Community Matters: Why RiverWise supports the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative
During the last several installments of this column, I have spent considerable time making a number of rather abstract and theoretical claims about community life. Much of what I have written recently has been in response to the divisive nature of election season and the consequences this holds for how we relate to one another.
This week, I want to shift gears a bit and focus on a specific example of what it looks like to advocate for one’s vision of what a healthy community could look like. As executive director of RiverWise, I am occasionally asked to offer public opinion on proposed projects, pieces of legislation or plans for future collaboration. This past week, I was honored to testify before Pennsylvania’s Environmental Quality Board on behalf of a program called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (also known as RGGI). The Environmental Quality Board is comprised of 20 members. These members are drawn from 11 different state agencies, the Citizens Advisory Council, and the Pennsylvania Senate and House of Representatives.
RGGI is a program that was initiated in 2005 as the result of an agreement between seven northeastern states. This initial agreement formalized a regional cap-and-trade system intent on limiting carbon emissions within the energy sector. Since 2005, RGGI membership has grown to 10 northeastern states, and in October 2019 Gov. Tom Wolf signaled his intent to bring Pennsylvania into the alliance along with Virginia in 2021.
Put in the simplest terms possible, RGGI limits the amount of carbon pollution that can be produced by the energy sector without a financial penalty. If a given segment of the industry overproduces carbon pollution, that segment must purchase carbon offsets that are then utilized to incentivize all kinds of clean energy initiatives in other sectors. In the assessment of the National Resource Defense Council, RGGI has generated consumer savings on energy, produced thousands of new jobs, improved public health and reduced overall carbon emissions in participating states.
I am neither an economist nor a climate scientist. But I am a community advocate and an organizer of many initiatives that seek to initiate an audacious vision for a sustainable future in Beaver County. And so, in my testimony on behalf of RGGI, I chose to talk about how proceeds from its implementation could be used to incentivize and fund sustainable development in places like Beaver County.
What follows is an abridged transcript of the testimony I delivered on Dec. 11 to the Environmental Quality Board. More than just a statement of support for a proposed program, these comments seek to demonstrate what can become possible when policy and principled vision come into alignment within the context of local communities. While no single initiative will solve all our problems, programs like RGGI must be creatively and purposefully stewarded in order to ensure a healthy and sustainable future for our county.
So, read on and see if you agree. Or maybe you have some different opinions on the matter. I would love to hear those and learn from your insights. Forging a healthy community requires such public dialogue. I am hopeful that what I offer below provides fodder for an ongoing conversation about how best to incentivize a healthy and sustainable future for our region and beyond.
Testimony before the state Environmental Quality Board
My name is Daniel Rossi-Keen, and I am speaking to you today on behalf of an organization called RiverWise, where I serve as executive director. RiverWise is a nonprofit organization working to develop a regional identity around the rivers of Beaver County, Pa. To accomplish this work, we are currently partnered with roughly 100 different organizations working on more than 30 sustainable development projects in numerous municipalities along and adjacent to the Ohio and Beaver rivers. These projects include things like air quality monitoring, community parks, bike trails, the creation of municipal energy infrastructure, and much more.
Central to the work of RiverWise is the creation of ecodistricts, which we have now organized in Beaver Falls, Monaca and Aliquippa. An ecodistrict is an organized team of stakeholders who seek to view the development of their community holistically. In Beaver County, our current ecodistrict work focuses on enhancing six primary quality of life areas including air, water, mobility, energy, food and equity.
I mention all of this context to give you a sense of where I am coming from when I tell you that I support the adoption of RGGI. I am not naive enough to think that RGGI will singlehandedly solve all the problems emerging from climate change. No single intervention is likely to do that. Neither do I think that RGGI will fully eliminate carbon dioxide pollution. But I do believe that if stewarded wisely and spent strategically, the proceeds from RGGI can help to support a holistic and audacious transition to a more imaginative and sustainable energy future for communities like the ones I serve in Beaver County.
As I say to anyone who will listen, the central battle in the fight against climate change is a battle for the imagination of our residents and those who have been elected to serve them. Unfortunately, advocates of a clean energy future are often left talking hypothetically about what might someday happen rather than concretely showing what is actually possible in the present. As a leader in sustainable community development in Beaver County, I need to be able to stop talking in the abstract about the future and begin demonstrating what it looks like to bring that future to life in the present. Of course, doing so requires financial resources. And I believe that if properly implemented, RGGI can provide many of the resources required to move toward a sustainable vision for our region.
Resources are required to demonstrate that an alternative energy future is not only theoretically possible but that it is also economically viable and beneficial for creating a diversified future that can stave off yet another cycle of regional boom and bust. Resources are required to bring to life RiverWise’s vision for municipal scale energy production, showing residents of Beaver County how we can pump our water using solar power, how we can power our municipal fleets using cleaner energy sources, and how we can solarize our bridges to offset municipal energy costs. Resources are required to demonstrate how strategically utilized power purchase agreements can create clean energy in ways that can help to subsidize sustainable innovation in perpetuity, all while creating clean energy at lower costs. Resources are required so we can stop talking hypothetically to our area youth about an amorphous green energy workforce and instead initiate programs, training, and opportunities for green jobs that reinvigorate our education system, grow our regional economy and give young people legitimate options for an energy-focused future.
The time for talking about these things in places like Beaver County is long past. What we need is focused and ongoing funding to create these realities in the present. The future of our health and our economies hinges on the creative vision of committees such as this one. And so, I encourage you in the strongest possible way not only to adopt RGGI, but also to implement it in ways that can support the implementation of an audacious energy future for the commonwealth.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Daniel Rossi-Keen, Ph.D., is the co-owner of eQuip Books, a community bookstore in Aliquippa and the executive director of RiverWise, a nonprofit employing sustainable development practices to create a regional identity around the rivers of Beaver County. You can reach Daniel at email@example.com.
Originally published at https://www.timesonline.com.