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Bill To Keep PA Out Of Regional Cap-And-Trade Program Passes, But Faces Governor’s Veto

Matt Rourke

After a contentious move on the floor of the state Senate, a measure to stop Pennsylvania from entering a regional program to curb greenhouse gas emissions is heading to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk.

House Bill 2025 would require legislative approval for Pennsylvania to enter a program such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

Senate Democrats hoped to offer amendments, but Republicans in the majority made a motion for the previous question — a maneuver to cut off debate and amendments on the bill.

Minority Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) objected to the motion, calling it “totally inappropriate.”

“This is wrong,” Costa shouted as Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) spoke over him, gaveling the chamber to order.

The bill passed with the support of five Democrats. One Republican voted against it.

Though the bill’s supporters argue it doesn’t prevent the state from joining RGGI, it would essentially halt the governor’s executive order issued in October 2019.

Wolf has repeatedly said he will veto it.

In a statement, Wolf spokeswoman Lyndsay Kensinger said the regulatory review process “would be derailed with the passage of House Bill 2025.” She said the governor believes participating in RGGI would have environmental and health benefits for the state, as well as position Pennsylvania to continue its role as an energy leader.

RGGI is a cap-and-trade program among 10 northeastern states to reduce emissions from the power sector. Under the effort, power plants have to buy an allowance for each ton of carbon dioxide they emit.

The Department of Environmental Protection estimates the commonwealth will prevent 180 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution by 2030 under RGGI. It also says the state will bring in around $300 million in the first year from allowance auctions.

RGGI opponents say joining will cost the commonwealth jobs in the coal industry, causing a ripple effect that will hurt the overall economy.

The Environmental Quality Board is set to vote Tuesday on whether the proposed regulation to join RGGI can go up for public comment.

After that, DEP would review the comments and present a final rule to the board. If the final version is approved, it would be subject to other regulatory reviews before it’s enacted. The Wolf Administration hopes to join by 2022.

Sen. Steve Santarsiero (D-Bucks), minority chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, said the decision isn’t up to the legislature.

“Just as sure as the sun is going to come up tomorrow, we are going to move this process forward,” he said. “And come 2022, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is going to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.”

Pennsylvania is the fourth largest greenhouse gas emitter in the country. Scientists say carbon emissions must be cut dramatically to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among WESA, The Allegheny Front, WITF and WHYY.