On the eve of the deadline set by the state Environmental Quality Board for written comments regarding Pennsylvania’s possible entry into the Northeast Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, White Township has given a three-page reason why that — and a proposed carbon fee — shouldn’t happen.
The supervisors’ objection followed by hours a resolution of the Indiana County board of commissioners, and their plea for Gov. Tom Wolf to visit Indiana County officials for dialogue on how the compact would affect local industry, tax base and workers.
“The supervisors of White Township urge Pennsylvania’s (Independent Regulatory Review Commission) to reject the proposed carbon dioxide budget trading program regulation,” the township’s resolution reads in part. “The Supervisors of White Township have and will continue to support energy policies that make sense for our workers, consumers and employers.”
The township board approved the resolution, and all five supervisors signed it.
White Township’s decision runs counter to that of neighboring Indiana Borough. There, council President Dr. Peter Broad acknowledged during council’s Jan. 4 agenda prep session that Councilman Jonathan Warnock was speaking on behalf of the borough when he recently testified in favor of RGGI, which Gov. Tom Wolf wants Pennsylvania to join one year from now.
“We had in fact authorized him to do that,” Broad said.
“Like much of western Pennsylvania, Indiana (County) is struggling with unemployment, a decreased tax base and poverty,” Warnock testified at an EQB hearing last month. “RGGI can help to solve those problems by creating jobs, job training programs and providing tax revenue the state can use to support coal country,” said Warnock, who also is on the Geoscience faculty at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. His comments were quoted in a Pennsylvania Environmental Council blog.
Opponents, and some proponents, have called the carbon fee proposed as part of RGGI a tax. A spokeswoman for Gov. Tom Wolf told the Gazette last month that it was not a tax.
“The requirement to obtain carbon dioxide allowances equivalent to each ton of CO2 emitted from a regulated facility is a fee that is authorized under the Pennsylvania Air Pollution Control Act,” Deputy Press Secretary Elizabeth Rementer said.
The county commissioners unanimously approved a lengthy resolution Wednesday that required 8 minutes and 45 seconds for Chairman Michael Keith to read aloud.
“This is a tough issue for our area and I have worked closely for climate change solutions for Pennsylvania and our nation, and I believe there are solutions out there,” Commissioner Sherene Hess said. “But this is a blanket policy. We need to invest in solutions that work for our entire state, and this is very problematic for western Pennsylvania in terms of our economic livelihoods.
“What I need and want to hear from the governor is how these policies will make western Pennsylvania whole again, because this represents an enormous loss of jobs.”
Hess said she supports action to address climate change but “we need to do it in ways that are fair and equitable to all parts of our state.”
“The point is that this will have substantial very immediate impacts, and they already are occurring because of the uncertainty,” Commissioner Robin Gorman said. “No one disagrees, including all of the workers, the unions, everyone that has spoken on this issue. It’s the time frame of which they are escalating for this to happen.”
Regardless, the township resolution said the RGGI requirement “represents the single most significant energy generation restructuring in the history of Pennsylvania, and the forced premature retirement of coal and natural gas plants will lead to the loss of thousands of direct and indirect jobs supporting the electric generation industry.”
It said coal-fired generators produce $837 million in total economic impact, including 1,490 jobs in Indiana County and $544 million in total economic impact, including 1,100 jobs, in Armstrong County.
“Their forced closure by RGGI will have severe and long-lasting consequences on host school districts and municipalities,” the resolution continued.
Keith challenged the governor to hear out the local concerns.
“With not having any kind of plan as far as what we are going to do with the people that will be losing their jobs… I think this is totally wrong,” Keith said. “I strongly urge Governor Wolf, would you please come to Indiana County, sit down across the table with us and please have a discussion on this subject going forward? At least give us that consideration … I invite you to do that.”
The township board also pointed to rejections of recommendations about RGGI to the EQB from three advisory panels.
The comment process is the latest chapter in Pennsylvania’s consideration of RGGI, one that began with an executive order by Wolf on Oct. 3, 2019. The aim is to join RGGI by Jan. 1, 2022.
Other states involved in RGGI are original members Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York Rhode Island and Vermont, as well as Virginia, which joined RGGI officially on Jan. 1.