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Commonwealth Court throws out Wolf’s RGGI plans

Posted 7/26/22

HARRISBURG, PA — On July 15, the Commonwealth Court placed a stop on the Wolf administration’s plans to enroll the state in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. 

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Commonwealth Court throws out Wolf’s RGGI plans


HARRISBURG, PA — On July 15, the Commonwealth Court placed a stop on the Wolf administration’s plans to enroll the state in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. 

RGGI is a multi-state project that aims to reduce emissions that are playing a major role in climate change. It combines the goal with economic growth in a cap-and-trade program, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. A state-chosen limit is set on carbon emissions from power-generating plants.

Those opposed frame it as a tax on carbon.

Under cap-and-trade, a government sets a cap on emissions levels, and leaves it to the businesses affected to stay under the cap. Permits are issued to the companies for amounts of emissions that can be generated. If a company needs to generate more, it can buy permits from companies that are emitting less carbon. 

There is no federal emissions-reduction or cap-and-trade program, so RGGI is states-based. The states currently enrolled are Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia. 

For Wolf, climate change drove the need to join the RGGI. 

“Climate change is the most critical environmental threat confronting the world, and power generation are one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions,” said Wolf. “Given the urgency of the climate crisis facing Pennsylvania and the entire planet, the commonwealth must continue to take concrete, economically sound and immediate steps to reduce emissions. Joining RGGI will give us that opportunity to better protect the health and safety of our citizens.”

He voiced his thoughts and the need to take action on climate change in 2019 and has pressed the matter throughout his term. 

Also in 2019, the state released the Pennsylvania Climate Action Plan. The plan examined factors affecting the environment and looked at ways to cut emissions. It recommended that the state  “create a cap-and-trade program for the electricity generation sector.” 

The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Wolf have claimed that joining the RGGI will generate many benefits for health, the environment and the economy. 

Joining RGGI will lower Pennsylvania’s CO2 emissions by between 97 and 225 million tons by 2030, according to the DEP. Emission of other harmful pollutants like nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter will also drop significantly. These reductions will particularly benefit those most often impacted by marginal air quality, such as children and at-risk seniors, especially in low-income and environmental justice communities, according to the DEP. “DEP’s modeling estimates that from 2022 to 2030, participating in RGGI would lead to an increase in gross state product of nearly $2 billion and a net increase of over 30,000 jobs in the commonwealth. The results also show that overall, citizens of the commonwealth could see a cumulative increase in disposable personal income of $3.7 billion by 2050.”

Those opposed see the program differently. 

“This delay [injunction made by the Commonwealth Court] is an important, much-needed step for Pennsylvania residents and businesses,” said Luke Bernstein, president/CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. “We appreciate the court pressing pause on this policy, which threatens to significantly increase energy prices at a time of high inflation, while also pushing more economic activity to states on our grid who are not in RGGI.”

Senate Republicans, among other points, argued that CO2 emissions declined similarly in RGGI and non-RGGI states. It’s “a fact that unravels the entire premise for joining the program in the first place,” said Sen. Gene Yaw (R-23).

According to the Independent Fiscal Office, CO2 emissions did decline similarly in the 10 RGGI and three non-RGGI states. Pennsylvania’s 41.7 percent decline was, the report notes, due to a switch from coal to natural gas. It didn’t say what caused declines in the other states. 

Wolf’s administration is currently appealing the injunction in the states’ high courts. Previous to this court ruling, the DEP had already appealed rulings in the lower courts. Wolf and those opposing enrollment are continuing the legal battle.

wolf, rggi, emissions, climate, energy


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