Environmentalists, advocates urge Shapiro to stay the course on carbon compact

Thursday Morning Coffee: The Democrat’s budget plan includes $663M from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

By: - March 30, 2023 7:06 am

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

Ever heard of RGGI? Know what it stands for? Or what it does?

If you don’t — don’t worry, you’re not alone. But Pennsylvania’s membership in a regional carbon credit compact, known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, might be one of the most low-profile, yet high-stakes, public policy discussions taking place as part of this year’s debate over the state budget.

In short, many Republicans oppose the compact because they think it’s a job-killer that will drive up energy costs. Environmentalists and their allies argue the opposite, saying it will reduce emissions and bolster energy independence.

The whole business is tied up in state court right now, with foes challenging the constitutionality of the former Wolf administration’s decision to unilaterally join the program without first seeking legislative authorization.

Gov. Josh Shapiro’s administration, tacitly betting they’ll come out at the right end of the court fight, has penciled in $663.3 million in expected revenue from the regional cap-and-trade scheme in its $44.4 billion budget proposal for the new fiscal year that starts July 1.

It’s against that backdrop that more than two dozen advocacy organizations, representing a constellation of interests from conservation and business to faith and healthcare groups, sent Shapiro a letter on Wednesday, urging him to stay the course, even as they argued the overall environmental, economic, and public health benefits of the cap-and-trade initiative.

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

The group, collectively known as Clean Power PA, told Shapiro that, while they’re looking forward to helping the Democratic administration reach its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, they’re also concerned about “the likelihood of continued attacks on much-needed climate solutions from some in the Pennsylvania General Assembly” — especially the state’s membership in RGGI.

“We believe that the state’s participation in RGGI is an important component of an overall plan to achieve your goals,” the advocates wrote. “RGGI is the most effective single action for Pennsylvania to tackle the climate crisis while improving public health, creating jobs, and providing for clean, reliable, and affordable energy alternatives. It will allow Pennsylvania to secure its energy independence and keep energy costs low for families.”

Signatories to the letter include:

  • PA Jewish Earth Alliance 
  • Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light
  • Keystone Energy Efficiency Alliance (KEEA) 
  • Philadelphia Solar Energy Association 
  • Moms Clean Air Force Pennsylvania 
  • League of Women Voters Pennsylvania 
  • Working for Justice Ministry, St. Paul’s United Methodist Church 
  • Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter 
  • The Climate Reality Project: Philadelphia and Southeastern PA Chapter 
  • Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC) 
  • Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) 
  • POWER Interfaith
(l-r): Ramez Ziadeh, Ian Harlow, Richard Negrin, and Jessica Shirley testify on behalf of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection at a Senate Appropriations hearing on Wednesday, March 22, 2023 (Screen Capture).

The state’s membership in the regional carbon compact was one of the central issues during last week’s Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on the state Department of Environmental Protection’s 2023-24 budget request.

Lawmakers on the Republican-controlled panel tartly grilled acting Environmental Protection Secretary Richard Negrín about his agency’s plans to use the money it raises from the state’s participation in the regional carbon compact, the Capital-Star’s Cassie Miller reported.

“I want to know, what is RGGI?” Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming, one of the General Assembly’s most well-known fossil fuel champions, asked Negrín. “How does it work? Where does this $663 million come from?”

Negrín told Yaw the agency had derived its budget number from state modeling projections.

Administration officials say the money could be used to combat climate change, improve air and water quality, and invest in renewable energy initiatives across the commonwealth.

While Pennsylvania’s involvement in the program is still being litigated, Negrín argued that “it would be irresponsible not to put it in the budget.”

In their Wednesday letter to Shapiro, the advocacy groups argued much the same, saying that the state’s participation in the regional compact is “crucial to securing Pennsylvania’s economic, environmental, and energy-independent future.

“Participation in RGGI has positioned Pennsylvania to benefit during a time of inevitable energy transition, and as the federal government and [U.S.] Environmental Protection Agency put new complementary regulations in place to fight the climate crisis,” they wrote.

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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.