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Democrats Unveil RGGI Investment Plan While Republicans Move To Block Entry To Program

Matt Rourke

On the same day Democratic lawmakers outlined their plan for how to spend money that would come from joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the Republican-led Senate advanced a measure to keep the state out of the cap-and-trade program.

Critics of RGGI say that, by charging power plants for their carbon emissions, the program will devastate communities that rely on coal.

The new investment legislation devotes about half the money raised to help communities impacted by plant closures and low-income areas with high pollution burdens. The Wolf Administration estimates joining RGGI will raise about $300 million in the first year.

An Energy Communities Trust Fund would get 37.5 percent of revenue, where it could be used for things like worker retraining and to support school districts.

Low-income areas with high pollution burdens, known as environmental justice communities, would get 12.5 percent of funds to help with things like environmental clean up and electricity bill assistance.

The remaining half of RGGI proceeds would go to the state’s Clean Air Fund, to be used for greenhouse gas abatement, clean energy and energy efficiency projects.

Gov. Tom Wolf says the energy sector is changing even without RGGI, and the choices are to either ignore that or do something that can help ease the transition.

“Through these investments, we can address the existential threat of climate change that affects all of us while also ensuring that people and communities that form the backbone of our existing energy economy are not left behind in the transition,” Wolf said at a news conference Monday.

Republicans who control the legislature remain opposed to the program.

Sen. Joe Pittman (R-Indiana), the lead sponsor of a bill to keep Pennsylvania out of RGGI, said he doesn’t believe any benefits will reach his western Pennsylvania community.

“RGGI is a scam and SB 119 is how we expose this scam,” Pittman said.

The Senate passed the bill 35-15 Monday and it now goes to the House.

Wolf has already said he would veto it. He vetoed a similar bill last year.

The Wolf Administration is planning to join RGGI through regulation in 2022. Lawmakers say the oversight board for environmental regulations is set to vote on the final RGGI rule later this summer.

Without legislation governing RGGI proceeds, all of the money would have to go to the state’s Clean Air Fund, to be used to reduce air pollution.