Last October, Gov. Tom Wolf stated, “Climate change is the most critical environmental threat confronting the world, and power generation is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.” At that time, he signed an executive order directing the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to start the process that will allow us to participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) as part of its plan to reduce carbon emissions that come from electricity generation. RGGI has been in place in ten Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states for more than ten years, and is a proven method for reducing greenhouse gas emissions while supporting economic growth.
What is RGGI?
RGGI is a cooperative effort in which states agree to cap greenhouse gas emissions produced by the power sector. RGGI uses a market-based approach that generates emission reduction incentives while also generating new revenue for each state. Each member state legislates how it will meet the goals of the program and retains its state autonomy while maintaining the RGGI partnership. As part of RGGI, Pennsylvania will make a commitment to cap electric power plant-produced carbon dioxide emissions at a certain level, and sell credits that allow power plants to emit a limited amount of carbon dioxide. Power plants will then be able to purchase these allowances for each ton of carbon dioxide they emit. Revenue generated by the sale of carbon allowances will return to Pennsylvania.
Why should we reduce emissions?
Burning fossil fuels (including oil and natural gas) generates carbon dioxide and methane, which are the two greenhouse gas pollutants most responsible for warming the planet and causing the climate crisis. This warming threatens the health and safety of the people of Pennsylvania and across the world. Acting now will avoid catastrophic costs later. As a leader in energy production, Pennsylvania is responsible for nearly one percent of the world’s emissions. So, taking action in PA can make a significant impact both locally and globally. Pennsylvania has made a commitment to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions by 26% by 2025 and by 80% by 2050. RGGI is a good way to start meeting these goals.
How does RGGI generate economic growth?
Some Pennsylvanians have expressed concern that RGGI will cause irreparable harm to the economy. Fortunately for us, we don’t have to guess what will happen because we have data from the experience of other member states over the past fifteen years of operation that show that RGGI does not harm the economy. In fact, the data show just the opposite. RGGI states have reduced carbon dioxide emissions in the power sector by 45% since 2005 without negative impacts on the economies of those states. The need to purchase carbon allowances incentivizes power plants to reduce their emissions as a way of reducing costs and running their businesses more efficiently. Carbon allowances also level the playing field for other energy industries in the commonwealth, such as nuclear, solar, and wind, which do not emit carbon dioxide, and supports their growth. Wind and solar, in particular, are already creating lots of new, well-paying jobs for Pennsylvanians. Also, money collected from the fees paid by the power plants is distributed to the RGGI states and reinvested in consumer benefit programs to improve energy efficiency and accelerate the deployment of renewable energy technologies. RGGI has already generated $3.36 billion for member states, and the economies of these states have continued to grow under RGGI. Maryland, which has participated since 2007, has received $711 million through its RGGI membership that it has used for electric bill assistance, renewable energy development, and energy efficiency programs that save businesses money and help them prosper. RGGI is projected to generate even more revenue for Pennsylvania.
RGGI is a proven, market-based method for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, while also preserving economic growth. It provides a pathway for Pennsylvania to meet its greenhouse gas emission goals while providing revenue to support energy efficiency programs that will save Pennsylvanians money at home and in their businesses. RGGI is the right choice for Pennsylvania.
Sandy Field is a resident of Lewisburg. She wrote this for Susquehanna Valley Progress.