Gov. Wolf should step on the gas to clean up PA's power sector, labeled the 5 dirtiest in the nation

30 Oct 2019 | 07:00

    (AP) Now that Gov. Tom Wolf has signed an executive order for Pennsylvania to join nine other states in a program to push power companies to reduce carbon emission, climate control advocates are pushing him to step on the gas and get the train moving.

    Mandy Warner, senior policy manager of the Environmental Defense Fund, is concerned it could take more than a year before the Department of Environmental Protection completes the regulations and legislators, as well as the public, weigh in on the Commonwealth's joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) to reduce carbon emissions from the power section. And she thinks that's too long to wait.

    “Our pollution is so massive," said Warner. “It either equals or exceeds all of the rest of the RGGI states. We're a huge part of the problem and need to be a huge part of the solution."

    Warner said Pennsylvania has the 5 dirtiest power sector in the nation, which brings serious health consequences. “In some areas of Pittsburgh, asthma rates are five times the national average.. in some area, one in two children has asthma. This is not fair to the children, especially when there's something we can do about it."

    RGGI is one major step toward doing something about it. Pennsylvania would join Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont in turning to power plants to reduce their impact on global warming.

    The program essentially levels a tax on power companies that emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. Like the other RGGI states, Pennsylvania would require power plants to acquire credits for each ton of carbon dioxide they emit.

    Power companies would have a strong financial incentive to reduce their emissions, as the credits the state allows are reduced over time. “We need the power sector to get to near zero emissions," Warner said, and RGGI is the best way forward.

    But after the governor's bold move last , there already is push back in the state legislature. Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming County and the chairman of the Senate's Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, is skeptical about whether RGGI would benefit Pennsylvania. He and other Republicans object to what they call the governor's “go-it-alone" approach in signing an executive order.

    The Environmental Defense Fund and climate change advocates applaud the governor for showing bold leadership on an issue they consider urgent and a matter of life or death for the planet.

    Yaw and his colleagues are right, Pennsylvania is not New York or New Jersey. We are a major energy producer and our economy is closely tied to the natural gas and coal industries. But that is no reason to block what is a proven process to provide incentives to the industries to clean up their emissions. Instead of complaining about the governor's executive order, they should get on board and make sure the regulations DEP drafts to join RGGI will protect both the environment and the economy.

    Warner says both are possible. Power companies in states that have joined RGGI have seen significant economic benefits in reducing carbon emissions, she said, and they have quickly come on board as they saw the savings in their operations.

    Plus, in all of the states, rate payers have been protected from increases in utility costs through rebates and other programs, Warner said. Overall, RGGI seems to be a win-win for both the power industry and the environment.

    Gov. Wolf is right to proceed carefully and to make sure both the public and lawmakers have a chance to provide input. But Warner and the EDF also are right to warn that lawmakers shouldn't try to slow down the process, considering the urgency of climate change and the health issues involved.

    They argue DEP doesn't need until July 2020 to draft the regulations, since successful models already exist. They say it can be done by spring of 2020. And while they agree with encouraging legislative input, as well as holding town halls and public education forums, they contend Pennsylvania should be able to join RGGI no later than next summer.

    We understand their urgency and join them in urging Gov. Wolf to move as quickly and as prudently as possible in what clearly is the right direction -- planting Pennsylvania firmly among the RGGI states that are taking climate change seriously.

    Harrisburg Patriot News/PennLive