(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania House lawmakers advanced a bill Wednesday that would freeze the state’s 2022 entry into a regional carbon trading program in its tracks.
House Bill 2025 now heads to the Senate, where it’s unclear how quickly Republicans will act. The plan creates new hurdles for the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to clear – including receiving legislative approval – before entering Pennsylvania into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).
The plan faces an almost-certain veto should it reach Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk.
RGGI, a decade-old coalition of 10 participating states – including virtually all of Pennsylvania’s neighbors to the north, south and east – charges power suppliers for the greenhouse gasses they emit. The proceeds of the program are then reinvested back into the state’s economy. Pennsylvania Republicans have long opposed the program as a threat to its status as the region’s top power exporter.
Prime sponsor Rep. Jim Struzzi, R-Indiana, also argues that Wolf’s unilateral decision to push Pennsylvania into RGGI ignores the voices of the coal plant workers in his district who will lose their jobs if the state joins the program in 2022 as scheduled.
“This bill gives a voice back to the people by allowing those of us who represent them to have say in this process,” he said. “Any carbon tax will ultimately be paid for by Pennsylvania residents and businesses.”
Greene County Democrat Rep. Pam Snyder sided with Republicans on the issue, describing RGGI as “an economic stimulus package for West Virginia and Ohio” on the chamber floor Wednesday.
“RGGI will hurt our state and will lead to thousands of job losses, higher energy rates, and other severe economic impacts in our communities,” she said.
Mandy Warner, director of climate and clean air policy for the Environmental Defense Fund, told The Center Square on Wednesday that she wishes the Legislature would spend its time focusing on how to navigate the clean energy transition rather than passing bills that stand little chance of becoming law.
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative will hurt our state and will lead to thousands of job losses, higher energy rates, and other severe economic impacts in our communities.
“They are stopping progress and not actually offering any solutions of their own,” she said. “There hasn’t been any robust programs or investment made to restore those communities or how to help facilitate the transition that is underway. That’s where I would prefer to see the legislature spending their time.”
Warner also dispelled the notion that RGGI equates to a carbon tax, describing it instead as a market-based program that gives power producers the choice on how to limit emissions within their own operations – from cutting usage to implementing energy efficiency programs, among other options.
“It’s a market-based program that’s enjoyed support from regulated industry and consumers, who’ve seen the benefits in their own states,” she said. “Instead the Legislature continues to kick the can down the road on addressing climate action instead or engaging with it in any meaningful way.”
The Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association, an outspoken critic of RGGI, told the Citizens Advisory Council in May that the program will have a “punishing” impact on the state’s economy. The group questioned the purported environmental benefits of RGGI and said Pennsylvania can reach Wolf’s targeted emissions reduction rate of 26 percent over the next five years without it.
“For many manufacturers, energy costs are the largest cost output month-to-month,” the group said in comments to the council. “Adding on additional costs will drive manufacturers out of Pennsylvania and make it exceedingly difficult to bring new firms in; essentially making RGGI a hard-cap on economic growth in the manufacturing sector.”
The council voted 9-4 in May against the proposal to join RGGI, following 9-9 vote from the DEP Air Quality Technical Advisory Committee earlier that same month.
Warner said she hopes the council’s final vote, scheduled for September, will reverse the decision.
Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania’s General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike.
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