(The Center Square) – A Pennsylvania House committee approved a bill Tuesday that would interrupt the state’s plan to limit carbon emissions from Pennsylvania’s power sector starting early next year.
This, after Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed an identical measure in September that would have halted the Department of Environmental Protection’s regulatory effort to join the state into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative ahead of the January deadline set in the governor’s October 2019 executive order.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle oppose RGGI and fear its impact will shutter fossil fuel plants prematurely and undermine Pennsylvania’s prominence as a top energy exporter, sending tens of thousands of jobs into Ohio and West Virginia.
“Let me be clear, I care deeply about the environment, contrary to what some may believe,” said Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Carmichaels. “But, I also care about the social economic environment in my district and the people I represent here today.”
Snyder – who co-sponsored House Bill 637 with Rep. Jim Struzzi, R-Indiana – said her district shares “real borders” with West Virginia and is home to the largest producing coal plant in the world. The proposal delineates a legislative process for implementing a carbon tax that would void the ongoing effort to join RGGI.
“We need everything to be energy independent,” she said. "When you have an energy emergency, you’re going to wish you had coal because that’s the fuel that can ramp up and ramp down as needed.”
RGGI, an 11-state coalition, requires power producers to buy emissions credits through an annual auction designed to reduce pollution throughout the region. The proceeds will be reinvested into programs that support cleaner air and water and energy efficiency, though the department envisions a separate and parallel “discussion” of how best to spend that projected $300 million revenue in Pennsylvania.
DEP said the annual carbon dioxide allowance budget in the 2022 RGGI auction – the first in which Pennsylvania could participate – will total 78 million metric tons. By 2030, this allowance will shrink 25% to 58 million metric tons.
The effect will reduce the amount of emissions from carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide while lowering rates of childhood asthma, respiratory disease, premature deaths, lost work days and health care costs, according to the DEP.
Lawmakers on the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee say Wolf lacks the authority to enter the state into RGGI without legislative approval. As it stands, Pennsylvania would be the first to do so without the blessing of its General Assembly.
“Gov. Wolf has not even come to Indiana County to share this plan with us,” Struzzi said during a committee meeting on Tuesday. “I get a little bit impassioned when I know people are going to suffer. We all want clean air, but this is not the way to do it.”
Proponents say the state’s greenhouse gas emissions must be capped to prevent the most catastrophic effects of climate change. The power sector accounts for 30% of Pennsylvania’s carbon emissions and RGGI could eliminate upward of 225 million metric tons of it through 2030, according to the DEP’s latest modeling.
“Climate change is the most serious long-term threat to this planet and this is not just my opinion, that’s the opinion of the overwhelming majority of the world’s scientists,” said Minority Chairman Greg Vitali, D-Havertown. “It’s also their opinion that we need to act quickly and deliberately to address it.”
The committee voted 17-8 to advance the bill to the full House of Representatives for consideration, including Snyder and fellow Democrat Rep. Manuel Guzman, of Berks County.
Struzzi said the legislation, if approved, gives lawmakers the role in the process that they should have had all along.
“Lets discuss this on the House floor,” Struzzi said. “Let us determine the merits of RGGI on our own without the governor telling us it's good for us.”
Vitali countered that the proposal has little to do with participation.
“This bill is one of the most absurdly constructed bills I’ve ever witnessed,” he said. "This bill has one purpose and that’s to kill RGGI. Let's just be honest about this.”