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Pa’s Plan to Join RGGI Moves Forward

A draft final rule outlining Pennsylvania’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) was issued recently by Gov. Tom Wolf, as the state attempts to join the multi-state group focused on reducing emissions that contribute to climate change.

While the rule must still be approved by a state regulatory board, it also faces continuing opposition from some Republican legislators and energy industry groups, and has received support from a number of environmental groups. Wolf’s plan is to join the consortium of 11 northeast states in 2022 that sets a regional cap on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and requires operators to buy credits for each ton emitted.

While the Wolf administration and the state Department of Environmental Protection claim that the plan will result in a reduction of 188 million tons of CO2 entering the atmosphere, decrease respiratory health problems, and have economic benefits including 27,000 new jobs, some legislators and energy industry groups disagree.

The DEP’s Air Quality Technical Advisory Committee and Citizens Advisory Council will consider the draft final rule at their meetings next week, both of which rejected the preliminary plan. It will then head to the Environmental Quality Board in the fall, and if approved, the rule would be published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin later in the year and go into effect in 2022.

Legislation has been introduced in the state House and Senate to prohibit the DEP from joining RGGI without the approval of the General Assembly, but it would face a likely veto from Wolf. Sixteen members of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, primarily from coal- and gas-producing communities, recently sent a letter to the executive director of the RGGI consortium, warning him that the governor does not have the authority to join the group without legislative approval, and threatening legal action.

“Both the General Assembly and industry groups within our state have made it clear during this process that the General Assembly's authority will not be relinquished and must be protected, even if it is necessary to involve the courts to do so,” the letter states.

“Every other state within RGGI received specific authorization to join the initiative from their legislature except for New York. Unlike Pennsylvania, however, New York's legislature has specifically and explicitly authorized the regulation of carbon dioxide. Pennsylvania would be alone among the RGGl states if it proceeds without specific legislative authority for this rulemaking.”

There is likely to be much more maneuvering as the RGGI final plan continues to move through the rulemaking process in the coming months.

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