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Pennsylvania Moves to Join Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

Pennsylvania is moving to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), making it the biggest carbon emitter in what would now become a nine-state market aimed at reducing carbon emissions from electricity generation across much of the northeastern United States.

“If we want a Pennsylvania that is habitable for our children and grandchildren, where temperatures aren’t in the 90s (Fahrenheit) in October…where flooding doesn’t destroy homes and businesses over and over again, we need to get serious right now about addressing the climate crisis,” said Governor Tom Wolf (D).

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Pennsylvania is the country’s second-biggest natural gas producer, and its third-biggest source of coal, InsideClimate News reports.

A Republican-controlled state legislature may limit how far Wolf can go to bring Pennsylvania into the market. “As buzz grew in the state capital earlier this year on a possible RGGI move, the Wolf administration reportedly floated a proposal that indicated legislative action would be needed to authorize spending the hundreds of millions of dollars per year in proceeds from carbon fees that the state stands to receive from its involvement in RGGI,” InsideClimate states. “But Wolf signed an order Thursday to begin the process of establishing the rules to govern the state’s entry to the RGGI market without waiting for the legislature.”

“This is the beginning of the process,” he said, adding that he hoped to see the process complete within two years, “I’m looking forward to a robust conversation with environmental advocates, the General Assembly, Pennsylvanians all across the state, to figure out how we do this right.”

New Jersey is also joining RGGI, ICN notes, while a similar effort by Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA) was blocked by the state legislature.

Wolf’s announcement would make his state the first major U.S. fossil producer to sign up with RGGI. “The state is second only to Texas in natural gas production, and third behind Wyoming and West Virginia in coal,” ICN writes. “Because RGGI puts a price on carbon in the electricity marketplace, it reduces demand for those fuels—with coal taking the biggest hit at first.”

While RGGI membership has not been a priority for Wolf since he took office in 2015, reporter Marianne Lavelle says the political calculus behind the story is changing.

“Pennsylvania gets 40% of its power from nuclear energy, about twice the national average, and the state’s nine nuclear power stations have struggled in the region’s competitive electricity market competing against abundant, cheap natural gas,” she  writes. “Some Pennsylvania lawmakers have been pushing the idea of a direct ratepayer subsidy to bail out the nuclear industry—a move that would raise electricity prices throughout the state.”

RGGI, by contrast, “would make it easier for carbon-free energy, including nuclear power, to compete against natural gas. And a recent analysis by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School found that electricity rates could decrease under RGGI. Wolf noted that electricity prices have fallen in the RGGI states, while rising overall in the nation.”

The governor may also be looking for a funding source for Restore PA, a massive, US$4.5-billion infrastructure program that has become more urgent in light of recent storm damage.

“Someone has to pay to fix the destroyed houses, roads, and bridges,” Wolf said. “That’s going to be all of us—every single one of us—through increased insurance, higher taxes to pay for infrastructure road repairs. We know what is causing this crisis. We know that if we don’t get control of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, the extreme temperatures will get more extreme.”