Pa Supreme Court Hears Arguments Over Participation in Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative
HARRISBURG, Pa. (ErieNewsNow) - Today, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard arguments over the state's involvement in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).
Joining RGGI has been a big debate between Democrats, Republicans and advocates from both sides. The multi-state consortium seeks to cap and reduce power sector emissions by imposing fees and a declining regional limit on carbon dioxide emissions for qualifying power plants.
In RGGI states, regulated power plants are required to purchase one CO2 allowance for every short ton of CO2 they emit. Emissions allowance prices could be influenced by factors such as the predefined limit on allowable emissions, the number of participants in the market and energy prices. According to the U.S, Energy Information Administration, a RGGI CO2 allowance cost nearly $14 in Sept. 2022.
According to the regulation, which was posted last spring, Pennsylvania would have a declining annual CO2 emissions budget starting at 78,000,000 tons in 2022 and ending at 58,085,040 tons in 2030.
Former Governor Tom Wolf spearheaded the effort to join with an executive order in 2019. The effort was met with opposition and challenged in court by Republicans who argue RGGI is a tax.
“It absolutely is. It's roughly a 20 percent tax on our energy,” said State Senator Dan Laughlin (R-49).
Laughlin and other Republicans say there are serious ramifications, especially for manufacturers.
“It's going to cost my region jobs,” said Laughlin. "A lot of our manufacturers are still very energy independent. If we run the cost of their products up 20 percent, maybe the cost of the product goes up 5 percent,” Laughlin added.
“The ramifications of RGGI, if it's upheld, I mean, they're not good. It's a huge problem and it's one that really concerns me,” said State Sen. Gene Yaw (R-23).
Instead of helping the planet, Laughlin believes it would actually make things worse by increasing the manufacturing demand abroad in countries with lower standards, less regulation and more pollution.
“If you make our energy more expensive, our manufacturers than have trouble competing with China, products get made over there- and they're burning just straight coal to make products- so, it's actually worse for the planet,” said Laughlin. “I see no upside to this. It's not good for the planet. It's not good for our economy.”
But proponents of RGGI say the Commonwealth has a lot to gain.
“Pennsylvania is in a position to become a real leader on the energy transition that we know we need. Participating in RGGI, doing this the right way and investing any proceeds into the Clean Air Fund will really help Pennsylvanians and jobs and the air that we breathe,” said Katie Blume, the Political and Legislative Director for Conservation Voters of PA. “80 percent of our levels of emissions could be reduced by 2050 by participating in this. We already know in other participating states that emissions have been cut by more than 50 percent, which is twice as much as the United States as a whole by comparison,” she added.
The regulation to join RGGI was posted last year but was immediately challenged by Republican lawmakers in Commonwealth Court.
“A little over a year ago, we had a preliminary injunction hearing before the Commonwealth Court, and the court issued that injunction preventing the rule from going into effect. That injunction, and the denial of my client's attempt to intervene in that proceeding is what's on appeal now before the Supreme Court,” said Jessica O’Neill, Senior Attorney for Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future after today’s arguments.
Although RGGI has not officially taken effect, Republican lawmakers say it’s already having an impact.
“Just that idea hanging out there that there may be this additional carbon tax- and it is a tax- on electric generators has really stymied any development,” said Yaw. “Even if the Commonwealth Court says, ‘no, the governor did not have the authority,’ and assuming that the Supreme Court went along with it, that uncertainty is going to take years for Pennsylvania to catch up and to bring new power plants and new construction online- which we haven't had for the past four and a half years,” Yaw added.