State regulatory board gives Pa. greenlight to join regional cap-and-trade program

By: - July 13, 2021 11:52 am

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

This story was updated at 12:15 p.m. on 7/13/21 with additional details on the rule’s next steps. 

A state regulatory board has moved the commonwealth one step closer to joining a regional cap-and-trade program that would limit carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants across Pennsylvania. 

The state Environmental Quality Board voted 15-4 Tuesday to approve the rules that will allow Pennsylvania to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, popularly known as RGGI (Reggie). The board is a division of the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Presenting the final version of the regulation to the board, Senior Advisor on Energy and Climate at DEP Hayley Book said “action is necessary” to address carbon emissions in Pennsylvania.

In 2019, Gov. Tom Wolf committed Pennsylvania to decreasing greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050. 

“We are not advancing toward these goals, but backsliding,” Book said. “It’s important that we start to address these emissions.” 

Facing grim climate projections, state officials call for multi-dimensional approach to addressing climate change

Several members of the board raised doubts about RGGI’s potential impact on addressing climate change. 

“RGGI is a superficial stab at addressing climate change,” state Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming, said during the meeting.

The vote was a success despite six attempts to derail it by House Environmental Resources & Energy Committee Chairman Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler.

A climate skeptic, Metcalfe called the meeting “shameful,” and argued that the meeting violated the Sunshine Act because the public was not able to attend the Tuesday session at DEP’s headquarters at the Rachel Carson Office Building in Harrisburg. The building remains closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“This is par for the course of the process that this regulation has undergone,” Metcalfe said in a statement before the vote. 

“This meeting should be postponed until at least September,” Metcalfe said during his fourth motion, adding that the General Assembly should be involved in the process when it reconvenes this fall.

Rebutting Metcalfe’s comments, Rep. Greg Vitali, of Delaware County, who’s the ranking Democrat on the House environment panel, called the vote “a good first step.” 

In a statement, Rob Altenburg, of the environmental advocacy group PennFuture, called the vote a “significant milestone.”

“Today’s vote will be applauded by a majority of Pennsylvanians who demand immediate action on climate change,” said Altenburg, who serves as PennFuture’s senior director of energy and climate. “Though some additional steps remain in this process, the rulemaking process is continuing to move forward and the program is on track to go into effect next year.”

State Sen. Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, said in a statement that he was disappointed by the board’s vote to approve the regulation. 

“I am not surprised, but extremely disappointed that this massive regulation continues to move forward.  The EQB ruling completely ignores the many serious concerns expressed by affected communities across the Commonwealth, in particular the ones that rely on the carbon-emitting generation of electricity and the various industries that support it for their economic well-being, Pittman said. 

“Additionally, this final rule entirely dismissed the various factors detailed by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission. While this is seemingly a setback for working people, rate payers, school districts and municipalities, I am confident that there remain many chapters yet to be written on the future of the Governor’s onerous and regressive carbon tax and whether it will actually become a reality in Pennsylvania.”

The regulation now heads to the state Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC), as well as House and Senate oversight committees for further action. If it’s approved there, it goes to the state Attorney General’s Office for a final review. If the Attorney General’s office approves, the rule will be published in the state bulletin, where it will take effect immediately.

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry.