Governor Wolf and Pennsylvania deserve credit for developing a thorough and thoughtful process to engage the Commonwealth's citizens in the Clean Power Plan, the EPA's historic initiative to cut carbon emissions from the nation's largest source of greenhouse gas pollution--our existing power plants.
On September 3, one month after the EPA released the final CPP and a week after the DEP updated its Climate Impacts Assessment Report, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection announced that starting on September 15 in Harrisburg, it will hold an impressive 14 "listening sessions" in big cities and rural areas across the state - from places that are strongholds of clean energy development to places where coal is mined and natural gas is drilled. Click here for the full schedule of the DEP's sessions. The DEP will also accept written comments until November 12.
The reason for this public process? Under federal law, Pennsylvania has until September 6, 2016 to submit a state plan to the EPA that outlines how the state will meet its carbon emission reduction goals under the CPP - and Pennsylvania's citizens have a right to weigh in on what kind of plan will maximize the CPP's benefits for public health, job creation, and savings on electricity bills.
The CPP is an example of the joint federal-state lawmaking process that lawyers call "cooperative federalism." The EPA (a federal agency) started the process by establishing carbon reduction goals for Pennsylvania's existing power plants; now it's up to Pennsylvania to figure out what policies, standards, and measures it will use to meet these goals. The Commonwealth will develop its CPP strategy in a state plan (sometimes referred to as a "state implementation plan"), and as the agency that regulates air pollution in Pennsylvania, the DEP will write that plan with input from citizens, utilities, power generators, labor unions, the General Assembly - and anyone else who wants to weigh in.
Running from September 15 to November 4, the DEP's listening sessions will go far beyond the minimum public process requirements under both federal law (just one hearing) and Pennsylvania's own "Greenhouse Gas Implementation Act," or GHGIA, enacted last year under then-Governor Corbett (four hearings).
(An aside on the GHGIA: some fossil-fuel-friendly organizations like the Koch-Brothers-Funded Americans for Prosperity have taken to claiming that the GHGIA gives the General Assembly the authority to prevent the DEP from submitting a plan to the EPA next year. In fact, Section 3 of the GHGIA explicitly requires the DEP to submit a plan: "the department shall develop and submit to the EPA a State Plan." The law just establishes a process for the legislature to vet the plan, and to express its support or non-support.).
What does the DEP want to hear from citizens about, in its listening sessions? Generally, the DEP wants our input into how Pennsylvania can best fulfill the CPP's promise of clean energy, improved air quality, lower electricity bills, and U.S. leadership on global warming prevention. (As the updated Climate Impacts Assessment Report makes clear, the stakes are high for Pennsylvania: if emissions of greenhouse gases continue at their current rates, the Commonwealth will be 5.4° warmer in 2050 than it was in the year 2000). But the agency also has 21 specific questions that it hopes you'll address. Among them:
Whether Pennsylvania should use a mass-based approach, which sets a total limit on the amount of carbon pollution power plants in the state can emit, or a rate-based approach, which sets a limit for the amount of carbon per megawatt of electricity generated;
How the state should use energy efficiency and renewable energy to meet emissions goals;
Whether and how the state should participate in emissions trading programs;
How the state can best use our local resources in the overall effort to cut carbon pollution; and
How the state can help communities that are disproportionately impacted by climate change, air pollution, and economic issues resulting from the implementation of the CPP.
If you're in favor of better public health (for the latest on the health benefits of cutting carbon emissions in Pennsylvania, see this new study from researchers at Harvard and Boston Universities) and you're one of the two-thirds of Pennsylvanians who polls say support a clean energy future for the Commonwealth, it's time to tell the DEP that you want the Wolf administration to adopt a strong state plan to maximize our impressive wind and solar power resources and the huge amount of energy efficiency available to us.
This is your chance. To get on the DEP's schedule, contact Jennifer at the DEP Policy Office and let her know at which of the 14 listening sessions you'd like to comment. The phone number is 717-783-8727. Don't wait. There are only 30 to 40 slots at each event, and they're filling up fast.