FILE - PA Patrick McDonnell

Patrick McDonnell, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, testifies Sept. 19, 2019, before the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.

Republicans on the Pennsylvania House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee expressed concern Thursday that the Wolf administration might be prepared to commit the state to participation in a Northeast climate change agreement without the input of lawmakers.

Patrick McDonnell, secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, didn’t necessarily work to quash those concerns in testimony and answers to questions during an appearance before the committee. But he did seem to indicate that Pennsylvania wasn’t close to signing on to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a pact that currently includes the New England states, New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland.

“I've had conversations with colleagues of mine in, for example, Maryland, about how it works there, colleagues in Virginia who are … looking at how would they enter the greenhouse gas initiative,” McDonnell said. “Again, just to understand some of those mechanics. There's a model rule related to [the initiative] that would have to be adopted for example, how the negotiation process works, all of those kinds of issues are things we're actively getting information on, so that we can, again, have the broader conversation.”

McDonnell argued that the states that have committed to the RGGI – which he and lawmakers often pronounced as “reggie” – have seen dramatic decreases in the emissions of greenhouse gases. Since 2005, he said, Pennsylvania has decreased carbon dioxide emissions by 13 percent, while the RGGI states over the same time frame have produced a 43 percent drop.

“[The RGGI states] are generating revenues that they are investing back into their economy,” McDonnell said. “They're saving money on industrial users' and residents' electric bills through energy efficiency programs, expanding the amount of clean and renewable energy within their state and building out a clean energy economy.”

Committee Chairman Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry Township, tried to pin McDonnell down as to whether legislative input was going to be sought before moving forward with Pennsylvania potentially signing on to the RGGI agreement.

“We've had a lot of discussions within a capital on the [RGGI],” Metcalfe said. “And the authority is not there for the administration to enter into any type of scheme that's going to give the administration, the executive branch … you don't have the power to implement a taxing plan without our statutory approval of that implementation.”

McDonnell’s response didn’t directly address Metcalfe’s concern, sticking too his repeated assertion that the state is still collecting information on the RGGI, which has existed since 2009.

“I'd say we're definitely exploring all the options,” McDonnell said. “I think the governor has said it would be ideal for us to enter, but we need to understand exactly how that would work and how we would go about it.”

McDonnell and Metcalfe further clashed on whether the RGGI agreement had been a net negative or positive for the states that currently take part in it. After Metcalfe noted that he’d seen data suggesting that electric prices have spiked in Maryland, McDonnell replied that he’d seen precisely the opposite.

“We're seeing numbers in the billions of dollars in terms of total amount of energy savings that residents and businesses are achieving through programs funded through the Regional Greenhouse Gas initiative,” McDonnell said.

“We'll have to compare our data,” Metcalfe replied.

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Delphine Luneau is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years of experience. She was the editor of Suburban Life Media when its flagship was named best weekly in Illinois, and she has worked at papers in South Carolina, Indiana, Idaho and New York.