House, Senate GOP stymie Wolf on climate change, hold up key appointments | Monday Morning Coffee

April 26, 2021 7:09 am

Transmission lines in Louisa County, Va. (Photo by Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

Good Monday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
There’s an old trope in the journalism business that to write about trends, you need three examples of things happening, or there’s not a big enough hook on which to hang a story. But when it comes to the Pennsylvania Legislature, which has just two chambers, and both of them are doing more or less the same thing at the same time, well, friends, that’s a trend.

The state House and Senate, both controlled by Republicans, are digging in on the Democratic Wolf administration’s attempts to fight climate change, with one exerting some good, old-fashioned political pressure, and the other by fording the depths of the conservative fever swamps. We’ll explore both in turn.

First up, the Senate, where the chamber’s GOP majority are blocking Gov. Tom Wolf’s appointments to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission until the Democratic governor abandons his efforts  to join a regional partnership for cutting climate pollution from power plants, the Post-Gazette reports.

Senior Senate leaders wrote to Wolf last Wednesday, telling him they viewed holding up his appointments to the regulatory agency as one of the “very few options” available to them to “to reinstitute proper checks and balances in this particular situation,” the newspaper reported.

Wolf has faced multiple legislative efforts to block him from having the state join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI (pronounced “REGGIE“), a nine-state plan to limit carbon emissions through cap-and-trade efforts.

The administration and its Democratic allies in the General Assembly have pushed back against the GOP gamesmanship. Wolf’s spokeswoman, Lyndsay Kensinger, said the Republicans’ hardball tactics set a “reckless precedent,” by “using an appointment to a critical commission, which serves all Pennsylvanians, as a hostage,” the Post-Gazette reported.

In a statement, Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, said he was “disappointed” by the GOP’s decision to block the administration’s efforts to populate the PUC. The agency’s five-member board has been operating with only four members since last April’s resignation of Commissioner Andrew Place.

“The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is an important issue that is separate and warrants debate on its own merits – which, again, are separate and distinct from the PUC‘s daily business,” Costa said.

Gov. Tom Wolf gives the 2021-2022 budget address virtually (Capital-Star Screen Capture).

The Wolf administration, for its part, has argued that it has the authority to enter into the agreement without obtaining legislative authorization.

“The governor continues to welcome the feedback of the General Assembly on mechanisms to reduce the commonwealth’s carbon footprint while also strengthening our economy,” Kensinger told the Post-Gazette, adding that Republican lawmakers “have suggested zero solutions and have actively opposed any meaningful action” when it comes to climate change.

And this latest sparring match is the latest manifestation of an ongoing and bitter dispute between the administration and lawmakers over the scope of the governor’s executive powers. Not without some justification, Wolf has been accused of being heavy-handed in deploying them, and less than transparent in his decisions.

At a referendum during next month’s primary election, voters across the state will be asked to vote on ballot measures limiting the emergency powers of Wolf and his successors — regardless of their party. In their letter to Wolf last week, GOP leaders said the administration’s efforts to join RGGI was a particularly “brazen” instance of executive overreach.

Keystone Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant in Armstrong County, about 50 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Capitol, efforts to advance climate change legislation have run into a brick wall in the form of House Environmental Resources & Energy Committee Chairman Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, who’s tethered extreme partisanship to climate denialism, WESA-FM reports.

As the Capital-Star’s Stephen Caruso has previously reported, Metcalfehas invited climate deniers to testify before his committee.

And as WESA-FM reminds us, he’s worked to loosen environmental regulations, and denounced Wolf’s efforts to fight climate change as unconstitutional (when he’s not busy trying to impeach him). He’s also said that powering the world with wind and solar energy is science fiction, the station reported. And last week, he held a hearing on the environmental benefits of the state’s oil and gas industry.

“It’s safe to say there’s a lot of frustration and feelings of futility in having an outspoken climate change denier as the chair of the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee in the House, especially given the immediacy of the climate crisis that we face,” Ezra Thrush, the government affairs director for the environmental advocacy group PennFuture, told WESA-FM.

Rep. Greg Vitali, of Delaware County, the panel’s ranking Democrat, told WESA-FM that Metcalfe‘s posturing wouldn’t work if it didn’t reflect the will of the chamber’s Republican majority.

“I think the floor voting record really is overwhelming evidence about how little the majority cares about environmental policy,” he told the station.

It’s worth pointing out here that, in their obstructionism, Republicans are dramatically out of step with public opinion.

In an April 2020 Pew Poll, two-thirds of Americans said they believed the federal government needed to step up its efforts on climate change.

Pew’s pollsters found that “broad majorities of the public – including more than half of Republicans and overwhelming shares of Democrats – say they would favor a range of initiatives to reduce the impacts of climate change, including large-scale tree planting efforts, tax credits for businesses that capture carbon emissions, and tougher fuel efficiency standards for vehicles.”

The Biden administration is moving the nation back towards science and back towards participation in global efforts to fight climate change. As is the case with so much of late, the GOP risks finding itself left behind by history.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
Last year, 2020, was a busy year for Pennsylvania’s Office of Open Records. In this week’s edition of The Numbers RacketCassie Miller dives into the data.

In Philadelphia, a coalition of Black leaders are calling for an ammunition tracking system in Pennsylvania, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

Also in Philadelphia, the Queer Spaces Project aims to protect and preserve the city’s LGBTQ+ history, our partners at the Philadelphia Gay News report.

Local law enforcement, shelters, will be affected by a dog law funding deficit, state officials have warned. Cassie Miller has the story.

On our Commentary Page this morning, opinion regular Dick Polman considers the impact of the cult of American selfishness during the pandemic. And Pa. deserves a 5th redistricting commissioner who values the power of the people over the people in power, veteran activist Kadida Kenner writes.

En la Estrella-Capital: Las empresas de Pa. reciben un plazo ampliado en los impuestos corporativos estatales. Y Sindicato de Trabajadores Mineros Unidos se manifiesta en apoyo de la transición a la energía limpia.

©CeHa –

A judge has ruled that Sunoco was ‘negligent’
 in its response to concerns about risks from the Mariner East pipeline, the Inquirer repots.
Public transit advocates want to know why the Allegheny County Port Authority can’t use its stimulus money for free and reduced-price rides for straphangers, the Post-Gazette reports
Going to the prom won’t look or feel the same for central Pennsylvania studentsPennLive reports (paywall).
LancasterOnline profiles a local couple who attended the Jan. 6 ‘Stop the Steal‘ rally that sparked the Capitol riot, and who are now running for school board.
The fight over school reopenings has now spilled into hotly contested local school board races in the Lehigh Valley, the Morning Call reports.
Local restaurants are getting hit by pandemic-inspired staffing shortages, the Citizens-Voice reports.

Here’s your #Harrisburg Instagram of the Day:


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A post shared by Michael Yatsko (@yatsko)

Six months after he was fatally shot by Philadelphia Policeactivists gathered to honor the life of Walter Wallace Jr.WHYY-FM reports.
Minority lawmakers in Pennsylvania and other states say they sense an opportunity to pass bold legislation, the Associated Press reports (via WITF-FM).
The reopening/security plan for Erie City Hall could run to more than $1 million, GoErie reports.
Former state Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Allegheny, has opened a ‘discovery center’ devoted to religion and the Constitution, the Observer-Reporter reports.
PoliticsPA runs down last week’s winners and losers in Pennsylvania politics. 
Nearly 30 percent of Republicans say they don’t intend to get reports.
In a new lawsuit, Texas wants migrant children to be detained or expelledRoll Call reports.

What Goes On.
Here’s a look at the day’s committee action in the House and Senate.
9:30 a.m., 140 Main Capitol: Performance-Based Budget Board
11 a.m., 523 Irvis South: House Education Committee
11:30 a..m., Hearing Room 1, North Office Building: Senate Health & Human Services Committee
1 p.m., Hearing Room 1, North Office Building: Legislative Reapportionment Commission

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
11 a.m.: 
Luncheon for Rep. Aaron Kauffer
11 a.m.: 
Luncheon for Rep. Craig Staats
11:30 a.m: 
Luncheon for Rep. Tim O’Neal
5:30 p.m.: Reception for Rep. Peter Schweyer

Ride the circuit, and give at the max today, and you’re out a ridiculous $5,500 today.

Gov. Tom Wolf
 has no public schedule today.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Do you or someone else have a birthday you’d like noted in this space? Email me at [email protected].

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s a classic from New Order that popped up on shuffle as I was putting together this edition of the Morning Coffee. Live from the Alexandra Palace, it’s ‘The Perfect Kiss’.

Monday’s Gratuitous Baseball Link.
Baltimore bested Oakland 8-1 
on Sunday, snapping the As’ amazing 13-game winning streak. The Birds’ John Means pitched 6-1/3 innings, giving up just one run on the way to the win.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.