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PA House Moves To Block RGGI Entrance As DEP Estimates It Will Save Money And Lives

Amy Sisk
StateImpact Pennsylvania
The Bruce Mansfield Power Plant burns coal to generate electricity in Beaver County. The plant shut down in 2019 because of “a lack of economic viability in current market conditions.”";s:

Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives is trying to block the state’s entrance into a regional effort to curb carbon emissions from power plants. 

The House passed H.B. 2025 to prevent the state joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) through executive action on the same day the Department of Environmental Protection released estimates that participation in the effort would save hundreds of lives and billions of dollars.

The House passed the bill with a vote of 130-71. It now goes to the state Senate. Gov. Tom Wolf has said he would veto it. 

Wolf signed an executive order last year directing DEP to join RGGI through regulation, with a goal of joining by 2022. As part of that, DEP needs to estimate what effect RGGI would have on health, the environment, and the economy. The agency made part of its analysis public ahead of the House debate on the bill Wednesday afternoon.

The agency plans to present a draft to the Environmental Quality Board in September. If the board approves the draft, it will be put up for public comment.

Under RGGI, a cap-and-trade program, power plants have to pay for the carbon dioxide they emit. Opponents to RGGI argue participation will cost the commonwealth jobs in the coal industry, causing a ripple effect that will hurt the overall economy. DEP found it will result in a net increase of 27,000 jobs and add $1.9 billion to the state’s economy. The agency did not provide details on how it arrived at those figures.

The DEP analysis also estimated that the pollution reduction achieved by joining RGGI would realize more than $6 billion worth of health benefits over the next decade and cut the number of asthma attacks for children aged 6-18 by more than 45,000.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jim Struzzi (R-Indiana) called the report a “ridiculous piece of propaganda designed to influence today’s vote.” 

A DEP spokesman said the agency used economic modeling and methodology from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to arrive at the estimates.

Struzzi stressed that his bill is about who has the power to make the decision to join RGGI, not on whether Pennsylvania should join.

“Decisions to address climate change should not be done unilaterally by the governor,” he said.

Struzzi and other Republicans have said they don’t want to see RGGI move forward, especially in light of the coronavirus pandemic that has sparked economic problems. Eighteen senators sent a letter to Wolf in April asking him to rescind the order.

Struzzi said he is confident the Senate will take up the bill and pass it. Similar legislation introduced in that chamber has not yet been brought up for a vote.

Pennsylvania is the fourth largest greenhouse gas emitter in the country. Scientists say carbon emissions must be cut dramatically to avoid the worst effects of climate change.  

Environmental groups criticized the House vote.

“Quite bluntly, we are out of time to act to stabilize our climate,” said Tom Schuster with the Sierra Club’s Pennsylvania Chapter. “This legislation reflects dangerous wishful thinking by legislators who think they can forestall necessary and ultimately inevitable changes to how we power our state.”

This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among WESA, The Allegheny Front, WITF and WHYY.