HARRISBURG, PA — Just days before time ran out, Gov. Josh Shapiro said he will appeal the Commonwealth Court decision blocking Pennsylvania from entering the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative …
HARRISBURG, PA — Just days before time ran out, Gov. Josh Shapiro said he will appeal the Commonwealth Court decision blocking Pennsylvania from entering the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) program.
It’s a decision state Republicans—who have opposed RGGI since former Gov. Tom Wolf tried to join via executive order in 2019—had hoped wouldn’t come to pass.
“Just three weeks ago the Commonwealth Court ruled the RGGI Electricity Tax violates our state Constitution,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman said in a statement. “This was a tremendous victory for Pennsylvanians. Today, Gov. Josh Shapiro has made the misguided decision to carry the failed mantle of his predecessor and appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. Shapiro’s action further places family sustaining jobs at risk and stymies the ability for any meaningful conversations on energy and environmental policy in the Pennsylvania legislature.”
RGGI is a “market-based,” cooperative effort among 12 eastern states to cut down on their carbon emissions. The participants collectively agree to set a limit on the emissions from regulated power plants. Over time, the regional cap declines, so that greenhouse gas emissions decrease in a “planned and predictable way.”
Once these limits are set, power plants purchase allowances at quarterly auctions, where they can be purchased by power plants and other entities. In 2021, participating states made $926 million from the allowance auctions.
Critics of the program equate RGGI to an unfair tax on Pennsylvanians. Since Wolf attempted to join using an executive order, they also claim it was an example of executive overreach. Its supporters, in turn, say that Wolf was allowed to regulate energy companies thanks to the federal Clean Air Act. They maintain that the cap on emissions for energy companies is not a tax, but a fee which doesn’t require legislation.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether Shapiro would appeal the Commonwealth Court’s decision. Earlier this year, he convened a working group of various interests to discuss Pennsylvania’s energy future. In September, the group concluded that a cap-and-invest program is “both necessary and inevitable.” However, the group did not say outright that RGGI was the right program for Pennsylvania to achieve its carbon reduction goals.
A spokesperson for the governor said that it was a matter of executive authority that led the administration to appeal. Should the administration win at the PA Supreme Court level, there’s no guarantee whether or not the governor will maintain the commonwealth’s involvement in RGGI.
“The Commonwealth Court’s decision on RGGI—put in place by the prior administration—was limited to questions of executive authority, and our administration must appeal in order to protect that important authority for this administration and all future governors,” spokesperson Manuel Bonder said in a statement.
He also put it to Republicans to work together on finding another option.
“Should legislative leaders choose to engage in constructive dialogue, the governor is confident we can agree on a stronger alternative to RGGI—if they take their ball and go home, they will be making a choice not to advance commonsense energy policy that protects jobs, the environment, and consumers in Pennsylvania.”
Sen. President Pro Tempore Kim Ward, a Republican, said that Shapiro’s decision displays a lack of leadership.
“Gov. Shapiro’s move to appeal RGGI to the Supreme Court is a maneuver to avoid having to make a tough decision. The truth is, Gov. Shapiro would rather unnecessarily tax Pennsylvanians and make them feel virtuous about raising their electricity rates and eliminate good paying jobs than face the traditional factions in his own Democratic party,” Ward said in a statement. “The Commonwealth Court has already ruled this tax unconstitutional. More importantly, an electricity tax has no place in a commonsense energy policy for our commonwealth.”
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