Joe Pittman

Joe Pittman

With the flick of a wrist, a switch can be flipped and the warm glow of an electric light will dispel the darkness from our homes.

Conversely, with the flick of a wrist, a document can be signed that could plunge many local households into the darkness and despair that comes with the loss of a family-sustaining job.

When Gov. Wolf signed an executive order in October to have Pennsylvania enter the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative — or RGGI — he took the first step in a perilous process that could dramatically impact the lives of workers at the Conemaugh, Homer City, Keystone and Seward power generation plants and the miners who provide the fuel for those facilities. Collectively these power generators provide nearly a thousand direct jobs and several thousand more jobs through the production of the necessary fuel, transportation and maintenance of these facilities.

As a matter of reference, RGGI is a collaboration of nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. The states (Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont) set a cap on total carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from electric power generators in their states.

In order to comply, power plants must purchase a credit or “allowance” for each ton of CO2 they emit. The most recent RGGI auction (Sept. 4) resulted in a “carbon tax” of $5.20 per ton.

Notably, none of the current RGGI states is a significant coal region and as such coal-fired energy facilities are not major parts of their economies, nor are they job producers.

Entering RGGI is a decision of enormous consequence to every Pennsylvanian. RGGI paves the way for a tax to be placed on the emissions of carbon — the very gas we all exhale — from electric generation plants here in the commonwealth.

When the governor issued his RGGI executive order, he also said he wanted to work in a collaborative process with the General Assembly.

Taking that into account, I introduced Senate Bill 950 in the Senate and state Rep. Jim Struzzi introduced House Bill 2025 in the House of Representatives. These bills are identical efforts to affirm the General Assembly’s role and accommodate the governor’s expressed desire for a partnership to move this process forward.

A unilateral attempt by the governor to implement a carbon tax without legislative approval simply should not occur. By advancing our legislation we seek to ensure that our constitutional separation of powers remains intact.

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.

I and several of my colleagues have invited the governor to Armstrong and Indiana counties to visit our power generation plants to speak with the women and men who work to keep our lights on and our homes heated. They are greatly concerned that a carbon tax puts their family-sustaining jobs at risk and will create an economic crisis throughout western Pennsylvania.

I look forward to the governor’s support of our legislation, as well as his visit to affirm to the employees and their families that he is truly committed to a government that works by protecting jobs that pay.