The world has changed in the seven months since Gov. Tom Wolf started working to bring Pennsylvania into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative involving 10 other New England and Mid-Atlantic states.
So said Sen. Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, as he and Sens. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming County, and Dave Argall, R-Schuylkill County, with support from 15 fellow GOP senators, urged the governor to rescind his Oct. 3, 2019, Executive Order No. 2019-7, instructing the state Department of Environmental Protection to participate in RGGI.
“Pennsylvania now has the terrible distinction of having the highest unemployment claim rate in the nation,”
Argall said. “If the governor insists on his executive order to push Pennsylvania into RGGI, he will hurt us even more.”
Regionally, the signers include Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Brockway, and Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield Township.
However, the governor is not changing his mind.
“The administration is not considering suspending the implementation of RGGI in Pennsylvania,” Lyndsay Kensinger, Wolf’s press secretary, told the Gazette this morning.
Since October, as Pittman and his colleagues wrote, “the world economy, and certainly Pennsylvania’s economy, has been dramatically reshaped with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In the past month, we have witnessed 20 percent of our workforce apply for unemployment compensation benefits, and to date our state has not reopened.”
Earlier this week, the governor presented a plan for reopening the commonwealth with a targeted May 8 start, with his likely first focus to be on north-central and northwestern counties, including Clearfield and Jefferson.
“This pandemic, combined with this administration’s unilateral action and additional mandates, have significantly impacted the policy making process in Pennsylvania, including the legislative and regulatory processes, which rely heavily on the ability of workers, employers and communities to weigh in on the development of major policy initiatives,” the senators wrote.
“The last thing we need to do is burden our citizens with a nearly $300 million annual tax on carbon — a tax which will be paid by electricity consumers and employers alike,” they continued.
RGGI is a compact in which participating states would impose a carbon tax on electricity production and require fossil fuel generation to purchase allowances. Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont have agreed to cap and reduce power sector carbon dioxide emissions.
“New York and New Jersey have both banned new pipelines that would allow our natural gas to flow to large markets like New York City and Boston, whose ratepayers currently have to rely on foreign imports from Russia to supply their gas needs,” Yaw said.
In his Oct. 3, 2019, order “Addressing Climate Change through Electric Sector Emissions Reductions,” Wolf stated that “given the urgency of the climate crisis facing Pennsylvania, the commonwealth must take concrete, economically sound and immediate steps to reduce (greenhouse gas) emissions.”
He wants DEP to issue a rulemaking change “to abate, control, or limit carbon dioxide emissions from fossil-fuel-fired electric power generators” no later than July 31 of this year. He said he wanted such rules to “be sufficiently consistent” with RGGI rules, with a carbon dioxide budget “consistent in stringency” to that established in the other RGGI states.
In order to show compliance with the cap, power plants must purchase a credit or “allowance” for each ton of CO2 they emit. These purchases are made at quarterly auctions conducted by RGGI, with the most recent auction on March 11 producing the price of $5.65 per ton, up from $5.20 in October when Wolf issued that order.
Pittman has been on the forefront of legislative opposition to RGGI.
On Nov. 19, 2019, Pittman and state Rep. Jim Struzzi, R-Indiana, announced bills requiring legislative authorization before Pennsylvania can enter into RGGI or any other multi-state program that could impose a carbon tax on employers engaged in electric generation, manufacturing or other industries.
“While the debate about climate change needs to be taken seriously, this effort has much more to do with the authority vested in the General Assembly and accommodating the governor’s desired request for a collaborative process in deciding whether we move forward in joining RGGI,” Pittman said.
“This action would have serious ramifications on Pennsylvania businesses, jobs, energy prices and future economic opportunities that are not being considered by the governor,” Struzzi said.
Pittman was joined by Yaw and Argyll in circulating a memorandum for what would eventually be Senate Bill 950.
“Pennsylvania is already ahead of the carbon dioxide reduction goals established under Gov. Wolf’s Climate Action Plan,” the memorandum reads in part. “Jeopardizing thousands of family sustaining jobs and triggering significant electricity rate increases is not a sound approach, especially within a process bypassing the General Assembly. The marketplace has achieved significant reductions in carbon emissions in our commonwealth.”
Struzzi circulated a memorandum for what would be House Bill 2025 with House Majority Policy Chair Donna Oberlander, R-Clarion, whose district includes several Armstrong County municipalities along the Indiana County line, and Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Greene.
“RGGI requires coal-fired power plants to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes and, as a result, will lead to the direct elimination of thousands of family-sustaining jobs in communities I represent,” Snyder said.
“While the administration is unilaterally moving ahead with participating in this initiative, many of our colleagues have serious reservations about what this means for the areas we represent and the jobs that may be lost,” Oberlander said.
Kensinger’s predecessor, J.J. Abbott, said the governor wanted to work with the General Assembly to implement RGGI, “which would reduce air pollution and combat climate change.” The former Wolf press secretary said the governor opposes any effort to weaken the administration’s authority to ensure clean air for Pennsylvanians.”
In turn, Pittman saw “a dangerous precedent to assume that the governor can unilaterally impose a tax,” not just for its impact on economic investments made in Pennsylvania, but also as it “creates serious constitutional questions of checks and balances between the co-equal branches of government.”
HB 2025 and SB 950 have remained in the respective Environmental Resources and Energy committees of each chamber of the Legislature since Nov. 20.