Pa. to move for­ward on plant emis­sion caps

The Morning Call - - LOCAL NEWS -

Penn­syl­va­nia Gov. Tom Wolf took a step to­ward cap­ping green­house gas emis­sions from power plants Thurs­day, part of 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.

Wolf, a Demo­crat, or­dered his ad­min­is­tra­tion to start work­ing on reg­u­la­tions to bring Penn­syl­va­nia into a nine-state con­sor­tium of North­east­ern and midAt­lantic states that sets a price and de­clin­ing lim­its on car­bon diox­ide emis­sions from power plants.

If Wolf is suc­cess­ful, Penn­syl­va­nia would be­come the first ma­jor fos­sil fuel state to adopt a car­bon pric­ing pol­icy. For now, just the nine-state Re­gional Green­house Gas Ini­tia­tive and Cal­i­for­nia im­pose a price on car­bon emis­sions, ac­cord­ing to the Vir­ginia-based Cen­ter for Cli­mate and En­ergy So­lu­tions.

“If we want a Penn­syl­va­nia that is hab­it­able for our chil­dren and our grand­chil­dren, 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,” Wolf told a news con­fer­ence Thurs­day in his Capi­tol of­fices.

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

And while Wolf’s move was em­braced by con­sor­tium states, re­new­able en­ergy ad­vo­cates and nu­clear power plant own­ers, some see it as lack­ing with­out lim­its be­yond the power sec­tor, like Cal­i­for­nia’s pro­gram, or on meth­ane emis­sions.

Penn­syl­va­nia is the na­tion’s fourth-big­gest emit­ter of car­bon diox­ide and the third-big­gest elec­tric power state, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment fig­ures. At al­most 40%, Penn­syl­va­nia’s en­ergy sec­tor is its largest emit­ter of green­house gases. Un­der the cap-and-trade pro­gram, its dozens of power plants fu­eled by coal, oil and nat­u­ral gas could be forced to buy hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in cred­its an­nu­ally that the state could then spend on clean en­ergy ef­forts.

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

In con­sor­tium states, own­ers of fos­sil-fuel power plants with a ca­pac­ity of 25 megawatts or more must buy a credit for ev­ery ton of car­bon diox­ide they emit.

That gives fos­sil fuel plants an in­cen­tive to lower their emis­sions, said Jack­son Mor­ris, a cli­mate and clean en­ergy spe­cial­ist for the New York-based Nat­u­ral Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil.

Mean­while, it makes none­mit­ting plants — such as nu­clear plants, wind tur­bines and so­lar in­stal­la­tions — more cost com­pet­i­tive in power mar­kets, Mor­ris said.

The ear­li­est Penn­syl­va­nia could rea­son­ably join and see the pro­gram take ef­fect is 2021.

Wolf ’s aides have ap­proached top Repub­li­can law­mak­ers in re­cent months about pass­ing leg­is­la­tion to au­tho­rize the move, with­out suc­cess.

Still, the gov­er­nor’s ad­min­is­tra­tion main­tains that it can write reg­u­la­tions for the ca­pand-trade pro­gram un­der its ex­ist­ing au­thor­ity to reg­u­late air pol­lu­tion, although Wolf ac­knowl­edged the process would even­tu­ally need “buy-in” from law­mak­ers.

Wolf also said his ad­min­is­tra­tion would need to en­sure that the “tran­si­tion to a cleaner en­ergy mix does not leave work­ers and com­mu­ni­ties be­hind.”

He said 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.

Re­ac­tion from Repub­li­can law­mak­ers and the Penn­syl­va­nia Cham­ber of Business and In­dus­try was mixed Thurs­day, with vows to pro­tect the state’s home­grown in­dus­tries and ratepay­ers, and an in­sis­tence that Wolf’s reg­u­la­tions re­flect their views.

“Cli­mate change is real, and so is the need to have the business com­mu­nity at the ta­ble to dis­cuss so­lu­tions and con­sider the trade­offs,” the cham­ber’s CEO, Gene Barr, said in a state­ment.

Some pointed to fed­eral data show­ing Penn­syl­va­nia’s car­bon diox­ide emis­sions al­ready shrink­ing more than 20% be­tween 2005 and 2016, driven by a shift from coal to nat­u­ral gas as a source for elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion.

House Repub­li­can lead­ers struck an op­po­si­tional tone, say­ing they strongly dis­agree with Wolf’s “go-it-alone” ap­proach and warned that Wolf’s ad­min­is­tra­tion doesn’t have the au­thor­ity to “bind” Penn­syl­va­nia into multi-state agree­ments with­out ap­proval from law­mak­ers.

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