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If you could spend $3 million dollars a year to dream big about a fair transition to a renewable energy future, how would you invest that money? POWER organized our community members to do just that. Throughout Fall of 2020, the POWER Climate Justice and Jobs team trained and organized community members on providing public testimony in the state’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) public hearings. We began by offering trainings about RGGI with research and presentations led, among others, by leader-member Steve Greenspan. We worked in collaboration with our partner from the PA Climate Equity Table, Ethan Story of the Center for Coalfield Justice, to share how RGGI, a proposed carbon market, could work for our communities if we win equity features in its enactment.

POWER lifted up the voices of people most impacted by environmental racism and economic inequality, people who are often marginalized in climate policy.  RGGI is a cap and invest program that establishes a carbon market auction.  Once the market is activated, electric power generating plants will have to pay to continue to pollute above a certain amount. This auction will generate $3 million per year for the state of PA. We want these resources to be invested in communities most impacted by environmental racism and climate crisis. The public hearings, held by the Environmental Quality Board (EQB) of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), were a response to our call for a transparent, inclusive public process in relation to RGGI. And our people showed up to speak (virtually of course.)

In POWER’s trainings about RGGI, we helped members tell their own stories. Our leaders learned to find themselves in the data and turned personal stories into public narrative in their testimony. These trainings were critical in offering support and confidence to our members who then powerfully lifted their voices in the public sphere. Dozens of POWER leaders spoke about the need to address climate crisis in a fair way. 

In the hearings, we were competing with the fossil fuel industry to claim spots to speak. POWER and our allies triumphed with 95% of all testimony  in favor of RGGI. The Clean Power PA coalition (POWER and partners) was responsible for gathering nearly 40,000 Pennsylvanians who expressed support during the public comment period on RGGI through both written and oral comments. POWER, along with the state table that we have co-created called the  PA Climate Equity table, is always the equity flank of these environmental conversations. We have demands for how to  incorporate racial and economic justice practices into the rulemaking about how RGGI will work in this state. 

As democracy trembled during the early weeks of December, and POWER members took to the streets to Protect the Vote, we also took the stand in these environmental hearings on RGGI. We were exercising some of the very democratic rights that we were protecting: to have a voice in our own energy future, to build climate stability for thriving human communities, to center the voices of those most impacted by climate crisis, racism and economic inequality. The public hearings took place between Dec.  9 -14, 2020 and more written comments were accepted by The Environmental Quality Board until Jan. 14, 2021. There will be another comment period specifically on the investment aspects of RGGI happening in early 2021. You can get involved with this campaign or others with the Climate Justice and Jobs team by reaching out to Nora Elmarzouky, nelmarzouky@powerinterfaith.org or Julie Greenberg, jgreenberg@powerinterfaith.org

Some highlights from POWER testimony:

Bishop Royster: “RGGI is an enormous opportunity to reduce the destructive effects of carbon while investing in a regenerative economy future. Let’s make a plan featuring justice from the ground up.”

Gordon Whitman “As a Philly resident 20 blocks from a power plant that falls under RGGI, I support it w/ rules that ensure our community doesn’t face more environmental degradation.”

Rev. Angela stated: I live near a power plant + have a neurological condition. Why didn’t I move? Philly is home. IMPLEMENTING RGGI is an effective strategy to improve the environment for generations to come. 

Dieynabou Barry – RGGI can redress environmental harms that low-income, immigrant, Black, Latinx, Indigenous, + other communities of color have + continue to face.

Rev. Noonan “It is the state’s constitutional responsibility to protect the right of all citizens to clean air. Our faith calls us to address the causes of climate change as a moral imperative. Hence our support for RGGI.”

Senator Muth – It’s time for PA legislators to support RGGI, which could create 27,000 jobs & boost the economy by nearly $2 billion between now and 2030. 

Charmaine Butler: Don’t forget how tropical  storm Isaias caused power outages for 400,000+ in Upper Darby, Lansdowne, + Chester. We are seeing the effects of climate change locally, nationally, and globally.

Bishop Royster: We need to incentivize carbon reduction… in a way that wraps everyone into a healthy future. We need to make sure that once again the most marginalized communities are not excluded from solutions. 

Bishop Royster: Enacting RGGI in a way that works for all Pennsylvanians means that every step of the way there needs to be transparency and inclusive public involvement.

Dane Winkler: We need to do the right thing for the planet, for the people, for the economy, and for our childrens’ futures. Join RGGI, cut pollution, leave carbon in the ground, create jobs, and preserve our environment.

High Taft-Morales: the process of transitioning to sustainable energy is inevitable in our state, let’s make sure everyone benefits. RGGI will assure the true costs of energy production are the responsibility of energy producers. 

Allen Drew: RGGI is not only a crucial step in the fight against the climate crisis, it is also an incredible economic + health opportunity for PA. It can become a meaningful engine of environmental + economic justice in our great state. 

John Bergen: For the past year, after I go on a run, I always ask myself, “Do I have COVID or did I just grow up near fossil fuel infrastructure?” Our state’s participation in RGGI is a matter of survival. 

John Bergen: For too long our state has shaken hands with the devil + the devil has collected his dues in the lungs of our children, the bodies of our neighbors, + the poverty of our communities. It is time to break this contract. Join RGGI.

Audra Wolfe: I live less than two miles from the PES refinery’s north gate. Like so many Philadelphians, I have asthma. Implement RGGI with care, so that emissions allowances do not disproportionately end up in the hands of dirty plants.

View the full testimony text. 

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