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Virtual Public Hearings Regarding PA’s Entry into Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative Next Week; Written Comments Due in January

Pennsylvania residents will soon have an opportunity to sound off about the state’s entry into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), with virtual public hearings slated for next week.

The state Environmental Quality Board (EQB) will kick off the series of hearings on Dec. 8 and will accept written comments on the matter through Jan. 14 so GASP wanted to be sure you were armed with all the information you need to not only understand what RGGI is all about but how you can make sure your voice is heard.

“The Proposed Rulemaking deserves every Pennsylvanian’s support because it will help reduce air pollution, improve public health, and begin to address the problem of global warming brought on by CO2 emissions from sources in Pennsylvania,” GASP Senior Attorney John Baillie said.

So here’s what you need to know:

As we reported last month, EQB published proposed rulemaking that would enable Pennsylvania to join RGGI beginning on Jan. 1, 2022. For those who may not be familiar, RGGI is a cap-and-trade program that uses a two-pronged approach to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from certain electric generating units (known as EGUs) in participating states.  

The first prong reduces CO2 emissions by establishing a regional budget for such emissions from units that are subject to the program as well as a statewide budget for each of the participating states.  

Each participating state issues CO2 allowances (with each allowance representing a ton of budgeted CO2 emissions) and sells them through quarterly auctions. Electric generating units subject to the program must purchase a CO2 allowance for each ton of CO2 they will emit.  

Then, those CO2 allowances may be auctioned across state lines within the participating states.

“Basically, that means that an electric generating unit in Pennsylvania could obtain allowances issued by other states participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative,” Baillie explained. 

The second prong of the program would further reduce CO2 emissions by using the proceeds of those auctions allowances to fund renewable energy projects and energy-efficiency programs.

Currently, 11 states participate in RGGI – Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia.  

Operating electrical generating units in Pennsylvania that had a generating capacity of at least 25 megawatt equivalents at any time after Jan. 1, 2005, would be subject to the new RGGI rules.

There are currently 140  electrical generating units operated by 57 facilities in Pennsylvania that would be subject to the RGGI. That number is predicted to increase to 150 electrical generating units across  62 facilities by Jan. 1, 2022.  

Notably, Pennsylvania would reserve about 9 million CO2 allowances per year for waste coal plants in order to ensure that those plants can keep operating to remediate waste coal piles, which cause water pollution and present fire hazards throughout the Commonwealth.

In Pennsylvania, proceeds from the auction would be used to defray the program’s operating costs and would be held in the Department of Environmental Protection’s Clean Air Fund, purportedly to be used to eliminate air pollution.  

The proposed rulemaking would require that Pennsylvania’s budgeted CO2 emissions fall from about 78 million tons of CO2 in 2022 to approximately 58 million tons in 2030 – a drop of about 31 percent.

The EQB projects that during that same period, the program would reduce emissions of smog-forming oxides of nitrogen in Pennsylvania by 112,000 tons, and reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by 67,000 tons.  

“Those reductions, as well as unquantified reductions of other pollutants, would provide significant health benefits to Pennsylvanians and we hope residents will join us in pledging their support for the program during these upcoming hearings,” GASP Executive Director Rachel Filippini said. “Pennsylvania has an opportunity to take real action on reducing air pollution through this program and we need to seize it.”

She said RGGI was promising but noted it isn’t perfect – there are some issues with the proposed rulemaking:

  • Important sources of CO2 emissions outside the electric generating sector, including oil refineries, steel mills, natural gas production, and coke ovens, as well as cogeneration units located at industrial sites, will not be subject to the RGGI’s requirements. “CO2 emissions from those sources will continue to go unregulated,” Baillie said.
  • Proceeds from the auctions of CO2 allowances in Pennsylvania will be deposited into DEP’s Clean Air Fund. Although money from the Clean Air Fund must be used for the elimination of air pollution, “the full and normal range of activities” of DEP, including administrative expenses, are deemed to contribute to the elimination of air pollution under the regulations that govern the fund. “Thus, there is no guarantee that the proceeds of auctions of CO2 emissions will be used to fund energy efficiency and green energy projects,” Filippini said. “And GASP finds that troubling.”
  • The proposed rulemaking does not identify any criteria that will be used to determine which energy efficiency and green energy programs will be funded from the proceeds of the auctions of CO2 allowances.
  • It is not clear whether money from the Clean Air Fund could be disbursed to pay for energy efficiency and green energy programs administered by the Allegheny County Health Department and Philadelphia Air Management Services, which administer the air pollution laws in Allegheny County and Philadelphia, respectively. 

The EQB is accepting written comments on the Proposed Rulemaking through Jan. 14, 2021. You can obtain a copy of the proposed rulemaking from DEP’s eComment webpage (where it is listed as “Proposed Rulemaking:  CO2 Budget Trading Program (#7-559)), and also submit comments there. Information about submitting comments is available in the Proposed Rulemaking, at 50 Pa. Bulletin 6212, 6231.

The EQB will also hold virtual public hearings on the proposed rulemaking on the following dates and times: 

  • Dec. 8 at 9 a.m.—12 p.m. and 1 p.m.—4 p.m.
  • Dec. 9 at 1 p.m.—4 p.m., and 6 p.m.—9 p.m.
  • Dec. 10 at 1 p.m.—4 p.m., and 6 p.m.—9 p.m.
  • Dec. 11 at 9 a.m.—12 p.m., and 1 p.m.—4 p.m.
  • Dec. 14 at 1 p.m.—4 p.m., and 6 p.m.—9 p.m.

To present testimony at a hearing, you must sign up at least 24 hours in advance by contacting Jennifer Swan at (717) 783-8727 or RA-EPEQB@pa.gov.

Editor’s Note: GASP is currently crafting written comments and will post those as soon as they are submitted. Check back – we will provide sample language regarding RGGI for residents to use to submit their own comments.

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