Climate Watch: Pennsylvania Should Join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

This commonwealth has a long history as an energy leader. Our natural resources have helped spur the growth and development of both the state and the nation. Currently we are the third-largest energy producer in the nation and the number one exporter of electricity.

Unfortunately, our commonwealth is also one of our nation’s largest polluters. According to the US Energy Information Administration, Pennsylvania has the fifth-dirtiest power generation sector in the country.

We now have an opportunity to change that statistic.

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is a partnership among all New England states plus New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware. Pennsylvania should join it. RGGI sets a cap on the amount of carbon pollution that power plants may emit. If they exceed the limit, they must buy “permits” from the state. The permit money is reinvested in renewable energy projects.

By joining RGGI, Pennsylvania will participate in a pollution reduction program that is proven and flexible. As has already been experienced by participating states, this carbon trading system will encourage energy producers to adopt measures to reduce or avoid pollution.

Because of RGGI’s flexibility, Pennsylvania can choose how to best allocate revenues. We can support energy efficiency upgrades for families and small businesses. We can help local governments implement climate actions. We can pursue agricultural programs such as manure digesters and improving forest carbon sequestration.

These initiatives will create jobs. A 2018 study by the Analysis Group that looked at the economic impacts of RGGI found consistent job creation. The report found a net increase of 14,000 job-hours in the states in 2015-2017. The residents of our commonwealth will benefit from this type of job creation.

In addition to the direct benefit of reduced carbon emissions and increased investment in Pennsylvania’s energy sector, there will be a secondary benefit to joining RGGI related to health. States in RGGI have seen a notable reduction of harmful pollutants such as soot, mercury, and sulfur dioxide. These potential pollution reductions are good news for Pennsylvania, which has some of the worst air quality in the nation. It is also personally important to me.

As an adult I developed asthma and have learned that my lungs are sensitive to fine particulate matter such as soot and to high ozone levels. Both pollutants are generated in the process of producing energy from fossil fuels.

Two years ago, my husband and I moved to central Pennsylvania so I could escape the unhealthy air that made it difficult for me to spend time outside, especially in summer. My asthma is now under much better control. I am lucky. We had the ability to move to an area in Pennsylvania that allowed my health to improve. Many others are not as fortunate.

RGGI has a 10-year history of delivering health and climate benefits to participating states. According to a 2017 report on its health impacts, residents in the Northeast now experience significantly fewer premature deaths, heart attacks, and respiratory illnesses. The residents of our state deserve this same benefit.

It is time to begin a new chapter in Pennsylvania’s history of energy production. We already have the technology to produce clean energy. Let’s harness the power of the RGGI pollution cap to encourage the use of that technology. Let’s reduce carbon emissions while also lessening other harmful pollutants. And let’s create a future in which everyone in our state and region can enjoy the benefits of clean air.

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**Cathy Cullen lives in State College. This is adapted from public comments she gave Dec. 11 before Pennsylvania’s Environmental Quality Board. The EQB will accept written comments on RGGI through Jan. 14 at https://www.ahs.dep.pa.gov/eComment/.

This article was originally published in the Centre Daily Times.

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