Tuesday, September 15, 2020

EQB Votes 13 To 6 To Approve Proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Regulations Covering Power Plants For Public Review

On September 15, the Environmental Quality Board voted 13 to 6 to approve the proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction for Power Plants consistent with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative for public comment and review by the General Assembly and the Independent Regulatory Review Commission. 
“As the numerous hurricanes that have hit the Gulf Coast and devastating wildfires in the west have shown, climate change is not going to wait. When I signed the executive order last year it was because I knew it was time to tackle this problem, and RGGI is part of that solution,” said Gov. Tom Wolf.
“This is an important step for Pennsylvania’s efforts to combat climate change, which is already having and will continue to have a dramatic effect on Pennsylvania,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “This is incredibly important and we are looking forward to hearing from the people of Pennsylvania about this effort.”
The vote came after nearly four hours of discussion and questions and after seven different motions to Table and make other changes to the proposal and supporting documents were defeated by similar votes.  The motions included--
-- Motion by Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), Majority Chair, House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, to Table the regulation until in-person public hearings can be held (vote 5 to 14);
-- Motion by Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), Majority Chair, Senate Environmental Resource and Energy Committee, to extend the public comment period from 60 to 180 days and change the proposed five virtual hearings to in-person hearings (vote 6 to 13);
-- Motion by Sen. Yaw to extend the comment period to 120 days with five in-person hearings (vote 6 to 13);
-- Motion by Rep. Metcalfe to Table the regulations until DEP can provide letters of approval of the proposal from the Air Quality Technical Advisory Committee, Citizens Advisory Council and the Small Business Compliance Advisory Committee (vote 6 to 13);
-- Motion by Rep. Metcalfe to Table the regulations until DEP provides a detailed schedule for in-person hearings on the proposal (vote 6 to 13); and
-- Motion by Sen. Yaw to make the minutes of the meetings of the Air Quality Technical Advisory Committee, Citizens Advisory Council and the Small Business Compliance Advisory Committee when they considered the proposed regulation part of the EQB meeting  (vote 7 to 12); and
-- Motion by John St. Clair, DEP Citizens Advisory Council, to have one of the meetings be held in-person in Indiana County [where there are several coal-fired power plants] (vote 6 to 13).  
After the vote on this motion, Jessica Shirley, DEP Policy Director, told the Board that she gives her commitment to hold an in-person hearing in Indiana County, if it is at all possible [given COVID restrictions].  John St. Clair said he appreciated the commitment and offered to help to make the arrangements.
Mark Caskey, a member of DEP Citizens Advisory Council commented, “You leftist Green New Dealers can’t even give Indiana County coal miners and utility workers a f***ing hearing in their own county.”
Another F-bomb could be heard earlier when someone did not have their mic muted during the virtual meeting.
Caskey is an appointee of House Republicans on the CAC and represents the Council on the Environmental Quality Board.
Those voting for these motions and voting no on the final motion approving the regulation for public comment were Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming); Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler); and four members of DEP’s Citizens Advisory Council-- Mark Caskey, Duane Mowery, John St.Clair, and Jim Welty.
Legislative opponents of the proposed carbon pollution reduction program made several of the same points they raised during hearings and information sessions on the proposal over the last few months.
Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), Majority Chair, House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, questioned the statutory authority for adopting the regulation.  
DEP’s Counsel noted the state Air Pollution Control Act gives DEP to regulate pollutants and adding  Carbon dioxide is a pollutant regulated under the federal Clean Air Act and by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
He also objected to having virtual hearings versus in-person hearings where the public can “look people in the eye” that are proposing these changes.  Given the federal court ruling Monday declaring some of Gov. Wolf’s COVID-related orders unconstitutional, he said he hopes that changes.
Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), Majority Chair, Senate Environmental Resource and Energy Committee, said the climate is changing and has been changing for thousands of years.  For example, he said, the Finger Lakes in New York were formed after the withdrawal of glaciers.
He also said the proposal addresses only a small part of the energy sector and does not address other energy sources like solar and nuclear that also cause pollution.
Sen. Yaw noted China is planning to construct hundreds of coal-fired power plants and he does not understand how closing the remaining coal-fired power plants in Pennsylvania will help climate change.
Legislative supporters of the proposal also made similar comments before.
Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware), Minority Chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, said climate change is real and is having negative impacts on Pennsylvania today and it needs to be taken seriously.
He noted the vote by the EQB starts a public participation process that will involve the General Assembly, the public and many stakeholders.
Sen. Steven Santarsiero (D-Bucks), Minority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, said the proposed carbon pollution reduction program would give the state the resources to help communities impacted by the closure of coal-fired power plants that will close with or without the proposal.
He said the Senate and House have not been interested in helping these impacted communities when dozens of coal-fired power plants closed in the past and it’s time the General Assembly has a serious conversation about this issue.
Sen. Santarsiero also said, in response to Sen. Yaw’s comment about China, that if the United States had a different kind of national leadership, we could put pressure on China to make changes, but that does not excuse our obligation to do our share on climate change.
As part of its presentation to the Board on the proposal, DEP said it will have a separate development process with its own public participation process for how to invest the estimated $300 million annual proceeds from the carbon pollution reduction program.
DEP’s detailed presentation on the proposal will be posted on the Board’s webpage.
DEP is proposing a 60-day public comment period and five virtual public hearings.  
In addition to the general public comment period, the General Assembly, and the environmental committees in particular, and the Independent Regulatory Review Committee have the opportunity to review and comment on the proposal under the Regulatory Review Act.
The handouts for the EQB on this proposal included--
-- Preamble (PDF)
-- Annex A (PDF)
For more information and available handouts, visit the Environmental Quality Board webpage.  Questions should be directed to  Jessica Shirley, DEP Policy Director, 717-772-5643 or jesshirley@pa.gov.
John Walliser, Senior vice President for Legal and Governmental Affairs at the  PA Environmental Council, released this statement about the EQB vote-- "Yesterday the Environmental Quality Board voted to advance a proposed rulemaking for Pennsylvania to link with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) to public comment. 
“After initial review by the state Attorney General, the public will be afforded the opportunity – through public hearings and submission of written comment – to weigh in.
“PEC supported this outcome. Not only because we believe carbon pricing is one of the most sensible steps to take in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but also because it represents a tangible step forward – even if procedural at present – and one that is long overdue.
“Despite acknowledgment, often tacit, that climate change presents a very real and immediate threat to Pennsylvania, there has been no action taken by the General Assembly to address it. In 2008 the legislature passed a law requiring recurring climate impact assessments and policy recommendations be developed, and time and time again the calls generated through those efforts have gone unheeded.
“Many hearings have happened, and we’ve been thankful to have had the chance to participate in several of them, but we are no further along than we were at the start of this legislative session in 2019. Or the session before. Or the session before that. And so on.
“The consequences are far ranging. Not only with what we can and should do to reduce emissions, but also how we can best position our communities and economy in the ongoing energy transformation – one that will potentially leave Pennsylvania behind. Like climate change, it’s already happening.
“Without question, linking to RGGI is only one of many policy actions needed to point Pennsylvania toward a ‘net zero’ energy future. But what it does is start the commitment. It also provides the means through market proceeds to kickstart essential emission reduction technologies like carbon capture, attract further business investment, deploy renewable energy, expand energy efficiency and consumer programs, and help communities and workers.
“All things we should be doing more than just talking about.
“Yesterday’s vote can be marked as a step toward securing a more promising energy future, one beyond a status quo predominated by limitations – in other words, greater attentiveness on what we “can’t” do. If we are to tackle climate change, everything should be on the table, and action must be taken. The options and opportunities are there; the days of idleness are not.
“We commend the Governor for moving the rulemaking proposal forward, and call on the General Assembly to bolster this effort by expanding the programs and incentives supported by RGGI participation. 
“There’s more work to be done of course – a Clean Energy Standard, reduction of emissions in transportation and commerce, grid modernization, et cetera – but let’s not lose the moment to build on the steps taken yesterday. Let’s move forward.”
Joseph Otis Minott, Esq., Executive Director and Chief Counsel of Clean Air Council, issued this statement on the EQB action:  “We congratulate Governor Wolf and his administration for advancing this critical policy to cut carbon pollution forward for public comment.  
“Let there be no doubt, this EQB vote represents a major milestone in Pennsylvania’s efforts to combat climate change.  
“Pennsylvania participation in RGGI will yield significant results across the board: 188 million tons of carbon pollution reduced by 2030; billions of dollars in public health benefits; and over $2 billion to reinvest in Pennsylvania businesses and communities.  
“The vast majority of Pennsylvanians support clean energy and policies to combat the climate crisis.  So, after nearly a year of unprecedented public outreach and stakeholder engagement by the Department of Environmental Protection, we look forward to even more robust public participation and feedback during the comment period.”
Rob Altenburg, Director of the PennFuture Energy Center, had this to say, "We thank the members of the Environmental Quality Board for today’s vote advancing the proposed cap-and-invest rule to cut carbon pollution in Pennsylvania. 
"While the DEP has already engaged in robust dialogue and engagement in developing the proposal, this vote allows the public comment period to formally begin. A majority of Pennsylvanians support stronger action to fight climate change and, with this action, they will have a chance for their voice to be heard. 
"We are thankful that this rulemaking process is moving forward, and we eagerly anticipate future opportunities for public comment and input in the weeks and months ahead.”
Mandy Warner, Director of Climate and Clean Air Policy, Environmental Defense Fund, offered this comment-- “We thank the Environmental Quality Board for listening to the majority of Pennsylvanians demanding a cleaner and healthier future for their families and communities. 
"Gov. Wolf is making that future possible by launching a cost-effective and flexible program like RGGI that can clean up our air while growing a strong, clean economy in Pennsylvania. 
"We look forward to a robust public comment period so that Pennsylvanians themselves, from across the state, can finally and fully weigh in on the benefits of the rule.”
Patrice Tomcik, Project Manager for State Campaigns, Moms Clean Air Force, issued the following statement: “Moms across the Commonwealth are thankful to the Environmental Quality Board for listening to them and advancing Governor Wolf’s rule to protect children’s health and the climate from the power sector’s dirty air pollution. 
"Reductions in carbon and the associated harmful air pollution from the power sector can improve public health by reducing asthma attacks, heart disease, respiratory disease, diabetes, cancer, and premature death. 
"Moms look forward to participating in a robust public comment period to help ensure that carbon pollution protections in the commonwealth are among the most comprehensive and protective of our children’s health and the climate.”
On October 3, Gov. Wolf issued an executive order directing DEP, under its existing statutory authority, to prepare a proposed regulation establishing a Carbon Pollution Reduction Program for power plants compatible with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
That announcement kicked off a public discussion of setting up a program in the Senate and House, with DEP advisory committees and with the public generally.
There have been multiple hearings and information meetings in the Senate and House already on DEP’s proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Program, plus individual discussions with legislators on the issue, starting last October before DEP even had a formal proposal.
On November 19, Senate and House Republicans announced legislation to take away DEP’s authority to adopt any greenhouse gas reduction program like RGGI or the Regional Transportation Climate Initiative addressing carbon emission reductions from vehicle fuels.
No legislation was introduced by Republicans to address how the proceeds from a Carbon Pollution Reduction Program would be used to support communities and workers affected by the transition happening now to a cleaner energy economy.
On January 30 DEP released draft regulations establishing a cap-and-invest Carbon Pollution Reduction Program capable with RGGI for discussion with stakeholders, advisory committees and the public and during individual meetings with legislators and stakeholders.
Three DEP advisory committees considered DEP’s proposal-- two voted against forwarding the proposal to the Environmental Quality Board for consideration and the third ended in a tie vote.
On April 21, 18 Senate Republicans wrote to Gov. Wolf asking him to withdraw his executive order requiring DEP to develop a Carbon Pollution Reduction Program.  On May 5, House Republican members did a similar letter.
Gov.  Wolf declined to withdraw the executive order and urged Republicans to help develop a plan that will benefit all Pennsylvanians.  Read more here.
On July 3, House Republicans, and a few Democrats,  passed House Bill 2025 taking away DEP’s authority to enact carbon pollution reduction programs by a vote of 130 to 71 and moved the bill to the Senate.
On July 30, Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, Jr. (D-Allegheny) introduced Senate Bill 15 which, consistent with existing statutory authority, provides for the adoption of a “Cap and Invest” program to reduce carbon pollution from power plants and for the use of proceeds from the program to protect communities and workers already adversely affected by the changing energy economy, provide low-income assistance with energy bills and promotes clean energy and energy efficiency. Read more here.
On September 9, a companion bill-- House Bill 2856-- was introduced by Rep. Carolyn Comitta (D-Chester) in the House.
On September 9, Senate Republicans, and a few Democrats, passed House Bill 2025 by a vote of 33 to 17 and the bill is now on its way to Gov. Wolf for his action.
Gov. Wolf has said he will veto the bill.  Neither the Senate nor House passed House Bill 2025 by a veto-proof margin.
Visit DEP’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative webpage to learn more about the proposal.
Related Articles - Carbon Pollution Reduction:
[Posted: Sept. 15, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

No comments :

Post a Comment

Subscribe To Receive Updates:

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner