As the email below from Katie Blume of Conservation Voters of PA explains, the PA Senate just voted to prevent the state from joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a program that has also greatly reduced greenhouse gases in adjoining states (RGGI-adopting states are shown in light green in the map below) and has generated hundreds of millions of dollars for clean energy and the needed energy transition… elsewhere than PA.
Pennsylvania has contributed far more than its share of earth-heating gases and is doing far less than its share to fix the problem. For more background from Flora Cardoni of PennEnvironment, see here. A coal power plant is about to shut down in the PIttsburgh area, dumping its own workers with 30 days notice. Funds from RGGI would have retrained those workers for other jobs.
What can we do? See how your PA Senator voted on the anti-RGGI bill, SB 119, and send your opinion. As Katie’s email explains:
I have infuriating news. The state Senate passed a bill yesterday evening that would take away Pennsylvania’s power to join the carbon reduction program called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which improves air quality and invests millions of dollars back into our public health. This bill could actually prevent the Department of Environmental Protection from working to reduce carbon pollution.
We deserve better than this. The passage of SB 119 would halt the pollution controls and economic benefits of RGGI that Pennsylvania communities and workers so desperately need. The decision is beyond reckless, especially since Pennsylvania consistently ranks in the top 5 states when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions and has the most premature deaths per capita caused by air pollution of any state.
If we’re ever going to clean up our air and stave off climate change, Pennsylvania has got to change course and start implementing smart carbon reduction programs like RGGI. This cap-and-invest program will encourage companies to reduce their carbon emissions by putting a price on pollution. Those fees are expected to add $1.9 billion to the state’s economy by 2030, which would be invested back into PA communities and workers and generate a net increase of more than 27,000 jobs — many of which are sustainable, clean energy jobs. By putting a price tag on pollution, RGGI incentivizes energy producers to turn away from fossil fuels, cuts carbon, and proceeds will create investments in much needed energy efficiency programs to help reduce energy costs overall.
Having to pay to pollute isn’t popular with Big Polluters, and a misguided vote on SB 119 shows just how hard their lobbyists in Harrisburg are working to make sure that doesn’t happen. We’re holding accountable the lawmakers who put profits over the health of Pennsylvanians, and thanking the ones who were on the right side of history.
Report for Chester County Environmental Alliance, May, 2021, by Christi Marshall
I’d like to share a few encouraging statistics about the green revolution that is overtaking our waning reliance on fossil fuels.
Wind turbines currently provide over 9% of the energy in our country, and are our most prevalent form of renewable energy. I used to see the Empire State building every day out of my office window in Manhattan. So I was pleased to learn that this building, which includes so many offices that it is assigned its own ZIP Code, is now running completely on wind energy. The Empire State Realty Trust, which now owns the building, is committed to 100% wind turbine-generated energy purchased through Green Mountain Energy.
Since barely 2% of renewable energy is currently powering commercial buildings, this is an encouraging model.
One of the most prominent oil and gas mega giants, Exxon Mobil, often called the ultimate blue chip company, actually lost its place last year as one of the 30 companies in the Dow Jones industrial Average. Their purchase several years ago of a major natural gas company has been an investment disaster. They are now $60 billion in the red. And now three of its largest shareholders, all major pension funds with total assets of $850 billion, are attempting to force the replacement of four board members with individuals interested in transitioning to net zero emissions by 2050. These three pension fund managers all agree that Exxon Mobil must achieve this goal for the sake of the planet as well as the bottom line.
The well-regarded International Energy Agency aligned with the Paris Climate Accords recently made the bombshell announcement that there is now no further need for continued exploration of oil and gas reserves
Wind turbine energy now costs about $9 per 1000 kWh, compared to $23 for natural gas. Predictions indicate that the cost of wind turbine energy will decline by 50% over the next few years.
The less we rely on natural gas, the less need there will be for pipelines to transmit them under pressure through our beautiful Chester County!
(Update: the effort to replace at least 2 independent members on the Exxon Mobil Board was successful!)
Shall we be optimistic or pessimistic? It depends on what we and concerned people throughout the world do to put a lid on climate change. Heat over 90° is pretty dangerous, especially to those who must work outside; but just think, in the worst scenario below by the end of the century, of over 160 days a year of temperatures over 90°… up to and including over 105°!
Earth Day, going strong since 1970, was not enough; so, we got Earth Week and now Earth Month. Soon: Earth Year, every year!
What is available to us in Chester County this month? Please see the calendar above and click on events for details.
Locally, some events are now (at last!) in person, with distancing and masks, like the Goose Creek invasive plant removal on April 17 and the Art Stroll and Festival in West Chester on the actual Earth Day, April 22 (with also an online component featuring work of WCU students). Many of us are ready to start moving around outdoors!
Other events are virtual of local origin, like the Local Gardening and Living Landscapes panel on April 7, Why Our Pollinators Are in Trouble on April 13, the Plastic Free Chester County panel on April 21, and the Life of Rachel Carson one-woman performance on April 26.
Other events are virtual from state or national sources, allowing us to take part in oportunities that we probably could not have pre-Covid, such as the new film A River Reborn on April 8 or renowned climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe’s address “Christians, Climate, and our Culture in the U.S.” on April 22.
Furthermore, beginning April 22, the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville is hosting Two documentaries on Plastics with on-site screening and, online, a documentary about Pennsylvania native Rachel Carson including two interviews with her.
And April 30 is Arbor Day: the perfect time to plant a tree in honor of Earth!
And much more! Please peruse the calendar carefully so you don’t miss anything you’d like to attend.
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.
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: 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.
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.
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.”