Pennsylvania has a long and storied history as an extraction state. From the original trio of coal, lumber and oil, we are now in the era of fracking for methane from the Marcellus Shale. And we continue to spend millions of taxpayer dollars to deal with the depredations of the past. Scientists warn that future consequences of hydraulic fracturing and related infrastructure are apt to be worse.
Commonwealth decision-makers have long succumbed to promises of short-term gain and bowed to corporate pressures (and campaign contributions) while ignoring responsible resource development and failing to hold polluters accountable.
History is repeating itself in 2021, as pressure mounts to cut fossil-fuel greenhouse gas emissions that are wreaking havoc on our climate and putting our planet on a course to global catastrophe.
As the third largest contributor to greenhouse gas pollution in the United States and with the fourth dirtiest power sector, Pennsylvania bears an enormous share of the burden, emitting nearly 90 million tons of carbon per year. This pollution harms public health by accelerating climate change, contributing to excessive heat that leads to drought, superstorms that result in flooding and smog. Unhealthy air days are hellish for people suffering from allergies, asthma and other lung ailments. Little wonder that Pennsylvania has the third highest rate of asthma in the nation.
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is a cap-and-invest program that caps pollution from the power sector. RGGI’s member states trade allowances equal to the pollution they generate via quarterly auctions. The proceeds generated from those auctions then catalyze economic development through investments in infrastructure, renewable energy and energy efficiency, a plan that is especially noteworthy in low-income communities.
RGGI is also a job creation program. For over two decades, coal-fired power plant jobs have been increasingly subsumed by natural gas-fired plants. As those workers seek new employment, they can look toward the next phase of energy development in solar, wind and energy efficiency. As of 2019, the renewable/sustainable energy sector provided over 90,000 jobs in Pennsylvania — nearly 400% more than the roughly 26,000 jobs in the natural gas sector.
A recent analysis by the Department of Environmental Protection notes that participating in RGGI will lead to an additional 27,000 jobs and add $1.9 billion to the Gross State Product in Pennsylvania. Annual RGGI auction proceeds in Pennsylvania could top $500 million in the first year alone. That revenue could potentially be put to good use for economic development and for retraining the work force for high-paying, high-quality jobs to support the next wave of energy development in the Keystone state.
Pennsylvania has long been a national leader in energy development, but the spoils generated by our natural resources have not been spread equally. The big winners are outnumbered by the losers. This is even more true today when we consider the harms to the planet that sustains us all.
This past December, I was one of nearly 500 Pennsylvanians who spoke out in support of RGGI during several days of virtual public hearings. In a 2019 poll, the initiative had bipartisan support from 79% of Pennsylvanians across cities, suburbs and rural communities.
Economic prosperity is not a zero-sum game and must not ignore the environment. In fact, the two are inexorably linked. Bold and visionary leadership coupled with a solid commitment to protecting the health and safety of present and future generations of PA workers and citizens is the only solution. Unfortunately, that leadership is currently absent where we need it most with Gene Yaw, the chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, who is opposed to RGGI.
The clock is ticking and the planet is warming.
DEP must finalize the RGGI rule quickly so we can begin participating in the program as soon as next year.
Responsible energy development is not just a nice idea. It is an absolute necessity for our future.
Barb Jarmoska lives in rural Lycoming County; she serves on the board of directors of the Responsible Drilling Alliance. www.rdaPA.org