The fossil-fuel lobby’s desperate defense of the largest source of anthropogenic carbon pollution, coal-fired electricity plants, could choke Pennsylvania’s efforts to tailor federal pollution control efforts to the state’s needs and take advantage of more promising energy resources.
Instead of helping people who depend on coal for power and a living make the transition to cleaner, more sustainable energy sources and jobs, industry leaders are trying to stall President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired plants to 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
Coal interests, some utilities, and about half the states are suing to stop the plan and have won a Supreme Court stay suspending its implementation while the case proceeds. Exploiting the delay, the industry is finding state legislators who will help it stall required state-level plans to reduce emissions.
In Pennsylvania, pro-coal lawmakers have introduced a bill that would give the legislature the power to veto the state’s plan before Gov. Wolf submits it to the Environmental Protection Agency. But legislators already have the power to conduct oversight by holding hearings on departmental actions and rejecting regulations. This legislation would interfere with legitimate executive functions.
In Colorado and Virginia, Republican legislators tried to slow down clean power plans by reducing funding for environmental protection. The industry won in Virginia but lost in Colorado.
The harmful effects of carbon pollution aren’t waiting for a court case to be resolved or for legislative maneuvering to play out. The historic recent flooding in Houston, the sort of event that climate change makes likelier, killed at least five people and paralyzed the city. More climate-change-influenced extreme weather events are expected.
Gov. Wolf is rightly moving ahead with Pennsylvania’s clean energy plan. The state gets 36 percent of its electricity from coal, about four times the share in New Jersey. It must make the transition away from coal, which is waning not only because of its detrimental effects on public health and the environment, but also because of competition from cheaper, cleaner fossil fuels like natural gas. Pennsylvania’s plan should include measures to retrain coal industry workers for jobs they can count on and to foster the growth of cleaner energy sources and jobs.
Legislators should drop this bill and devote their energy to a power plan that makes environmental and economic sense for the commonwealth.