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Critical Budget Issue: How Will The General Assembly Help Communities, Workers Transition To Clean Energy?

The General Assembly has yet to answer the question of how to help communities and workers caught in the market-driven transition from fossil fuels to clean energy.

Over the last decade 19 coal-fired power plants shutdown as a result of competition from natural gas, yet the communities and workers were left on their own to deal with the consequences.

The people that run the General Assembly have not offered any help to these communities and workers, but one potential solution is the final regulation putting in place a Carbon Pollution Reduction Program covering power plants consistent with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative that are now inching toward final publication.

The auction of credits under the program is expected to generate an estimated $300 million annually to be invested in energy-related programs.

In his budget address in 2021, Gov. Wolf proposed to create an Energy Communities Trust Fund funded by the RGGI auction proceeds to provide direct support to dislocated workers and communities experiencing impacts from the closure of existing power plants.  [Read more here.]

But, the proposal went nowhere due to opposition to the Carbon Pollution Reduction Program from the people that presently run the General Assembly.

Legislative Proposals

In July of last year, Sen. Carolyn Comitta (D-Chester), Minority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, introduced Senate Bill 15 to implement the Energy Communities Trust Fund concept.

A companion bill was introduced in the House-- House Bill 1565 (Herrin-D-Chester).

“A climate crisis is happening before our eyes. It is caused by human activity and carbon emissions.  Every day, its impacts grow more severe. Every day, the need to act quickly and effectively grows more urgent,” said Sen. Comitta.

“According to Pennsylvania’s recently released 2021 Climate Impacts Assessment, average annual temperatures in the commonwealth will rise by 5.9°F by the middle of the century, with significant implications for public health, environmental justice and equity, our agriculture, recreation, and tourism industries, and the infrastructure we all depend on,” Sen. Comitta explained.

“Meanwhile, over the past decade, more than a dozen coal-fired power plants have closed in Pennsylvania, due to the shifting economics of energy, and a rapid movement to less expensive natural gas generation,” said Sen. Comitta. “That shift has left communities across the state grappling with lost tax revenue and unemployment, and limited resources to promote new economic development or provide workforce training and support.”

She said to address these challenges, she is inviting her Senate colleagues to co-sponsor legislation to invest the proceeds from the proposed Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) program.

“This legislation makes targeted investments to support environmental justice communities, workers affected by energy transition, and Pennsylvania’s growing clean energy and commercial and industrial sectors,” said Sen. Comitta.

The legislation will establish several funds to disburse the estimated $300 million or more in annual revenue generated through future RGGI auctions--

-- 37.5 percent to the Energy Communities Trust Fund;

-- 12.5 percent  to the Environmental Justice Communities Trust Fund;

-- 46 percent to the Clean Air Fund divided as follows--

       -- 56 percent to the Greenhouse Gas Abatement, Energy Efficiency, and Clean and Renewable Energy Investments Account

       -- 44 percent to the Commercial and Industrial Energy Efficiency Account;

      -- 4 percent for administration of the program.

The Energy Communities Trust Fund will provide direct support to dislocated workers and communities experiencing impacts from the closure of existing power plants and the loss of jobs and investment.

A trust fund board made up of representatives from the executive branch, General Assembly, organized labor, and the state workforce development board.

The Environmental Justice Trust Fund will make investments in Environmental Justice communities across the commonwealth that are disproportionately at risk from climate impacts.

The trust fund board will similarly be composed of representatives from the executive branch and legislature, as well as nominees made by DEP’s Environmental Justice Advisory Board.

Funding from the Greenhouse Gas Abatement, Energy Efficiency, Clean and Renewable Energy Investments Account will support investments in carbon capture utilization and storage, abandoned oil and gas well plugging, energy efficiency, transportation, climate-smart farming practices, forest stewardship, and clean and renewable energy investments, including biomass, geothermal, hydropower, energy storage, and solar and wind technologies, all of which will help drive in-state investment and job creation.

Finally, revenue will be dedicated to employers in Pennsylvania’s industrial and commercial sector to help reduce their greenhouse gas emissions through investments in process electrification, fuel switching, combined heat and power, demand response and reduction, energy efficiency, and carbon capture utilization and storage.

"By making these targeted investments, we can both address the existential threat of climate change while also ensuring that all Pennsylvanians – from communities that form the backbone of our traditional energy economy to those currently bearing the brunt of health and safety risks associated with pollution and climate change – aren’t left behind in the transition,” said Sen. Comitta.

“Climate change is here. The science is clear. The economic realities are clear. The risks of inaction are dire.”

Senate Bill 15 and House Bill 1565 remain in Committee.  Neither committee has held hearings on the bills.

Click Here for a copy of the co-sponsor memo.

For more information on RGGI, visit DEP’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative webpage.

Meanwhile communities and workers caught in the market-driven transition from fossil fuels to clean energy still wait for help.

Related Articles:

-- AP: DEP Files Lawsuit Against Reference Bureau To Publish Final RGGI Carbon Pollution Reduction Regulations; PA Could Lose Air Pollution Reductions, $283 Million

-- Post-Gazette Editorial: Pittsburgh To Host The World On How To Transition Away From Fossil Fuels

-- Evangelical Environmental Network: It’s Well Past Time For PA To Transition To A Clean Energy Economy

-- Sen. Comitta Calls For Hearings On The Failure Of Pennsylvania To Invest In Clean Energy Infrastructure

-- New Poll: 65% Of PA Voters Want To Help Communities Affected By Transition To Clean Energy; 59% Would Vote For Candidates Supporting Reductions In Carbon Emissions

-- U.S. Dept. Of Energy Announces $109 Million To Support Jobs, Economic Growth In Coal & Power Plant Communities

-- Sen. Casey, Colleagues Introduce Bill To Empower Fossil Fuel Workers To Train, Find Jobs In Changing Energy Industry

-- 4 State Coalition Unveils Blueprint To 'Reimagine Appalachia' Economy For Workers, Communities, Environment

[Posted: February 9, 2022]


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