsylvania as a green energy leader,” she stated.

 

Rep. Donna Bullock (D-Philadelphia) said RGGI provides an opportunity to “cure decades of environmental racism” and explained the Wolf administration is proposing the Environmental Justice Communities Trust Fund as part of the initiative. “We can decrease the burden on Black and low-income fenceline communities, improve health outcomes, and empower environmental justice communities across the commonwealth. With the profits from RGGI we can invest in systematic environmental and energy justice and bring resources to these communities,” she stated.

 

Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware), minority chairman of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, said SB 119 and HB 637 have the potential to stop RGGI. “There is one intent to these two bills and that is to block RGGI. Unfortunately these bills will pass easily. The key is going to be the override vote. We need to hold in the House or the Senate. We need to prevent them from getting two-thirds of either chamber. It’s going to be hand-to-hand combat. The key is going to be suburban Republicans and Democrats who have allegiances…Right now it’s about theoretical arguments. It’s about the votes. You need to let legislators know you are watching them. Activists need to be strategic. We need to stop either of these two bills from passing,” he stated.

 

The speakers then responded to questions from the media.

 

Coal miners make between $75,000-$90,000 a year in Greene County. What do you say to those workers and what jobs will be available to them if RGGI passes?

Dugan said he empathizes with those workers and coal communities. “I don’t think it’s going to shut down the doors of the coal industry overnight if RGGI passes, but at the same time the coal industry has injured a lot of people and cost a lot of lives. How much money do you have to make a year to sustain your family in Washington and Greene County and still have a good job to go to? I’m not a policymaker, I’m not sure,” he stated.

 

Rep. Krueger noted that RGGI would generate $300 million to provide for a “just transition” for workers in impacted communities.

 

Rep. Vitali added that many jobs are being created in western Pennsylvania through the petrochemical industry and said there are new federal funds for well plugging.

 

What is lacking in the RGGI or legislative conversations that minority communities are helped by the initiative?

Rep. Bullock emphasized the importance of having environmental justice voices at the table and reiterated that Gov. Tom Wolf is proposing the Environmental Justice Communities Trust Fund as part of the RGGI proceeds.

 

When can we expect to see details on how money generated from RGGI will be distributed?

Sen. Comitta said there will be a bill drafted soon.

 

Szybist added that DEP is working on a draft framework for the funds and will be introduced in last spring or summer after the final language comes out.

 

What do you say to those who don’t support RGGI out of concerns that it could raise energy prices?

Szybist said energy costs will go down in the long run. The money that DEP can get from the proceeds of allowance auctions can be invested into energy efficiency and other things that decrease energy costs,” he stated.

 

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