As of this writing, whether Pennsylvania remains the 12th state in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) will be resolved by the Pennsylvania courts. If Pennsylvania remains in RGGI following appellate court decisions in the coming months, it will begin to participate in quarterly auctions of carbon dioxide “allowances”—i.e., rights to generate emissions—and Pennsylvania will receive more than $663 million in proceeds from auctions in the first year alone. Once these revenues begin to flow, this report argues that a top priority in allocating RGGI proceeds in Pennsylvania should be workers and communities losing jobs.
Pennsylvania communities have been losing coal power plant jobs for decades, with recent losses due to highly efficient gas-fired power plants outcompeting older coal-fired plants. The loss of these jobs—often in places that have also lost high-paid manufacturing jobs—can be traumatic for workers, families, and communities. In the past, dedicated resources have not been made available to mitigate or eliminate the negative economic impacts. RGGI could provide such resources—if auction proceeds directly help dislocated workers and coal communities land equivalent jobs and tax base. (Another priority for Pennsylvania’s RGGI proceeds should be “environmental justice communities” most impacted by pollution and climate change, as recognized in Senate Bill 15 and its companion, House Bill 1565. Since 21 environmental justice, faith, environmental and other non-profit groups issued recommendations on investments in environmental justice communities in mid-2021, however, the present report contains recommendations on a topic not yet the subject of detailed analysis: how RGGI proceeds could benefit workers and communities).
We recommend investing a portion of RGGI proceeds in four priorities:
- Implementing strong labor standards (prevailing wage and benefit standards, project labor agreements with first source hiring/community workforce requirements, responsible contractor and apprenticeship utilization provisions) in conjunction with the distribution of RGGI proceeds and other climate policies, improving the quality of clean economy jobs, some of which could go to dislocated fossil fuel workers.
- Funding building trades and labor-management partnerships to help dislocated workers land good clean energy and other sustainable industry jobs. These should go beyond traditional training-only—aka “train and pray”—approaches by combining training with placement support. Best case, this new “train and place” approach would get workers a new job as good as their old one without workers having to relocate.
- Investing capital in energy efficient and sustainable manufacturing that utilizes trades formerly employed in fossil fuel power plants, such as boilermakers and electricians, targeting communities that have lost power plants. Since manufacturing projects can have high capital costs, RGGI proceeds may only be sufficient to provide a portion of public subsidies required. To fill the remaining gap, the state could use a portion of RGGI funds as a match for, and to compete for, larger amounts of federal dollars from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Inflation Reduction Act, CHIPS+, or future clean energy or climate infrastructure legislation.
- Providing direct assistance to dislocated fossil fuel workers and to communities losing tax base from fossil fuel businesses.
Research for ReImagine Appalachia by the Political Economy Research Institute suggests that the massive investments (public and private) needed to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 would generate nearly a quarter million jobs in Pennsylvania—disproportionately trades and manufacturing jobs. With the right policies and public investments, more of these jobs can be good union jobs and provide new opportunities for workers and communities losing fossil fuel jobs. Ultimately, the issue for the future is not RGGI, but whether policymakers can achieve the climate and environmental progress we need and create enough good jobs. This report argues that they can and explains how it can be done, if RGGI is implemented, through the creative use of RGGI proceeds. But the use of RGGI proceeds is just one of many contexts in which policymakers need to demonstrate their commitment to policies that create more middle-class jobs—because those jobs won’t automatically create themselves through the magic of the market.