Pennsylvania Senate Falls Short of Two-Thirds Needed to Kill Greenhouse Gas Initiative

White smoke emitting from a couple of buildings


Most state senators voted to end Pennsylvania’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) on Monday but fell short of the two-thirds needed to succeed.

In 2019, Governor Tom Wolf (D) initiated Pennsylvania’s entry into the 11-state compact to reduce carbon emissions by charging power plants for their discharge in hope of counteracting global warming. Unlike most of the other northeastern and mid-Atlantic states that participate in RGGI, the Keystone State’s governor could not get sufficient backing from state legislators for Pennsylvania’s membership and thus acted via executive order. Republicans and some Democrats have argued Wolf exceeded his constitutional authority in rebuffing the legislature.

Last October, the state Senate passed a resolution to rescind Pennsylvania’s RGGI membership and, seven weeks later, the House of Representatives approved the measure. The governor vetoed it in January. Tuesday’s vote was an attempt to override Wolf’s veto. 

Thirty-two senators, including all Republicans, voted to counter the veto while 17 voted to sustain it, putting those opposing RGGI two votes short of the supermajority required for an override. Three Democratic senators voted with Republicans to rescind RGGI participation: Jim Brewster (D-Monroeville), Wayne Fontana (D-Pittsburgh) and Lindsey Williams (D-Pittsburgh).

Fossil-fuel proponents in the General Assembly have raised alarm over both the costs to energy consumers and the job losses that the initiative could cause. Last week, Independent Fiscal Office director Matthew Knittel told senators that the commonwealth could collect up to $800 million annually through the initiative’s de facto taxation and that economic modeling predicts electricity producers will pass those expenses onto consumers. State Senator Kim Ward (R-Greensburg) said she expect residents will pay 30 percent higher electric bills as a result. 

In more general economic terms, the CO2 Coalition, a national nonprofit chaired by Princeton physicist William Happer, has determined that RGGI’s implementation may cost the state’s economy $7.7 billion a year and more than 22,000 jobs. 

“This should be a slam dunk, a bipartisan effort to override the governor’s unilateral decision for Pennsylvania to join RGGI,” Ward said. “It should be done on behalf of protecting these jobs and the wallets of our commonwealth’s families and the businesses that employ our families.”

In remarks against an override, Sen. Amanda Cappelletti (D-Norristown) made it clear that she wants oil, natural gas and coal plants to close in the interest of transitioning the economy toward primary reliance on renewable energy sources.

“This resolution is part of the broader conservative agenda to keep the fossil-fuel industry around for longer than it deserves,” she said. “Coal, oil and gas are finite resources. These plants are closing sooner rather than later one way or another and not because of RGGI but because that is what our society demands.” 

Fossil fuels’ potential impact on global warming has been blunted somewhat in recent years by the expansion of natural gas extraction from reservoirs like Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale; natural gas emits carbon dioxide less copiously than either oil or coal. State Sen. Wayne Langerholc (R-Clearfield) noted that the state’s emissions have decreased by 72.3 million tons in the last dozen years while all other RGGI member states combined have cut their emissions by 79.6 million tons. 

“There’s been a lot of talk that we’re not doing anything” to correct global warming, the senator said. “I think those facts speak to the efforts that Pennsylvania’s been taking. We don’t need more regulation or more overburdensome taxes.”

Earlier on Monday, the chamber approved a bill authored by State Sens. Langerholc, Gene Yaw (R-Williamsport) and Mike Regan (R-Camp Hill) to suspend Pennsylvania’s Heavy-Duty Diesel Emissions Control Program. For the past two decades, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has required that, pursuant to the program, all heavy-duty highway diesel engines sold in Pennsylvania to be certified as meeting the California Air Resources Board (CARB) 2022 Engine Requirements. 

Sponsors of the legislation have said it is an important move to protect trucking and other automotive industries that are important to Pennsylvania. The measure now awaits consideration by the state House. 

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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Pennsylvania Daily Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].



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