Pennsylvania is the third largest greenhouse gas polluting state in the nation
As the third largest greenhouse gas-polluting state in the nation, Pennsylvania has an outsize responsibility to cut climate-warming pollution. One of the state’s largest greenhouse gas polluters of carbon dioxide is the power sector—coal and natural gas power plants that generate electricity. Currently there are no limits on the amount of carbon dioxide these power plants can spew into the air. Coal plants are the worst in regard to air pollution from the power sector, and with six of them in the state, they are a major contributor to the state’s climate pollution.
Pennsylvanians are experiencing climate change today with increased flooding causing landslides, extreme weather, and ticks that carry Lyme disease. Pennsylvania has the most cases of Lyme disease in the nation. Pennsylvania’s 2020 Climate Change Impacts Assessment projects that every county will continue to get warmer and wetter particularly in winter and spring.
Pennsylvania is taking action to cut carbon pollution
Thankfully, Governor Wolf has recognized that Pennsylvania has a serious carbon pollution problem and signed an Executive Order last year to direct the state to reduce its carbon pollution by participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). RGGI (pronounced “Reggie”) is a multi-state effort designed to cut carbon pollution from power plants across 10 of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states.
How RGGI works
Stated simply, RGGI is a “cap and invest” program. It puts a science-based cap, or limit, on the amount of carbon dioxide that covered power plants can release into our air, and this cap gets ratcheted down over time. This system sets “allowances” with one allowance representing a single ton of carbon emissions (1 allowance = 1 ton of carbon dioxide).
- Power plants covered under RGGI are subject to a region-wide pollution limit that declines over time.
- Power plants must buy allowances equal to the amount of carbon pollution they release into the air.
- Power plants that invest in measures to reduce their pollution have to buy fewer allowances. They can sell excess allowances within the RGGI program.
- Revenue generated from the sale of allowances can be invested into projects that reduce pollution including into communities that live near power plant pollution, state programs for energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other greenhouse gas reduction strategies and can create local jobs.
Because the carbon limit, or cap, declines over time, power companies will have an incentive to invest in cleaner and zero-carbon energy like solar and wind, while improving efficiency and reducing air pollution.
RGGI can help clean up the air
RGGI has been proven to work! States that participate in RGGI have reduced power sector carbon dioxide pollution by 45% since 2005. They have also reduced harmful pollutants, like mercury, soot, sulfur dioxide, and heavy metals, that come from burning dirty fuels like coal in power plants. A recent analysis by the state Department of Environmental Protection indicates that participation in RGGI will result in a reduction of up to 639 premature deaths from respiratory illnesses and 30,000 fewer hospital visits for respiratory illnesses like asthma for children. This is further supported by a first-of-its-kind children’s health study that shows by lowering harmful soot from power plants, RGGI has helped to avoid asthma attacks, preterm births, low birth weight, and childhood autism. Researchers conservatively estimated avoided health costs of up to $350 million.
Environmental justice and equity considerations for communities
While we are all impacted by air pollution and climate change, the reality is that Black, Brown, Indigenous, and low-income populations are disproportionately burdened because of where they live, work, learn, or play. Historically, polluting sources such as power plants have been located near communities of color and low-income communities, making it imperative to put in place meaningful safeguards to ensure environmental justice communities benefit from a rule that reduces carbon pollution from the power sector. Impacted communities, environmental justice leaders, and the general public should be frequently consulted and provide input to influence decisions related to the design, implementation, and continuation of any rule that reduces carbon from the power sector, such as linking to RGGI.
Your turn to speak up at a public hearing
Moms have the opportunity to speak up in favor of Pennsylvania participating in RGGI during virtual public hearings scheduled for December 8 through December 14.
Make sure you are signed up as a Moms Clean Air Force member so we can keep you updated on the upcoming opportunities to speak up for clean air protections.
Sign our petition to support RGGI in Pennsylvania HERE.
Written by Patrice Tomcik, Project Manager, Moms Clean Air Force