Senate environmental panel urges opposition to regional greenhouse gas initiative

The cap-and-trade initiative, backed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, would limit carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants

By: - August 18, 2021 4:45 pm

In a party-line vote Wednesday, the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee approved a letter to the state’s Independent Regulatory Review Commission, asking it to oppose the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

As Pennsylvania prepares to enter a regional cap-and-trade program, a Senate committee has renewed its opposition — urging a state regulatory board to object to the Keystone State’s participation.

In a 7-4 party-line vote on Wednesday, the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee approved a letter to the state’s Independent Regulatory Review Commission, asking it to oppose the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, popularly known as RGGI.

“What is to be accomplished by sending yet another letter to the IRRC reeling against Pennsylvania joining RGGI?” Sen. Carolyn Comitta, D-Chester, the panel’s ranking Democrat, asked the committee’s Republican majority.

She added: “A letter against joining RGGI is a letter in support of the past and the status quo. It’s a letter in support of the continuation of carbon emissions, emissions that are polluting our air and fundamentally changing the atmosphere, ocean currents, and weather patterns of our planet.”

Comitta suggested the panel issue a letter to commit to addressing climate change following the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which outlines the current and future consequences of climate change.

The Senate committee approved a similar letter earlier this year, and a House panel has taken similar steps to oppose the plan.

The cap-and-trade initiative, backed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, would limit carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. 

As part of his climate action goals, Wolf committed Pennsylvania to decrease its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050. His administration hopes to join the multi-state program in 2022.

In July, the state Environmental Quality Board approved the rules that allow Pennsylvania to join the initiative. The Independent Regulatory Review Commission, House and Senate oversight committees, and the state Attorney General’s Office have to sign off before Pennsylvania can enter RGGI.

Pennsylvania is one of the country’s top five carbon-emitting states. The state Department of Environmental Protection estimates that participation in RGGI will prevent between 97-227 million tons of carbon emissions between 2022 and 2030. This could help save billions of dollars in healthcare savings, according to the department.

Sen. Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, blasted RGGI, and called it a carbon tax on emissions that could affect “thousands of families” that rely on the production of carbon-emitting electricity “for their livelihoods.”

“There’s no other way around it,” Pittman added.

Sen. Scott Martin, R-Lancaster, said he worries participation in the agreement will lead to a rise in utility rates among low-income families and individuals.

“These things have real impacts. Energy plays such a critical role in life, keeping people warm, powering things that keep us alive,” Martin said, adding that an “increase in energy costs has an increase in cost to everything down the line.”

Sen. Katie Muth, D-Montgomery, clarified that the initiative is not a tax — it’s a “pay-to-pollute fee.”

“It requires coal and gas power plants to pay for their carbon pollution, so they’re being held accountable in a financial manner so that we can limit carbon emissions,” Muth said. “Companies are going to pay based on how much they pollute, and right now, they don’t do that.”

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Marley Parish
Marley Parish

A Pennsylvania native, Marley Parish covers the Senate for the Capital-Star. She previously reported on government, education and community issues for the Centre Daily Times and has a background in writing, editing and design. A graduate of Allegheny College, Marley served as editor of the campus newspaper, where she also covered everything from student government to college sports.

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