Keep RGGI on Track

Climate change is the most serious long-term threat to this planet, and Pennsylvania is a significant greenhouse gas producer. The most important thing Pennsylvania can do right now to combat climate change is to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. RGGI is a 10-state cap-and-trade program designed to reduce greenhouse emissions from the electric power sector. Legislative efforts threaten Pennsylvania’s attempt to join RGGI and these efforts must be resisted. 

A recent report from the World Meteorological Organization confirms that, “climate change continued its relentless march in 2020, which is on track to be one of the three warmest years on record.” In addition, the report “shows how high-impact events including extreme heat, wildfires and floods, as well as the record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season, affected millions of people.”

Pennsylvania is the fifth-largest carbon dioxide emitting U.S. state and about 30% of Pennsylvania’s total greenhouse gas emissions come from its electric power sector -- mainly coal and gas-fired power plants. In October of 2019, Gov. Tom Wolf attempted to address these emissions by directing the development of regulations for Pennsylvania to join RGGI.

RGGI was established in 2009 and currently there are 10 participating Mid-Atlantic and New England states. RGGI is described as a cap-and-trade program because a “cap” is put on a state’s overall power sector carbon dioxide emissions. This cap shrinks over time allowing less and less emissions. Electric power producers must purchase carbon emission allowances at RGGI’s quarterly auctions or elsewhere. These allowances can be freely “traded” on the open market. Participating states invest the proceeds from these auctions in energy efficiency and clean energy.

The proposed Pennsylvania regulations would set its carbon cap at 78 million tons in 2022 (roughly its current amount of emissions). This cap would shrink by about 3% each year until 2030, reducing Pennsylvania carbon emissions by about 31% between now and then.

These regulations are currently under consideration by Pennsylvania’s Environmental Quality Board. The EQB is accepting public comment on them until Jan. 14. The goal is for the EQB to approve these regulations by the fall of 2021 and for Pennsylvania to participate in RGGI starting in 2022.

In addition to addressing climate change, joining RGGI will also provide economic benefits to Pennsylvania. In fact, these benefits are already being felt. Because of Gov. Wolf’s decision to join RGGI, Energy Harbor Nuclear Corp. rescinded its decision to deactivate its two Beaver Valley nuclear units, saving 1000 jobs. Additionally, independent experts at Analysis Group, a large economic consulting firm, have shown that between 2009 and 2017, RGGI created 45,000 job-years of work. 

Unfortunately, RGGI is opposed by powerful interest groups in Harrisburg, including the Pa. Coal Alliance and the AFL-CIO. A bill to block Pennsylvania’s entrance into RGGI (HB 2025) passed both the state House and state Senate by substantial margins in the legislative term that just ended. Happily, Gov. Wolf vetoed this bill. 

Similar legislation is anticipated in the upcoming term, which Wolf is again expected to veto. The real battle for RGGI will be the veto override vote. To keep RGGI on track, it will be necessary to prevent both legislative chambers from getting the two-thirds vote needed to override the governor’s veto. The composition of the incoming legislature suggests this would be a close vote.

It’s important for Pennsylvanians who care about climate change to let their state representative and state senator know how they feel about RGGI and hold them accountable for how they vote.

State Representative Greg Vitali (D., Delaware, Montgomery) represents the 166th Legislative District. E-mail: