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PA Officially Joins RGGI, but Legal and Political Hurdles Remain

Governor Wolf’s desire to make Pennsylvania part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) has been fulfilled. The multi-year pursuit to join the initiative endured many challenges from opponents, all of which were unsuccessful.

RGGI, a carbon dioxide emission cap-and-trade system for the electric power industry, currently in place in 11 states in the Northeast, has been a special pursuit of the governor since he signed the 2019 executive order directing the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to begin the rulemaking process to join. Pennsylvania will be the 12th member-state of the Initiative.

When discussing RGGI, DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said Pennsylvania’s entry “will save lives and millions of dollars by cutting air pollution” and that “this is only one step necessary to fight climate change.” Speaking about the significance of joining, McDonnell stated that “while Pennsylvania cannot singlehandedly solve the global climate crisis, the world cannot solve the crisis without Pennsylvania.”

Critics of RGGI argue that Pennsylvania’s entry would be economically harmful and ineffective in its emissions reduction goals. More so, the governor’s executive powers have come into question, with some arguing that the state legislature was sidestepped in the process of creating the rule that would allow Pennsylvania to join. For that reason, the DEP had been barred from publishing the proposed rule in the Pennsylvania Bulletin after a group of state senators asked the Commonwealth Court for a temporary injunction, which was granted with no hearing.

However, the injunction reached its expiration, and on April 23, the CO2 Budget Trading Program was published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin, the final regulatory step to join RGGI. Now, with the program in place, the state can enter into an agreement to join RGGI.

The legal battles over RGGI are almost certainly not over. Three days after the rule was published, a group representing the state’s coal industry filed a lawsuit in the Commonwealth Court against the state, calling the regulation “patently unlawful.” More lawsuits likely are to follow.

RGGI also will likely be a major issue in the upcoming gubernatorial election. Since Pennsylvania will be joining RGGI via the DEP rulemaking process, it will be up to each new governor to decide whether to continue participating in the Initiative. Though the issue generally splits among party lines with Republicans in opposition, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat who is running to replace Governor Wolf, has previously criticized RGGI’s effectiveness and potential economic harm. While the state will continue to move forward with joining the consortium, it remains to be seen if it will be a long-term commitment to reduce CO2 emissions.

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