Pennsylvania Opens Public Comment Process on Controversial Carbon-Cutting Plan
By Laura Legere
November 8, 2020 - The public comment period to weigh in on Gov. Tom Wolf’s carbon-cutting plan for power plants will be open this weekend through Jan. 14, Pennsylvania environmental regulators announced Friday.
There will be 10 three-hour virtual public hearings in morning, afternoon and evening sessions between Dec. 8 and 14. There will be no in-person hearings, as some opponents of the rule had wanted, to avoid large gatherings that could spread COVID-19.
The proposal is meant to curb greenhouse gas emissions from coal- and natural gas-fired power plants by ratcheting down total emissions across the sector through 2030 and making power plants pay for each ton of carbon dioxide they emit.
The rules create a framework for Pennsylvania to join other states in a shared carbon cap and market in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative beginning in 2022.
Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection estimates power plant owners will pay $2.3 billion between 2022 and 2030 for emissions allowances. Those funds will be invested in state programs meant to reduce air pollution, like energy efficiency retrofits, electric car infrastructure and renewable energy projects.
DEP expects the program will keep 188 million short tons of CO2 from being emitted in Pennsylvania over the next decade and will have a health benefit worth $6.3 billion through 2030 by reducing respiratory illnesses caused by other air pollutants that will also decline.
The proposal is a key part of the Wolf administration’s plan to address the causes and impacts of climate change, which “have had and will continue to have a dramatic effect on Pennsylvania communities and economies,” DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said.
The plan is divisive because it is expected to hasten the closure of Pennsylvania’s remaining coal-fired power plants and make its natural gas-fired plants marginally less competitive with fossil fuel plants in neighboring states, like Ohio and West Virginia, that do not put a price on carbon emissions. It is expected to buttress Pennsylvania’s zero-emitting power sources, such as nuclear, solar and wind.
In the short term, DEP expects the plan to raise residential electricity prices by $1.46 to $2.05 per month before saving consumers money on their electricity bills by the end of the decade.
Mr. Wolf vetoed a bill in September that would have blocked environmental regulators from taking any action to limit carbon dioxide emissions without legislative approval. It was supported by the Republican-led Legislature as well as more than a dozen Democrats from Western Pennsylvania.
Comments can be submitted online at www.ahs.dep.pa.gov/eComment. To reserve a time to testify at a hearing, call 717-783-8727 or email RA-EPEQB@pa.gov.