RGGI opponents, proponents make their cases

(Indiana Gazette) – As the Wolf administration continues the process of bringing Pennsylvania into the Northeast Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, opponents — including several from Armstrong, Indiana and nearby counties — made their case Wednesday with the Pittsburgh skyline behind them.

“Jobs that pay, schools that teach, government that works, that’s what Tom Wolf promised us seven years ago,” said state Sen. Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, as he recalled the governor’s campaign platform, which remains a motto on his website.

“It is working to take away your jobs that pay, and it is working to deprive the schools that teach my kids of important tax revenue from local power plants,” Pittman went on, during a midday Wednesday rally sponsored by the Power PA Jobs Alliance, which is made up of labor unions, businesses and business organizations, and such entities as Homer City Holdings and the Indiana County Chamber of Commerce.

Shawn Steffee, an Indiana resident as well as executive board trustee and business agent for Boilermakers Local Lodge 154, applauded Pittman as “a hometown senator and a friend.” He was master of ceremonies for Wednesday’s Pittsburgh event.

“RGGI is nothing more than the direct assassination of blue-collar jobs in Pennsylvania, in the fossil fuel industry,” said Aric L. Baker, executive board chairman, Southwest District chairman and senior business representative for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 459 in Johnstown.

Baker also is an electrical and instrumentation technician at Keystone Generating Station in Plumcreek Township, Armstrong County, west of Shelocta, Indiana County. He also said he was speaking for plant workers in Homer City, Conemaugh, Shawville and Seward who are members of Local 459.

Meanwhile, the wheels keep turning toward Pennsylvania’s entry into RGGI. In Harrisburg Wednesday, the Citizens Advisory Council voted 4-3 and the Small Business Compliance Advisory Committee voted 8-5 with one abstention and two members who left early, to recommend moving forward to DEP’s Environmental Quality Board a final version of the Wolf administration’s CO2 Budget Trading Program that would initiate state participation in RGGI.

Earlier this week, the Air Quality Technical Advisory Committee voted 10-8 with one abstention, a flip of one vote from a previous 9-9 AQTAC vote on RGGI.

“Under the plan, companies operating polluting power plants must purchase carbon dioxide allowances equal to the amount of pollution they emit,” the Clean Power PA Coalition said. “The revenue from the purchase of these allowances, which is expected to be as high as half a billion dollars for Pennsylvania in its first year alone, can be made available for investments in clean energy, in disproportionately impacted communities, and in other uses to create Pennsylvania jobs and further improve air quality.”

The coalition reiterated earlier projections from the DEP, that from 2022 to 2030 RGGI would increase the Gross State Product by nearly $2 billion and create more than 27,000 jobs in Pennsylvania.

“The seal of approval from these advisory committees build on the overwhelming support from Pennsylvanians expressed during a robust and accessible public hearing and comment process that was completed early this year,” said the Clean Power PA Coalition, a group of clean energy, business, faith, and community leaders committed to protecting Pennsylvania’s environment and powering its economy through clean energy.

“We look forward to seeing the EQB take up the RGGI rule for final approval this summer,” the Clean Power PA Coalition concluded.

Back on the West End Overlook with Pittsburgh’s Golden Triangle in the background, state Rep. Jim Struzzi, R-Indiana, touted figures from Industrial Energy Consumers of Pennsylvania, a trade organization of large, energy-intensive firms with one or more facilities in the Keystone State.

Quoting IECPA, Struzzi said,”from 2022 through 2030, we will lose $8 billion in revenue,” while electricity costs on average will rise by $250 million per year.

“It is not just us, it is all across the commonwealth,” Struzzi said. “What will it mean for us? Less teachers, less educational opportunities.”

And for what, Pittman wondered: “We have reduced carbon emissions, not just in this commonwealth but in this entire nation,” with coal and gas and not “with solar panels, not with windmills.”

State Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Greene County, an ally of Struzzi and Pittman in efforts to get the General Assembly involved in Pennsylvania’s RGGI process, said Wolf “has a million-dollar lottery ticket in his hands, and he’s giving it away to these other states,” including Ohio and West Virginia.

Commenting on coal trains rolling through down below as the rally continued, Snyder said, “if RGGI goes forward, those trains are going to come to a screeching halt, but they’re still going to continue going to Ohio and West Virginia.”

She concluded, “when it comes to energy in this commonwealth, we have it all, we want it all, we need it all, and, governor, we intend to keep it all.”

State Sen. Kim Ward, D-Hempfield Township, said she has implored Gov. Wolf “to get out of Philadelphia” and come to Washington and Greene and Allegheny counties.

Commenting on Tuesday’s referendum that approved four state constitutional amendments, two of which deal with the governor’s power to issue emergency proclamations, Ward said, “the people of Pennsylvania spoke … we want a balance of power.”