Once interested, House Republicans blast Wolf over RGGI
Pennsylvania House Republicans recently signaled an openness to a regional cap-and-trade emissions program. But that wasn't the case last week when Gov. Tom Wolf signed an executive order to join it.
Wolf on Oct. 3 signed an executive order instructing the Department of Environmental Protection to create a detailed proposal to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Republican backlash promptly ensued over Wolf allegedly circumventing the Legislature and endangering the state's economy.
“Our state is not an autocracy, and one-sided decisions as significant as this leave out the important voices of Pennsylvania workers, communities and families whose livelihood is built upon important sectors of our energy economy," read a House Republican news release.
Republicans dubbed Wolf's actions a "go-it-alone approach" that would harm the economy, environment and Pennsylvanian families, a sentiment expressed by Republican lawmakers statewide, including York County Reps. Kate Klunk, R-Hanover, Seth Grove, R-Dover Township and Dawn Keefer, R-Franklin Township.
The statement marked a departure from March, when House GOP spokesman Mike Straub said RGGI is "the kind of thing that people are more interested in than you realize" and that there was some support in the caucus to reduce carbon emissions.
Although House leadership rebuked the executive order, some of the nine — soon to be 11 — states already paticipating in the regional program setting carbon emissions caps have also used executive power to join the initiative, including New Jersey and Virginia.
But those states also are not nearly as reliant on gas and oil production as Pennsylvania, which is the fourth largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the country. The energy industry spent $9.9 million last year alone to influence Pennsylvania politics, making it the fourth highest spending category behind healthcare, education and lobbying to influence the state budget.
There also is another key difference in Pennsylvania: Every participating state but Virginia has a Democrat-dominated House and Senate.
Many Democrats and green groups such as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Environmental Defense Fund favor the initiative, which provides a market-based approach to reducing carbon emissions and investing in clean energy.
Once in the RGGI, states set a number of allowances to be given out to electric power plants that generate 25 megawatts or more. Each allowance covers one short ton of emissions, and the cap decreases each year.
From there, plants can purchase additional allowances from regional auctions, and the funds are used by the state to reinvest in carbon-reduction programs and improving energy efficiency.
The initiative has generated roughly $4 billion in net benefits for participating states' economies since its inception in 2009, and annual carbon emissions have dropped about 50% in the covered regions, according to RGGI.
Pennsylvania Republicans are looking at whether there is legal ground to challenge the executive order, although details haven't yet surfaced, Straub said.
JJ Abbott, Wolf's spokesman, dismissed that possibility, citing the state's Air Pollution Control Act, which gives the Environmental Quality Board the ability to implement regulations to combat air pollution such as greenhouse gases that is found to be "inimical to the public health, safety or welfare."
"Gov. Wolf had productive conversations with members of the General Assembly on this issue, and while no consensus has emerged in the Legislature on how to proceed, given the urgency of this issue, Gov. Wolf felt the need to move forward at this time," Abbott said.
Furthermore, Abbott stated, the executive order simply began a regulatory process that will include a variety of stakeholders, including legislators.
Unlike the House, Senate leaders offered a scaled-back tone in a news release last week, where they said they support greenhouse gas reduction initiatives but have criteria that needs to be met.
The criteria includes maintaining the state's diverse energy portfolio, keeping energy rates low and "implementing any carbon reduction plan in PA through an appropriate legal manner."
— Logan Hullinger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.