HARRISBURG — A group of Republican lawmakers on Monday blasted a proposal by the Wolf administration to enroll in a regional agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions, saying the move will cost jobs.
Secretary of Environmental Protection Patrick McDonnell countered that jobs in fossil fuel-powered power plants probably won’t last long anyway and the state needs to act because it is already feeling the impact of climate change.
State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, said that moving to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative will cost jobs by motivating power companies to shutter Pennsylvania power plants and invest in neighboring states, like Ohio and West Virginia, which aren’t part of the agreement.
Participating states have agreed to implement the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative through a regional cap-and-trade program involving CO2 emitting electric power plants. Those states — Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont — set a cap on total CO2 emissions from electric power generators in their states.
In order to show compliance with the cap, power plants must purchase a credit or “allowance,” for each ton of CO2, they emit. These purchases are made at quarterly auctions conducted by RGGI. The proceeds from the auctions are allocated back to the participating states. The other states mainly use that money to encourage the development of renewable energy or to pay for energy efficiency improvements for residential customers and businesses, according to RGGI.
Pennsylvania’s electric sector produced 82 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2016, the most recent year of data available from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The electric power industry only produced more carbon dioxide in three other states – Florida, Texas and Indiana, that year.
State Rep. Jim Struzzi, R-Indiana County, said two of the largest coal-fired powered plants remaining in Pennsylvania are in Indiana County.
Wolf’s move to enroll in the regional greenhouse initiative “continues the assault on the energy industry. It continues the assault on rural Pennsylvania,” Struzzi said. “I call it a nightmare because the people in our communities are frightened. I see them every day, they’re worried about their jobs.”
McDonnell said that as pressure grows in other states to embrace cleaner energy, Pennsylvania’s fossil-fuel power plants are going to be in trouble even if the state doesn’t join the commitment to further reduce its carbon emissions.
If the state takes a more aggressive approach at managing its greenhouse emissions, it could spur innovations for cleaner energy to help the energy sector in Pennsylvania survive, he said.
Under the regional initiative, power companies make payments based on the amount of carbon pollution they produce.
"Those payments are then reinvested in Pennsylvania's economy," according to McDonnell's written testimony. "We see this program as an opportunity to not only reduce air pollution, but also create jobs and economic activity. Improvements to public transportation, installing energy-efficient windows, insulation or appliances, or building out alternative vehicle infrastructure are just a few examples of how these revenues could be used."
Metcalfe said that environmental groups, like the Sierra Club, that have welcomed the governor’s move support the idea of completing eliminating fossil fuels as a source of power.
McDonnell said that the move into the regional greenhouse gas initiative would allow the state to “incrementally” decrease its carbon emissions at a rate of about 3 percent a year.
He said the governor has not suggested that the state completely cease using fossil fuels.
McDonnell added that the impact of climate change is already being felt in a number of ways that impact Pennsylvania, including increased flooding events that are damaging roads and bridges and other infrastructure, as well as worsening public health threats because ticks and other disease-carrying bugs are becoming more prevalent.