Pennsylvania Needs RGGI Now More Than Ever

Unfortunately, though, some legislators have been trying to block the Commonwealth from moving forward with this proven program, while proposing no climate solutions of their own.

To RGGI or not to RGGI? That is the climate policy question in Harrisburg these days, particularly as opponents in the General Assembly run out of parliamentary maneuvers to block the Department of Environmental Protection’s CO2 Budget Trading Program regulation, which would enable Pennsylvania’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

If you’re new to RGGI, a good, short primer is available here. And more background on opponents’ multi-year campaign of climate denial and obstructionism is here. Essentially, RGGI would be a critical step forward for Pennsylvania to clean up our air, lower electric bills, grow our economy, and address dangerous climate pollution. Unfortunately, though, some legislators have been trying to block the Commonwealth from moving forward with this proven program, while proposing no climate solutions of their own.

On April 4 or 5, RGGI opponents in the state Senate are expected to make a last-gasp attempt to override Governor Wolf’s veto of an anti-RGGI resolution, following a March 29 hearing before the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy and Community, Economic, and Recreation Development Committees. That hearing will likely play like a greatest-RGGI-hit-jobs album, with opponents adding inflation concerns and high fossil fuel prices to their arguments against limiting pollution and imposing a modest price on carbon pollution from power plants. They’ll probably also claim that Pennsylvania doesn’t need new policies to cut power plant pollution, under a misguided assumption that regional grid operator PJM’s power markets will somehow take care of it.

But NRDC analysis shows that, in fact, the existing markets won’t solve our pollution problems on their own, so that now is precisely the time for Pennsylvania to finalize its RGGI CO2 Budget Trading Program regulation. The regulation will deliver the marked air quality, public health, and clean energy jobs benefits that participation in RGGI can and will provide to Pennsylvanians. 

Without RGGI, Carbon Pollution from Power Plants Will Rise in Pennsylvania

Fossil gas prices have skyrocketed in the past year, rising almost 75 percent on a nationwide basis since the start of 2021.

The result? Not only higher wholesale power prices (especially in the PJM region, which is heavily dependent on gas power plants), but also an increase in harmful air pollution that causes asthma and heart disease and increased climate pollution. That’s because, as gas plants get more expensive to run, PJM’s grid turns more to older, less efficient, and more polluting coal plants. Many of these plants have been on the verge of retiring but high gas prices are throwing them a lifeline—while throwing more pollution and higher bills at the rest of us.

According to NRDC’s analysis (which updates prior work done here), unless we have a program like RGGI to counteract this pollution bonanza:  

  • Power plant pollution in Pennsylvania will likely increase over the next decade and a half, even after the state’s few remaining coal plants eventually close. (All but one of them have already announced that they’ll close or convert to gas by 2028). The build-out of new fossil gas infrastructure in Pennsylvania will continue, but because there is so little coal left to displace, this build-out will no longer have the effect of reducing carbon pollution. Instead, the continuing rush to gas will only add more carbon pollution to the state’s ledger. This gas will also squeeze out the opportunity for Pennsylvania to transition to truly clean options like solar and wind power.
  • If the higher gas prices we are seeing today remain higher in the longer term, NRDC’s analysis projects a more immediate, near-term increase in carbon pollution (and other public-health harming pollution), as coal power ramps back up from its recent lows.
  • The main point here is that the dominance of fossil fuels is likely to grow over the next decade without a policy like the DEP’s RGGI regulation. In the BAU modeling, the state’s fossil mix grows from about 63 percent to 85 percent of the state’s overall generation from 2020 to 2030. With higher gas prices, we see the fossil share basically not change over the next decade, with a switch back to coal from gas, driving a reversion back to an even dirtier grid.

RGGI Will Cut Emissions and Provide Billions in Clean Energy Investments Across the State

RGGI will not only clean up our air by including Pennsylvania’s emissions in a regional cap —the program will also provide significant new funds to accelerate Pennsylvania’s clean energy transition and save households and businesses money on their electric bills.

RGGI requires the owners of polluting power plants to pay for the carbon pollution they cause through the purchase of “carbon allowances,” each of which represents 1 ton of carbon pollution. RGGI states then reinvest that money in clean energy projects and other pollution-reducing initiatives. These carbon allowances are sold at quarterly auctions. While allowance prices vary from auction to auction, Pennsylvania can reasonably expect to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in auction proceeds annually by participating in the RGGI program.

That’s not small money—it’s money that can supercharge the Commonwealth’s nascent clean energy economy, by providing funding for new bill-saving investments in energy efficiency and renewables, while creating good clean energy jobs and cleaning up the air for all Pennsylvanians. At the same time, every clean energy project that makes homes and businesses more energy efficient or installs solar panels will reduce our exposure to the volatile swings in fossil fuel prices that we're currently experiencing due to geopolitical upheaval.

We can’t drill our way out of our current energy challenges. But we can adopt commonsense, proven policies like RGGI to retake control of and build a better energy future for our state. It’s time for opposing legislators to stop fighting to entrench Pennsylvania in a dirty, unsustainable, fossil-dependent past, and instead chart a course that gives us all a brighter future. The math couldn’t be any clearer—it’s time to get RGGI on the books and start reaping all of the benefits it will bring.    



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