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Pennsylvania Gov. Shapiro backs new plan to make power plants pay for greenhouse gases

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Gov. Josh Shapiro unveiled a plan to fight climate change Wednesday, saying he will back legislation to make power plant owners in Pennsylvania pay for their planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions and require utilities in the nation's third-biggest power-producer 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. However, it is likely to draw fierce opposition from business interests wary of paying more for power and will face long odds in a Legislature that is 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 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 would boost investment in clean energy sources, create jobs, improve electricity reliability, cut greenhouse gas emissions and lower electricity bills.

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.

"Pennsylvania is falling behind in the race to create clean and reliable energy – and we must take action to be more competitive, ensure our consumers pay less for their electricity bills, and create more jobs and opportunities for our businesses to grow and our workers to get ahead," Shapiro said.   

For the time being, a state court has blocked former Gov. Tom 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.

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