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Pa. GOP plans new attempt to prevent entry into regional climate initiative

Under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, participating states establish a regional cap on CO2 emissions, with the cap adjusted downward over time to continually reduce emissions.

State House and Capitol Building in Harrisburg
State House and Capitol Building in HarrisburgRead moreDave Newman/Dreamstime / MCT

In yet another attempt to stave off Pennsylvania’s entry into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the commonwealth’s GOP House leadership says it plans to introduce a resolution this week to “disapprove” of a key component of the administration’s plan to fight climate change.

Already this week, the legislature attempted to hold up a Wolf-administration-imposed price on carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants by setting up a legal challenge to the regulation getting published in the official state registry.

What is the the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative?

Under the initiative, participating states establish a regional cap on CO2 emissions, with the cap adjusted downward over time to continually reduce emissions. Large fossil fuel emitters, such as power plants, essentially buy allowances for carbon they emit.

That money would go back to Pennsylvania in what proponents call a market incentive, but which the GOP leadership calls an “ill-advised energy tax on Pennsylvanians.” If it enters the initiative, Pennsylvania would join 11 other states, including neighboring New York, Maryland, New Jersey, and Delaware.

What are Pa. House Republicans doing to stop the effort?

To try to prevent that, the House will take up a measure known as a concurrent resolution that has already cleared the Senate. If the House approves the resolution, Gov. Tom Wolf will assuredly veto it. The House would then have 30 days to try to gather a two-thirds majority to overturn the veto.

So far, the legislature has tried various other measures to stop the initiative, but has not been able to reach that veto-proof majority.

» READ MORE: Should Pa. join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to fight climate change? | Pro/Con

The House GOP said this week that it is “standing up for Pennsylvania energy jobs and lower energy costs” and says Wolf’s “unilateral attempt” to enter the initiative will kill jobs.

Wolf, and those in favor of the move, say the opposite — that it will lead to a rise in green energy jobs such as wind and solar while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The Wolf administration has set the state’s first-ever goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It calls for 26% lower emissions by 2025 and 80% by 2050, compared to 2005.

But the delay caused by the resolution could prevent the administration from starting the carbon pricing in the first quarter of the year.

What are environmental experts saying?

Robert Routh, an attorney with the Clean Air Council, said any delay means a loss of revenue for the state, possibly $100 million or up to $200 million or more based on recent carbon auctions.

“The concurrent resolution has only one goal,” Routh said, “which is to delay and block RGGI participation and it offers zero alternatives to the climate crisis ... It’s just a needless delay when they don’t have enough votes to block a veto.”

» READ MORE: Pa. will get $240M, and N.J. $169M, for clean water issues under bipartisan infrastructure bill

Routh also believes the House has already passed a deadline for such a measure, and says leadership is playing games with how the time is counted.

While the parliamentary proceedings can seem arcane, Routh said they have real-world consequences that have allowed for continual stalling.

Separately from legislation, Routh expects lawsuits from opponents, including those in the fossil fuel industry, to follow, which could cause delays well into next year — with a gubernatorial election looming.