RGGI is about climate change. It’s also about environmental justice – Pennsylvania Capital-Star

By Joseph Otis Minott

For generations, low-income communities and people of color have been forced to bear the brunt of climate change and an ever-expanding energy industry that has never been called on to pay its fair share. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) offers an opportunity to begin to change that. But first, Pennsylvania needs to start actively participating in RGGI.

RGGI is a proven cap-and-invest program that offers a market-driven approach to curbing emissions from the energy sector. Regulated power plants purchase allowances (or carbon credits) for the emissions they produce. Each allowance represents one short ton of carbon, and allowances decline predictably over time. Allowances are sold at quarterly auctions, and the proceeds are used to fund clean energy programs, energy efficiency initiatives, solar energy projects, and more. RGGI incentivizes energy companies to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions while at the same time paying their fair share for the pollution they do produce.

RGGI offers a chance to add funding and emphasis to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s  stated focus on environmental justice. According to the DEP: “Pennsylvanians who live in Environmental Justice communities in particular are disproportionately exposed to climate hazards, such as flooding and heatwaves. At the same time, they have limited access to tools to adapt to impacts and transition to cleaner energy to slow down climate change. As the climate continues to heat up, this vulnerability will deepen, unless action is taken.”

In reality, the relationship between the fossil fuel industry and disadvantaged communities is even more complex and interconnected. In addition to climate hazards, Environmental Justice areas are often locations for fossil fuel infrastructure from pipelines to refineries to new fossil fuel facilities. These communities often lack the organizing power and political influence to successfully protest and prevent infrastructure encroaching on their homes, schools, and businesses.

At the same time, the shifts and decline of the fossil fuel industry often play a role in areas becoming designated Environmental Justice areas. As coal plants close throughout the state, the communities that rely on the plants for jobs and revenue are increasingly at risk of meeting the qualifications for Environmental Justice areas. We’ve seen this depression occur in countless communities across the Commonwealth as fossil fuel companies overpromise the economic benefit of hazardous infrastructure, only to abandon those same towns when profits dry up.

RGGI is a crucial step in reversing a status quo that puts all the power in the hands of fossil fuel companies and further marginalizes communities already struggling. By forcing polluters to pay their fair share, RGGI creates a pathway to fund initiatives that enhance energy efficiency and accelerate the state’s transition to sustainable energy and a robust green economy. RGGI offers an important path, but there is more work to be done.

To start, conservative lawmakers need to stop needlessly obstructing Pennsylvania’s participation in RGGI. Lawsuits and proposed legislation has prevented Pennsylvania from taking part in several quarterly auctions since the state formally joined RGGI in 2022. As a result, Pennsylvania residents – including those in Environmental Justice communities – have lost out on a billion dollars in Clean Air Fund money.

If lawmakers get out of the way, the next essential step is to ensure a meaningful portion of the RGGI proceeds are directed toward environmental justice issues, including improving air and water quality in areas affected by fossil fuel infrastructure and making homes and buildings in targeted communities more energy efficient.

RGGI offers a historic and absolutely essential solution to climate change. We must ensure that it benefits those most in need.

Joseph Otis Minott is President of the Clean Air Action Fund. He writes from Philadelphia. 

Originally published at www.penncapital-star.com,by Special to the Capital-Star

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