Author Archives: Nathaniel

RGGI: An Interview with Flora Cardoni

Harrisburg Lobby Day Event, advocating for 100% renewable energy in PA by 2050.

This interview was conducted by Nathaniel Smith by phone on 12/22/20 with Flora Cardoni, Field Director, PennEnvironment (at the mic in the photo). RGGI (the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, pronounced like the name Reggie) is a major avenue for the Commonwealth and Pennsylvanians to do more in reducing carbon emissions.

How do you see the overall climate problem faced by PA and the world?

Climate change is our greatest existential threat at this time! Pennsylvania has played a historical role as a leader in the extraction of fossil fuels and fracked gas. Our legacy is now part of the worldwide greenhouse gas emissions problem. We’re already experiencing the impacts of climate change here in PA, including extreme weather events, more flash flooding, impaired air quality, excessive heat especially in urban areas, multiplication of harmful insects like Lyme-bearing ticks, loss of snow cover in ski resorts, and more. Impacts worldwide include widespread wildfires, hurricanes, and food insecurity, and these impacts will only worsen without action.

The science is clear: to stop the worst impacts of climate change, protect human health, and ensure a livable climate for future generations, we must transition away from fossil fuels like coal to 100% renewable energy. Polls show that a majority of Pennsylvanians want action to tackle climate change and we have the tools, technology, and policy to do so; all that’s lacking right now is the political will.

How does RGGI work?

RGGI is a “cap and invest” program that caps carbon pollution from power plants (not other sources). Carbon emitters pay a fee for their pollution, designed to offset the external harms of emissions, with the money then invested in energy conservation, renewable energy, home weatherization and insulation, and other measures, including extra help for low-income people. Over the years, the cap on carbon is lowered and utilities bid at auction for the right to use the amount remaining under the cap, with emissions continuing to decrease.

Pennsylvania is the 4th largest carbon-emitting state in the country, after Texas, California, and Florida. Nationwide, transportation is the largest source of carbon pollution but here in PA, it’s power plants — a real threat to our air quality and public health. RGGI is a critical step in reducing this harmful power plant pollution, lowering climate emissions, and protecting our health.

What has other states’ experience been with RGGI?

RGGI has had a huge track record of success over the last decade in many northeastern and mid-Atlantic states, from Maryland to Maine. Virginia and New Jersey are also in the process of joining.

RGGI has proven to be one of the country’s most successful programs to reduce carbon emissions. It has prevented about 100 million tons of carbon from going into the atmosphere each year while providing over $1.4 billion in net economic benefits in participating states.

By joining RGGI, Pennsylvania could cut over 188 million tons of carbon emissions by 2030 while creating 27,000 jobs and generating $2 billion for the state’s economy.

Please explain Governor Wolf’s initiative and the current hearings

RGGI can be joined by executive action, which in October 2019 the Governor announced he planned to do. That started the regulatory process: the PA Department of Environmental Protection developed a draft that it sent to the Environmental Quality Board, which adopted it as a proposed regulation. Now we are in the period for public comments, which will be taken into account and included in the official record. We hope the process will be completed in time for PA to join its first carbon auction in January 2022.

Unfortunately, despite the majority of Pennsylvanians supporting the state joining RGGI, the majority in the PA legislature passed House Bill 2025 last session, which would prevent the PA DEP from joining this program or regulating carbon emissions at all. Gov. Wolf, for whom RGGI is a high priority, vetoed that bill. But that obstructive maneuver will likely resurface early in 2021, and it’s important for legislators to hear the public pushing against that bill and for the many good climate and clean energy bills being held up in unresponsive committees.

What is PennEnvironment doing to help advance RGGI?

PennEnvironment and allied organizations are encouraging Pennsylvanians to make their voices heard in support of this program. About 70 PennEnvironment members and volunteers joined hundreds of Pennsylvanians who testified in the now-completed hearings, with 95% of total testifiers supporting RGGI. We are also working with volunteers to submit letters to the editors of local papers and with local elected officials to submit supportive comments. Finally, we’re collecting thousands of signatures and comments to submit during the comment period (closing date: January 14).

What do the power companies say?

The coal industry is against it, as coal is the most polluting fuel. The renewable energy industry naturally favors RGGI, and so do the operators of nuclear power plants, which do not emit carbon.

What is the situation with legislators in H’burg?

The legislature is divided. Many legislators oppose RGGI because fossil fuels have had such a large role here while others are supportive because they want climate action and cleaner air.

However, RGGI should not be a partisan issue and has received bipartisan support across the region. In Maryland, the Republican governor and Democratic-majority legislature support RGGI and speak highly of the program and all of its benefits. In southeastern PA, legislators of both parties are backing it as a commonsense program that will benefit our climate, health, and economy.

What are RGGI’s implications for jobs?

RGGI would create 27,000 PA jobs in renewable energy and supporting industries and add $12 billion to the state’s economy, not only from building the infrastructure of the future but also from spending carbon auction fees for purposes like home weatherization.

The program can also help pay for retraining workers in the coal industry, which has been in decline for many years. Making and funding a plan to protect workers and train them for new jobs will help many communities that today are disadvantaged — unlike the sudden 2019 closing of the Philadelphia oil refinery, which left over a thousand workers in the lurch.

Does RGGI have any implications for environmental and social justice?

Yes: RGGI would secure cleaner air for people living near power plants. Regulations should also ensure that new polluters don’t take the place of the old ones and that plants in environmental justice communities aren’t allowed to pollute more to offset reductions elsewhere. PA’s RGGI plan should stipulate reinvesting in lower income communities and energy assistance to those in need.

How would RGGI affect household and business costs?

Coal and oil pollution obliges us all to pay hidden costs such as added health costs, climate costs, and locally lower real estate values. RGGI will reduce those costs and, as renewable energy is phased in more prominently, electricity prices should be reduced. In fact, electricity prices have actually fallen by 5.7% in RGGI states – outperforming price levels in non-RGGI states. Solar and wind energy are already competitive, even with the subsidies and indirect costs still given to other power sources, and as they expand, electricity costs will drop even further.

Is renewable energy important in the future PA economy?

Yes, renewable energy is essential to Pennsylvania’s future! PA needs to not fall behind, but rather invest in and be a leader in the renewable energy future we all need and deserve.

What can people in PA do now?

By January 14, sign the petition in support of RGGI at bit.ly/RGGIforPA. You can also urge your community leaders and elected officials to support RGGI, write letters to the editor, and influence others on social media.

The more voices we can raise in support of climate action, the more likely it is that we can see this program to the finish line.

Some good climate news, from CCL

“Three of CCL’s lobbying asks pass Congress, will become law” by Flannery Winchester at Citizens’ Climate Lobby national site, gives, even in the awful year of 2020, some opening to optimism.

The big spending bill just passed by the U.S. House and Senate and now to be signed into law includes 3 measures that CCEA member CCL has been promoting, as described in that post, with its links:

BEST Act

CCL began lobbying on the Better Energy Storage Technology (BEST) Act in June of 2019. The bill, which authorizes $300 million over five years to reduce the cost of grid-scale energy storage systems, gained 24 cosponsors following CCL’s June lobbying this year. That support was a factor in the BEST Act being included in the Clean Economy Jobs and Innovation Act, which the House passed in September. 

USE IT Act

Politico calls this the USE IT Act “a top priority of outgoing Environment and Public Works Chair John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) that would boost carbon capture and direct air capture technologies.” CCL volunteers have lobbied on this legislation since June of 2019, too, and it gained cosponsors after our lobbying pushes. 

Climate-Ready Fisheries Act

CCL volunteers also advocated for the Climate-Ready Fisheries Act in June of this year—the bill gained 10 cosponsors after our lobby days. This provision will require a report to be prepared about efforts to adapt our nation’s fisheries to the impacts of climate change

The measures had bipartisan support. Let’s hope that’s the way of the future—and rapidly— for climate legislation!

Local sustainability activism panel Dec. 11

Local sustainability activism panel: Fourth Annual Environmental Film and Forum Series at WCU sponsored by the Office of Sustainability at West Chester University and the West Chester Green Team, in memory of Graham Hudgings.

December 11, 7pm, via live internet: Local sustainability activism, featuring 5 local panelists on what campus and community groups can do to promote sustainability, outreach techniques, working successfully with non-profit and public entities, and Local Environmental Empowerment.

Register here to receive the link.

WEST CHESTER GREEN TEAM Silent Auction Nov. 25 – Dec. 5

Click HERE to view and bid on the 61 diverse and exciting items up for online auction to benefit environment and sustainability.  The West Chester Green Team, a CCEA member, is an alliance of four local environment-related citizen groups: Don’t Spray Me!Chester County Citizens for Climate Protection (4CP)Ready for 100 (i.e., 100% renewable energy), and Plastic-Free Please Action Group (PFP). Please boost these local initiatives… and enjoy holiday shopping at the same time!

PennEnvironment condemns legislation that promotes burning plastics and calls it ‘recycling’

Group calls on Gov. Wolf to veto proposal

By Clean Water & Conservation Advocate Stephanie Wein, PennEnvironment. For Immediate Release Wednesday, November 18, 2020

PHILADELPHIA– PennEnvironment called on Gov. Tom Wolf Tuesday to veto a newly passed bill that would redefine the term ‘recycling’ in a way that benefits the fossil fuel industry and threatens the health of Pennsylvanians and our environment.  Earlier in the day, the Pennsylvania State Senate passed House Bill 1808, which would promote burning plastics and turning them into crude oil and jet fuels under the guise of “recycling.” HB 1808 would also weaken pollution control standards for facilities where plastic-to-fuel processes take place, while incentivizing the production of more single-use plastic.

PennEnvironment’s Clean Water & Conservation Advocate Stephanie Wein released the following statement in response:

“Governor Wolf should stop Pennsylvania from setting a horrible precedent by misleadingly defining plastic combustion and other practices promoted by HB 1808 as ‘advanced recycling.’ Just like calling a hot dog ‘sushi’ doesn’t make it sushi, calling burning plastics ‘recycling’ doesn’t change what it is: just another way to burn fossil fuels.

This bill classifies expensive, polluting processes such as pyrolysis and gasification that convert plastics to liquid fuel products like fossil-fuel derived jet fuel or crude oil as recycling. We shouldn’t waste time and money on these types of flawed and potentially dangerous waste management approaches. Instead, we should implement safer, proven strategies such as passing policies that limit the use of single-use plastics in the first place.

We know that burning fossil fuels lead to global-warming carbon emissions. The plastics-to-fuel facilities enabled by HB 1808 will only exacerbate our climate-related problems. One project currently being proposed in Pennsylvania would emit an estimated 1.75 million tons of global warming pollution annually – the emissions equivalent of 300,000 cars on the road.

As Pennsylvania Lawmakers Push Sneaky Petrochemical Corporate Subsidies, Investing in Renewables Would Be Jobs Bonanza

from Food and Water Watch PA, 7/14/20 [Food and Water Watch is a member of CCEA]

Forthcoming analysis finds similar investment in clean energy would create substantially more employment than Shell cracker plant

Yesterday, the State Senate passed an amendment to an unrelated bill that will grant massive tax breaks to petrochemical corporations in Pennsylvania, a move that recalls legislation (HB 1100) that was vetoed by Governor Tom Wolf earlier this year.

While these corporate handouts are promoted as a powerful tool to create desperately needed jobs, forthcoming research from the national organization Food & Water Watch reveals that the subsidies awarded to energy giant Shell to build a plant in Beaver County created far fewer jobs than supporters predicted, and that a similar level investment in renewable energy projects would create far more employment opportunities.

The Food & Water Watch research determined that while the state granted Shell an astonishing $1.6 billion in tax incentives for a project that will create a total of 600 permanent jobs (a cost of $2.75 million for every long-term job), a similar level of investment in wind and solar would create 16,500 jobs, which would almost match the state’s total employment in the oil and gas industries.

In response to the Senate vote, Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter released the following statement:

“In the midst of a deadly global pandemic, Pennsylvania lawmakers are creating a secret scheme to hand hundreds of millions of dollars to petrochemical corporations in order to rescue the ailing fracking industry and create more plastic junk. Our research shows that investing in wind and solar provides far more bang for the buck. Instead of giving money to corporate polluters like Shell, lawmakers should put a halt to these absurd petrochemical giveaways, and build a clean, renewable energy industry that will create far more safe and stable jobs.”

Call on the EPA to ban toxic “forever chemicals”

Toxic chemicals off tap
From PennEnvironment: text of a petition against ongoing use of PFAS chemicals, which are now appearing in drinking water. Rep. Madeleine Dean (PA-04) has been a leader in securing the US House’s passage of the PFAS Action Act, which it is now up to the US Senate to pass for the public protection.

Dear EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler,

I urge you to halt further use of toxic PFAS chemicals unless and until any specific one is proven safe.

Across the country, the widespread use of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) has resulted in the contamination of drinking water. These PFAS chemicals are toxic to our health. A growing body of research has linked several types of PFAS to cancer, higher cholesterol levels, suppressed immune systems, low fertility, and even developmental issues in children and infants.

Please do all you can to protect drinking water from toxic chemicals.

Sign this petition at PennEnvironment