EDITORIAL: Decree not ideal, but action needed

The Dispatch Editorial Board
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks to reporters during a news conference on his signing an executive order for his administration to start working on regulations to bring Pennsylvania into a nine-state consortium that sets a price and limits on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019 in Harrisburg, Pa. The move is part of Wolf's effort to fight climate change in the nation's fourth-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. (AP Photo/Marc Levy)

Even a bad process can sometimes yield positive results.

Republicans in Pennsylvania's Legislature forgot that fact this past week and, instead, jumped on the opportunity to pile on Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

Wolf raised Republicans' ire Thursday when, by executive order, he directed state regulators to begin steps that would align Pennsylvania with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a nine-state coalition that has successfully harnessed cap-and-trade to reduce carbon emissions throughout the Northeast and Middle Atlantic regions.

Republicans were incensed by Wolf's use of an executive order to set the process in motion. Theirs was a classic complaint of lawmakers, one that's baked in to the natural tension between the executive and legislative branches. 

More:Once interested, House Republicans blast Wolf over RGGI

More:Cap-and-trade emissions: An unrecognized consensus in Pennsylvania?

“Our state is not an autocracy ..." shouted the a release from the House Republican caucus.

Unsurprisingly, Republicans have launched an investigation into whether Wolf's decree was a legal exercise of his authority. 

But despite the over-the-top allegations of tyranny from GOP lawmakers, Wolf's application of executive authority wasn't ideal. It's yet another expression of the imposition of defacto law by regulation. It was, in very real terms, an end-run on legislative authority.

And yet, Republicans — throughout their near carbon-copy statements — threw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. 

Shortly after blasting Pennsylvania's Democratic governor, Republicans labeled RGGI an attack on business and industry. Its imposition in Pennsylvania would cost jobs, they said without evidence. It would damage the state's economy, they protested without corroboration.

None of the member states have suffered widespread economic damage. In fact, the primary study of RGGI's effect on state-level economies, conducted in 2018 by the Analysis Group, concluded it actually generated $1.4 billion in economic benefit from 2015 to 2017.

While its neighbors continue to work toward stemming air pollution, Pennsylvania has continued to pump out gases that harm its people and the environment unabated.  

It's the influence of the natural gas industry, which RGGI would tax, that's the chief difference between Pennsylvania and RGGI member states. And it's that industry's political heft that doubtlessly frames the GOP's protest. 

In that way, Republicans' complaints are, at best, disingenuous and, at worst, lay bare the priorities of a party willing to trade its constituents' health for the profits of a few gas firms. 

That reality is made even more obvious by the GOP's flip on the issue. Just months ago, officials from the GOP caucus expressed an interest in RGGI. 

Thing is, cap-and-trade began as the conservative solution for greenhouse gases. But it was crafted before the GOP became the party that demonizes science and prioritizes profit above all else.