A Realistic Climate Agenda
Rep. Greg Vitali February 4, 2021 | 8:34 AM
There are many things Pennsylvania state government should do this year to address climate change - but won’t - given the political composition of the state legislature. But a few significant things are possible.
Pennsylvania emitted about two hundred and fifteen million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2017 (the most recent data available) making it the 5th largest emitting state in the nation. As such, Pennsylvania should be doing things like increasing its Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard, expanding the energy conservation provisions of Act 129 and joining the Transportation and Climate Initiative Program . But with the State House and Senate firmly in Republican control it’s unlikely that any of these things will happen this year.
But Pennsylvania can join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), approve methane reduction regulations for the oil and gas industry, enact legislation to expand electric vehicles infrastructure and enact legislation to authorize community solar development. These measures are possible because they can be done either by Governor Wolf through executive action or have the support of interest groups beyond the environmental community such as utility companies, labor unions or farmers.
Politics is the art of the possible and these four things are possible this year.
Joining RGGI is the most important thing Pennsylvania can do this year to address climate change. RGGI is an eleven-state cap-and-trade program designed to reduce greenhouse emissions from the electric power sector (mainly from coal and gas fired power plants). Joining RGGI could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 188 million tons over the next decade according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. RGGI regulations are expected to be finalized late this year unless blocked by the General Assembly. A bill to block RGGI will be introduced soon.
Methane is the second-most prevalent greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide and Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry is a major methane emitter. Regulations to reduce methane leakage from unconventional gas well operations are on track to be approved later this year. These regulations would result in methane emissions reductions of about 75,603 tons per year according to the DEP. This is the equivalent to about 1,890,075 tons of carbon dioxide per year.
Electric Vehicle Infrastructure
Electrification of our transportation sector is necessary to address climate change. Electric vehicle infrastructure legislation overwhelmingly passed the Pennsylvania Senate last term but died in the House. The bill, which will be reintroduced soon, sets a goal of expanding statewide electrification of transportation fifty percent by 2030. It would require electric distributions companies like PECO to install vehicle charging stations and other infrastructure needed to reach this goal. The bill is expected to have the support of PECO, Exelon, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
Several bills authorizing community solar facilities were introduced last term and will be reintroduced this year. These small-scale solar facilities would deliver electricity to a local grid operated by an electric distribution company. Electric customers could enter a contract with community solar facility operators to receive electricity at a set price. These customers would receive a credit on their electric bill. This legislation is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 707 metric tons annually, according to the Coalition for Community Solar Access. Community solar has the support of agriculture and some labor interests.
Other measures to address climate change should not be dismissed but the above four have the best chance of getting done. All require advocacy. Pennsylvanians who care about the environment should let their State Representative and State Senator know how they feel.