SCRANTON, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro unveiled a plan Wednesday to fight climate change, saying he will back legislation to make power plant owners in the nation’s third-biggest energy-producing state pay for their greenhouse gas emissions and require utilities to buy more electricity from renewable sources.

Such legislation would make Pennsylvania the first major fossil fuel-producing state to adopt a carbon-pricing program. But it’s likely to draw fierce opposition from business interests wary of paying more for power and will face long odds in a Legislature protective of the state’s natural gas industry.

Shapiro’s proposal comes as environmentalists are pressuring him to do more to fight climate change in the nation’s No. 2 gas-producing state and as the state’s highest court considers a challenge to his predecessor’s plan to adopt a carbon-pricing program. It also comes after many of the state’s biggest power polluters, coal-fired plants, have shut down or converted to gas.

At a news conference in Scranton, Shapiro said his plan will make Pennsylvania competitive in a clean energy economy, improve electricity reliability, cut greenhouse gas emissions and lower electricity bills.

It is long past time for lawmakers to act, he said.

“If they choose to do nothing, they’re choosing to be less competitive in an environment that demands us to bring excellence to the table every single day,” Shapiro said. “They’re choosing to fall behind if they choose to do nothing.”

Under Shapiro’s plan, Pennsylvania would create its own standalone carbon-pricing program, with most of the money paid by polluting power plants — 70% — going to lower consumer electric bills. No one will pay more for electricity and many will pay less, Shapiro said.

Meanwhile, utilities would be required to buy 50% of their electricity from mostly carbon-free sources by 2035, up from the state’s current requirement of 18%.

Currently, about 60% of the state’s electricity comes from natural gas-fired power plants, and the 50% requirement could hurt demand for electricity from those plants. Another third of Pennsylvania’s electricity is from nuclear plants and the rest from coal and renewables.

Republicans who control the state Senate have pushed to open greater opportunities for energy production in Pennsylvania, and have warned that carbon-pricing could raise electricity bills, fray the electricity grid, hurt in-state energy producers and drive new power generation to other states.

“Families are feeling the strain of inflation and increased household expenses, which must be a chief concern when implementing any changes to energy policy,” Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, said in a statement Wednesday.

Shapiro’s administration did not provide many details of his strategy Wednesday, including how much money power plants would pay or how the average household electric bill would be affected.

Patrick Cicero, Pennsylvania’s consumer advocate, said the amount of potential savings on electric bills will depend on usage — with large industrial customers to see more and low-income households to get “significant reductions” because of a planned expansion of the state’s energy-assistance program.

For the average household, “it’s not going to be much,” Cicero said, “but it’s not costing households more. That’s a win-win.”

Heavy energy users and coal-industry businesses slammed Shapiro’s plans.

The Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association said Shapiro’s “energy tax will cause widespread destruction in every industry” while the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance said it will shut down the state’s few remaining coal-fired power plants.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition, which represents Pennsylvania’s enormous natural gas industry, was more circumspect. The most pressing challenge is ensuring the electric grid is stable and reliable, said Dave Callahan, the group’s president.

Despite, the lack of detail, Shapiro’s plan drew statements of support from renewable energy trade associations and environmental advocates.

“Even what the governor has proposed is not enough to meet the needs of addressing the climate crisis, but it’s a huge step forward from where Pennsylvania is now,” said Alex Bomstein, executive director of the Clean Air Council.

Meanwhile, environmental advocates worry about abandoning the plan produced by Shapiro’s predecessor, former Gov. Tom Wolf.

For the time being, a state court has blocked Wolf’s regulation that authorizes Pennsylvania to join the multistate Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which imposes a price and declining cap on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

As a candidate for governor, Shapiro had distanced himself from Wolf’s plan and questioned whether it satisfied criticism that it would hurt the state’s energy industry, drive up electric prices and do little to curtail greenhouse gases.

Shapiro would not say Wednesday whether he would enforce Pennsylvania’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative should the courts uphold it and should the Legislature block his climate bills.

“I’m focused on getting these things passed,” Shapiro said.


Levy reported from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.


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