Pennsylvania Lawmakers Move to Block Newly Cleared Climate Regulations

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No sooner did a Pennsylvania state commission narrowly approve new climate regulations this week than state lawmakers advanced a resolution to prevent those rules from taking effect.

The five-member Independent Regulatory Review Commission voted 3-2 on Wednesday to approve “cap and trade” regulations to limit carbon dioxide emissions, endorsed by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, in an executive order in October 2019. 

Republicans on the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee voted Thursday to approve a concurrent resolution to spike the regulations. They were joined by state Rep. Pam Snyder, a Democrat, whose district includes Greene, Fayette, and Washington counties. 

The regulations would enable Pennsylvania to become part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multistate agreement to address climate change that includes 11 New England and mid-Atlantic states. 

Government regulators in participating states compel electric utilities to purchase carbon allowances at quarterly auctions whenever the power companies surpass the cap on carbon dioxide emissions established by RGGI, as the pact is known. 

During the Wednesday meeting, Commissioner John Soroko made a motion to disapprove of the regulations, which failed 3-2. Commissioner Murray Ufberg then made a motion to approve the regulations, which passed 3-2.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly created the Independent Regulatory Review Commission in 1982 to determine whether state agencies have the statutory authority to adopt regulations and whether regulations are consistent with state lawmakers’ intent. 

The commission’s approval order for the climate regulations is available here.

>>> Related: Climate Regulations Reach Critical Turning Point in Pennsylvania

What happens next? The state Senate and House have until Sept. 15 to report out a concurrent resolution disapproving of the regulations. They then have as many as 30 days to adopt the measure and present it to the governor. 

A veto from Wolf is expected, meaning that to stop him the General Assembly would need to muster enough votes to override that veto.

“Climate change is one of the most critical issues we face and I have made it a priority to address ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Wolf said in a press release hailing the commission’s action. “By participating in RGGI, Pennsylvania is taking a historic, proactive, and progressive approach that will have significant positive environmental, public health, and economic impacts.”

But state Sen. Gene Yaw, the Republican chairman of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, disagreed. 

Yaw expressed concern that the commission’s decision to approve the climate regulations could mean Pennsylvania “will lose control” over its own energy production, economic development, energy security, and environmental protection.

“For the first time in Pennsylvania’s history, a decision by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission has opened the door for Pennsylvania to join an interstate initiative without legislative approval,” Yaw said in a press release.

In June, the state Senate passed a bill prohibiting Wolf from joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative without the General Assembly’s approval. The bill passed by a veto-proof margin, with six of Wolf’s fellow Democrats voting with the majority. A similar bill in the House awaits a floor vote. 

Yaw’s committee is expected to meet Sept. 14 to move a resolution disapproving of RGGI that mirrors the House action Thursday. 

Lawmakers in both parties with reservations about Wolf’s actions on climate change have argued that cap-and-trade arrangements and quarterly auctions that figure into the multistate initiative would result in imposition of carbon taxes on state residents that only the General Assembly has the authority to approve.

“Casting aside the left’s false, climate science-driven public policy narrative, RGGI’s massive revenue-extracting, carbon emissions auction mechanism clearly represents a tax which only the General Assembly may lawfully enact under the Constitution of Pennsylvania,” state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, Republican chairman of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, said in a press release. 

Metcalfe also said that Wolf, his executive agencies, and the commission are “fully complicit in assaulting the Constitution, the law, and the people of Pennsylvania.” 

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