Wolf orders Pa. to join multi-state climate initiative that would set caps on greenhouse gas emissions

John McDevitt
October 03, 2019 - 4:43 pm
Gov. Tom Wolf

The Office of Governor Tom Wolf via Flickr

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio/AP) — Pennsylvania, the fourth-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, is following other states in reducing its emissions.

The governor issued an executive order Thursday that would cap greenhouse gas emissions from power plants — an effort to fight climate change in a heavily populated and fossil fuel-rich state that has long been one of the nation's biggest polluters and power producers.

Gov. Tom Wolf is mandating that Pennsylvania join nine other states — Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont — in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

"The nine states that have been participating in the program for the past decade have seen their GDPs grow 31 percent faster than the rest of the country," he said. "Their electricity prices have actually fallen by 5.7 percent, while the rest of the United States has experienced price increases of 8.6 percent. And, they have experienced a drop of carbon dioxide emissions at a rate that is 90 percent faster than the rest of the country."

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Pennsylvania is the nation's No. 3 electric power state, and its energy sector is its largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

In the consortium states, owners of power plants fueled by coal, oil or natural gas with a capacity of 25 megawatts must buy a credit for every ton of carbon dioxide they emit. The earliest Pennsylvania could reasonably join and see the program take effect is 2021.

Pennsylvania would be, by far, the biggest emissions state in this consortium. It emits about 92 million tons a year, compared with the consortium's 2019 cap of 80.2 million tons.

"If we want a Pennsylvania that is habitable for our children and our grandchildren," Wolf said, "where temperatures aren't in the 90s as they were yesterday in October, and flooding doesn't destroy homes and businesses over and over again, we need to get serious right now about addressing the climate crisis."

Joining the consortium could face pushback, if not a court challenge, from the Republican-controlled Legislature, which is historically protective of Pennsylvania's influential coal and natural gas industries.

Under the cap-and-trade program, its dozens of power plants fueled by coal, oil and natural gas could be forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars annually that the state could then spend on clean energy efforts.

The DEP will draft a regulation and present it before the Environmental Quality Board for approval. A public comment period will follow.

Wolf also said his administration would need to make sure that the "transition to a cleaner energy mix does not leave workers and communities behind." 

He could not project how much Pennsylvania could reduce its carbon footprint through participation in the consortium. And while he said he did not know to what extent the price on carbon would trickle down to ratepayers, clean-energy advocates said money from the credits could bolster energy-efficiency programs and low-cost energy sources to suppress electricity rates.

"We need to get serious right now about addressing the climate crisis," he added.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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