Pennsylvania’s state treasurer is throwing her two cents into a lawsuit opposing the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).
“RGGI is a massive, illegal tax disguised as a regulation,” Treasurer Stacy Garrity said in a press release.
The lawsuit was filed in the Commonwealth Court on April 25 by a coalition of energy companies and unions. They argue Pennsylvania’s entrance into RGGI will drive up prices and harm jobs.
“If it’s allowed to be implemented, energy prices for every Pennsylvanian will skyrocket–and thousands of our good, family-sustaining jobs will be lost,” said Garrity.
Pennsylvania’s entrance into RGGI has been a hotly-contested issue for years. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) took executive action in 2019 instructing the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to put Pennsylvania in the multi-state compact. Politicians, think tanks, and special interest groups say Wolf should have gone through the legislative process.
“The governor unilaterally entering RGGI without any legislative approval is a direct insult to democracy,” state Rep. Ryan Warner (R-Fayette) told DVJournal last year.
Wolf ignored the complaints. The Environmental Quality Board (EQB) went on to vote 15-4 to adopt the final regulation that would bring the state into a regional agreement among Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia. It sets a cap on total carbon dioxide emissions from electric power generation in those states. Generators will purchase credits–effectively a carbon tax–per ton of emissions through auctions.
“The Wolf administration is trying to use the regulatory process to avoid seeking legislative approval for its scheme to impose limits on the operation of electric generators, but our state constitution is clear,” Garrity said this week. “The power of taxation belongs to the General Assembly, not to the unelected and unaccountable members of the EQB.”
As a result, Garrity says she is “proud” to stand with Pennsylvania’s energy companies and the unions who “represent many thousands of hardworking Pennsylvanians.”
Unions and energy companies are not the only ones concerned about RGGI. Organizations including the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Pennsylvania have been speaking out against RGGI. Several appeared before the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee in April to testify on the concerns about RGGI’s economic harm, particularly among small and independent businesses already facing higher prices and supply chain issues.
Greg Moreland of NFIB PA said the concerns remain. NFIB told DVJournal Wednesday he believes the EQB did not conduct a complete analysis of the regulation on small businesses as required by the Regulatory Review Act (RRA).
“Every other state that has entered RGGI has obtained legislative approval,” Moreland said. “The governor and the EQB do not have the authority to enact a carbon tax, and this is a tax. NFIB is fully supportive of efforts that acknowledge the constitutional powers to tax only come from the General Assembly.”
Time is of the essence. Wolf, who is a lame duck, has stated on several occasions that Pennsylvania’s participation in RGGI is needed to combat man-made climate change.
“Climate is the most critical environmental threat confronting the world, and power generation is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions,” said the governor.
Delaware Valley Democrats agree that is the case. State Sen. Katie Muth (D-44) has also argued reducing emissions will improve public health.
“Efforts to block Pennsylvania from joining RGGI only put our environment, health, and economic security at risk,” she wrote in an op-ed.
Still, Garrity and others argue that economic security is at risk of jobs being killed as a result of RGGI.
“The taxes imposed by these unlawful regulations will directly harm miners, electrical workers, welders, and fabricators,” said Garrity. “Once lost, these jobs may never return, (so) the Court should act quickly to prevent irreparable harm done to Pennsylvania’s electric generation industry and its thousands of workers.”
Pointing to a report last fall by Independent Fiscal Office, Garrity said Pennsylvania’s carbon dioxide emissions have fallen by 37 percent over the last decade without the regulatory burden of RGGI.
Companies and unions involved in the lawsuit include those with coal interests, natural gas, and oil-burning power plants in Pennsylvania, United Mine Workers of America, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers.