House moves to maintain pollution
Pennsylvania is uniquely well-positioned to take advantage of an impending federal initiative to slash global-warming emissions from power plants.
Energy industry economics already have produced substantial momentum in that direction. And, because Pennsylvania is downwind from many of the worst polluters, the federal initiative not only will create a level economic playing field for power generation but substantially improve air quality over the commonwealth.
Instead, the state House has embarked on a demonstration of how to craft state policy for narrow interests.
The Environmental Protection Agency will release regulations this fall setting reduced levels for emissions of a roster of "greenhouse gases" for which older coal-fired power plants are the primary generators.
Due to the abundance of natural gas being extracted from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations across the state, Pennsylvania actually has a head start on compliance. Several generators already have switched from coal to gas generation because of lower fuel and generation costs. Gas generation typically produces half or less of the emissions produced by burning coal.
That's why several generators have embraced the new federal initiative. They already have invested in de facto compliance.
To accommodate the different power profiles in each state, the EPA will allow each state to craft its own plan to comply with the standards.
The state House, however, isn't so eager to drive the commonwealth to a new clean-energy-based economy. Coal-fired generation is losing in the marketplace but not in the lobbying place - the state Capitol. Last week the House passed a bill, 145-53, that would allow the Legislature itself to intervene in any compliance plan crafted by the state Department of Environmental Protection. The DEP staff, of course, includes atmospheric scientists, whereas the Legislature is chockablock with political scientists - not necessarily of the academic stripe.
State senators should drive the state forward by rejecting the House's narrow-interest legislation to maintain pollution, keeping in mind that the federal plan, which already has been upheld by the Supreme Court, allows the EPA to craft its own compliance plan for states that fail to establish their own.