In a historic meeting, Pennsylvania’s Environmental Quality Board (EQB) voted 14-5 in favor of accepting a rulemaking petition to create a cap-and-trade program that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state. The vote gives the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) 60 days to review the proposal and make a recommendation to the EQB about whether to adopt, reject, or modify the petition.
The petition was originally submitted in November by the Clean Air Council, a nonprofit air quality organization based in Pennsylvania. It now has over 200 co-petitioners, including municipalities, faith groups, environmental organizations, universities, and businesses. For months, advocates have been anticipating the April 16 vote that would determine whether or not the petition will move forward. They can now breathe a sigh of relief.
“This was a really important moment,” Robert Routh, a staff attorney for the Clean Air Council, told Climate XChange. “It’s a big step for Pennsylvania and there’s a real opportunity to do something truly meaningful, establish really good policy. There’s a long road ahead, but yesterday was a very good day.”
The petition calls for a cap-and-trade program that is similar to California’s, with an emissions cap that assumes a 3 percent reduction from 2016. This cap will decrease by 3 percent annually and hit net zero by 2052. Permits to pollute will be distributed to companies via quarterly auctions, and free allowances will be provided to compliance entities based on their past production. Read more about the proposed program, and its legal basis, here.
What Went Down
The Clean Air Council presented their petition to the 20-member EQB, which is comprised of 11 state agency members, such as the Secretary of Agriculture, five members elected by the Citizens Advisory Council, and four legislators.
“We were given the opportunity to make a five minute presentation about the merits and the substance of the cap-and-trade rule, and why, at the very least, this should be accepted for further study,” Routh told Climate XChange.
State agency members, including the Secretary of Environmental Protection, Secretary of Health, Secretary of Transportation, Secretary of Agriculture, etc, unanimously voted in favor of the petition, stressing the importance of taking action on climate change. Support from the executive branch was no surprise; on April 5th, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) announced he supported his administration further studying the petition.
Opposition came from three Citizens Advisory Group members affiliated with the natural gas group Marcellus Shale Coalition, and two top GOP legislators, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) and Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming). Rep. Metcalfe, the Majority Chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, stated that the program would have no measurable impact on the global climate issue and that it was an effort to circumvent the Republican-leaning General Assembly. Sen. Yaw, the Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, agreed with this notion, issuing a statement that “any revenues collected through this carbon pricing scheme would essentially impose an unconstitutional tax.”
But Rep. Vitali (D-Delaware), the Minority Chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, said the petition should be accepted, since the EQB was only being asked to study the petition, not actually go ahead and implement regulations. Sen. Yudichak (D-Luzerne), the Minority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, also voted in favor of the petition. Sen. Yudichak said he will soon be introducing a resolution requiring the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to conduct an in-depth study of how cap-and-trade could work in Pennsylvania.
What Happens Next
Now that the petition has been accepted, the Department of Environmental Protection has 60 days to return to the board with its recommendations on the petition.
“They do have the ability to request additional time and I can guarantee you they will be doing that,” Routh said. “We will certainly be pushing the agency to move quickly and making every effort to ensure they have the tools to do their job.”
“Once the DEP files its report, we have 30 days to respond if we choose to do so,” Routh said. “We have been communicating with the Government’s staff in the DEP to this point, and we have every intention of keeping this line of communication open.”
Whether or not the emissions trading program will ultimately be adopted remains an open question, but the Tuesday vote was undoubtedly a step in the right direction. A cap on emissions would do more than set a carbon pricing precedent for other states to follow — among US states, Pennsylvania is the fourth-largest carbon polluter, and regulation could potentially lead to a tremendous reduction in their emissions.
Clean Air Council officials praised Tuesday’s results. “By accepting our rulemaking petition for a carbon cap-and-trade program, EQB has taken a meaningful step forward in Pennsylvania’s plan to mitigate climate change,” said the Council’s Executive Director, Otis Minott, in a statement. “The science is clear and overwhelming: our climate is already changing, and we need to aggressively and deliberately reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts.”