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RGGI will be a new future for Pennsylvania

First published in the York Sunday News, March 7, 2021

Jan. 6, 2021 will be remembered as one of the saddest days in American history and Jan. 5, 2021, as a heartbreaking day for Pennsylvania’s State Senate. Both have fear in common.

While change is a certainty, it often comes with fear. For many, change can feel like an affront to livelihoods and the loss of a way of life. Indeed, we have seen good paying jobs leave our communities, making them more like ghost towns than thriving places to raise our families. However, a yearning to return to the good old days is an illusionary dream. While we cannot return to the past, we can use our history as a guide to create a revived Pennsylvania. By coming together and dropping partisanship, we can chart a bright future for all Pennsylvanians, both rural and urban.

Pennsylvania has always been a leader in energy production. From our founding, our forests heated our homes, powered industry and produced charcoal for iron production. We later turned to coal and in recent years to natural gas. As Pennsylvanians, we have always been energy innovators. But let’s be honest, while energy has brought immense benefit to Pennsylvanians, it’s come at a terrible cost. By the 1890s, our forests were all but gone until the 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps boys replanted them. Coal fouled our air, water and the lungs and hearts of workers and children alike. Now, natural gas spews poisons that threaten our health and has left over 200,000 abandoned leaking wells and carbon pollution that fuels climate change.

Carbon-based fuels are not the future of affordable clean energy for Pennsylvania. Already, utility scale wind and solar electricity is the cheapest to generate. Dirty and inefficient coal generating stations are being phased out, and natural gas won’t be far behind. Within the next decade, electric vehicles made in America will replace polluting fuel-combustion fleets, restoring industry jobs and clean air in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania must embrace our history as energy innovators or be left behind. Brookville Equipment Corp. in Brookville, Pennsylvania, is one such Pennsylvania firm leading the future. Founded 100 years ago as a mining car manufacturer, it is now an international award-winning electric streetcar supplier. Brookville Equipment provides a clear example of what Pennsylvania’s future can be if the General Assembly supports the next phase of energy innovation instead of keeping us tied to the past by propping up dying industries with declining jobs.

Embracing this vibrant future can rekindle our energy and manufacturing leadership and spur new family-sustaining jobs while cleaning our waters, air and reducing pollution that kills over 200,000 Americans every year from soot (PM2.5) alone.

While it will take all of us to rebuild Pennsylvania, the General Assembly and the governor can jump-start a new economy with new high-paying jobs, better health and real hope for a future with the right policy.

One immediate opportunity is to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a market-based program with member states from Virginia to Maine along the Eastern Seaboard that gives an actual cost accounting of carbon-based energy. Under RGGI, polluters pay for their carbon pollution and are incentivized to reduce pollution as the price rises — all without increasing costs to ratepayers. By joining RGGI, we can clean up our air, defend our kids’ health, create more than 27,000 net jobs, and add $1.9 billion to our commonwealth’s economy.

The health benefits to Pennsylvania are enormous: $6.3 billion in health savings, 30,000 fewer hospital visits for children and adults with respiratory illnesses, 45,000 fewer asthma attacks, and 1,000 fewer cases of childhood bronchitis.

It’s time to reimagine Pennsylvania. Over 30,500 pro-life Christians joined me in sending this comment to Gov. Wolf and DEP Secretary Patrick McDonald in support of RGGI,

"As a pro-life Christian, I am deeply concerned that pollution harms unborn and born children and causes damage that lasts a lifetime. Dirty air has grave consequences for the health of our children and other vulnerable populations, like the elderly. That’s why I support Gov. Tom Wolf’s plan to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative that will apply market-based solutions to reduce the health impacts from power plant pollution, helping boost jobs and save precious lives in Pennsylvania."

However, we need the General Assembly and the governor to make peace, work together to implement RGGI and unlock potentially $300 million per year or more to retrain displaced energy workers and reduce energy burden, especially for low-income families, through energy efficiency.

God gives us wisdom, a special calling for the least of these, a demand for market fairness and a blessing for being peacemakers. Let use God’s calling and Pennsylvania’s legacy as energy innovators to create a future that works for all Pennsylvania. The time is now. Policies like RGGI will usher in a new energy future for Pennsylvania that brings back family-sustaining jobs and protects the health of our children.

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