Pennsylvania's Bob Casey Voices Support for EPA's Plan To Cut Carbon Pollution From Power Plants

Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) deserves praise for his comments in general support of the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to cut carbon pollution from power plants.  

In his formal comments supporting the EPA’s Clean Power Plan late last week, Senator Casey captured what’s at stake, “I strongly believe that we have a duty to preserve the environment not just so we can have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink, but because this world is in our care for our children and our children’s children.”

“We are failing in our duties as stewards of God’s creation,” the Senator wrote to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “As individuals, as a nation, and as a global community, we must face and conquer the problem of climate change.”

In stark contrast, on the other end of the spectrum, we have the comments about global warming from his fellow Pennsylvania senator, climate-change denier Pat Toomey, made during his 2010 election campaign: “I think that [the cause of climate change] is still very much disputed and has been debated.” At least there can be no confusion on which Senator is standing up for future generations, and which one stands for polluters.

Casey framed his remarks as “a person of faith.” And he was supported by others who share that commitment to a religious life. “As a native Pennsylvanian,” said Evangelical Environmental Network President and CEO Rev. Mitch Hescox, “I’ve never been prouder of one of our elected officials than I am today of our senior Senator, Bob Casey.” Rev. Hescox said their faith “propels both of us to overcome climate change.”

Pennsylvania exports about one-third of all the electricity it produces to its neighbors, which means the state produces lots of pollution that is attributable to electricity consumed elsewhere. As a result, one of the great opportunities to “overcome” climate change—to save money, create jobs and reduce carbon pollution—is through a regional, multi-state approach to compliance. Such an approach recognizes the reality that electric markets are rarely defined by state borders. That’s one reason states can use multi-state alliances to cut carbon under the Clean Power Plan. Wisely, this is also an approach Pennsylvania’s Governor-elect Tom Wolf endorses. “I want to be part of any compact that’s trying to make our air cleaner,” he said during his campaign this year.

As has been amply demonstrated by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the neighboring Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, this kind of alliance among carbon-cutting states can drive efficiencies and ambitious pollution reductions that individual states can be hard pressed to realize on their own. (Multi-state approaches, of course, can take many forms. They can include everything from new states joining existing multi-state programs, to merely adopting a state cap and entering into agreements with other multi-state programs to honor each other’s currency, something that will allow the trading of carbon credits within the same market.)

Based on expert analysis, one point on which NRDC and Senator Casey disagree is the magnitude of renewable energy and energy efficiency potential that exists within Pennsylvania. These forms of clean energy can be ramped up quickly and cost-effectively in the Keystone State, helping Pennsylvania create thousands of new jobs and save big money on energy, all while complying with the Clean Power Plan. And if Pennsylvania pursues a regional approach—for example, one that involves coordination with some of the 13 states in the PJM transmission network of which it is a part—the pool of carbon reductions that can be captured through clean energy investments becomes vastly larger.  

But the technical discourse around the EPA modeling assumptions and methodologies for establishing state targets can be worked through, as can the precise details of what compliance approach makes the most sense for Pennsylvania. The takeaway worth noting is this:  By supporting the Clean Power Plan and acknowledging the risks to which climate change exposes us Pennsylvanians and all Americans, Senator Casey has taken a bold and important step. He wrote to EPA Administrator McCarthy that by embracing the changes we need to prevent the worst effects of climate change, “[t]his can be a future in which we revitalize our economy by increasing our efforts in the areas of energy efficiency and conservation, by developing and adopting new, cleaner ways of producing electricity, and by creating jobs for today and future generations.”

Now, it’s time for other elected officials to take Senator Casey’s lead and support the plan.