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CORBIN: EPA’s New Methane Rule Stands in the Way of Environmental Progress in PA

For many of us, the new year is synonymous with resolutions to become more active. However, in the case of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and some of its proposed regulations for the energy industry, we should all hope that Agency officials restrain themselves.

This is especially true when it comes to the EPA’s methane emissions reduction rule, a far-reaching, but controversial, regulation whose final version was published this past December. To prevent unnecessary damage to Pennsylvania’s energy sector and its significant economic impact, considerable changes are necessary to ensure the rule is flexible enough to accommodate the dynamic needs of energy producers in the Keystone State and beyond.

At first glance, the rule appears to have a simple and sensible goal – strengthening detection standards that identify the sources of methane leaks so that energy producers can prevent and control them. This is important for those concerned about climate change because the greenhouse effect of methane is approximately 28 times greater than that of carbon dioxide. It is also critical for energy production because methane leaks left unchecked result in a reduction of energy supply in the market. In other words, the detection and mitigation of fugitive methane emissions benefits both the environment and the energy sector’s bottom line.

Most importantly, the rule effectively would allow for the EPA to ‘delegate’ its statutory authority under a new Super Emitter Response Program to third parties who would monitor and collect data on potential methane leaks and notify the suspected offenders. The companies would be required to investigate these third-party notifications, adding another layer of oversight and response to data of questionable accuracy and objectivity This should be left to the regulatory authorities at the state and federal (EPA) level.

To the EPA’s credit, the flood of comments it received and the serious discussion following the rule’s publication led to several improvements in the final version. However, the rule still needs considerable refinement as it enters a robust compliance review period. In general, the EPA should ensure its new rule is crafted in a way that reflects the realities of energy production and current methane detection in the Commonwealth.

Pennsylvania, like other major energy-producing states, hasn’t needed federal regulation to make tremendous strides in reducing methane emissions. Proactive leadership in the energy sector and astute policymaking by state regulators has resulted in a 16 percent reduction in methane emissions in the United States from 1990 to 2021.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has taken laudable measures to reduce methane leakage from oil and gas wells and transmission infrastructure by updating permits for oil and gas well sites and implementing effective, common-sense regulations for existing infrastructure. Our state’s energy sector has similarly worked hand in hand with local officials to effectuate change. For example, Peoples Gas pledged as far back as 2019 to “cut methane emissions from its Pittsburgh distribution system by 50 percent using advanced leak detection methods.”

As a result of these broad-ranging, cooperative efforts, the Appalachian Basin’s greenhouse gas emissions intensity dropped by 22 percent this past year, according to findings from the Marcellus Shale Coalition. The coalition similarly asserted that the increased use of natural gas will benefit the environment, but that policymakers have been hindering the infrastructure development needed to meet consumer demand.

Working alongside Pennsylvania’s energy sector rather than competing with it is a smart move. As PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) reported earlier this year, the oil and gas industry supports nearly 500,000 jobs in Pennsylvania, or about one in eighteen family sustaining jobs in the Keystone State. As the nation’s second largest natural gas producer, just behind Texas, energy contributed $75 billion to Pennsylvania’s total gross domestic product.

As EPA undertakes the final revision and review of its methane emissions reduction rule, it must continue to collaborate with the energy sector and address concerns about its proposed Super Emitter Response Program. This is a duplication of the EPA’s existing responsibilities and could grant excessive and undue authority to third parties at an additional cost to the industry.

Pennsylvania’s energy sector is already working towards a cleaner future and the EPA must ensure it doesn’t create roadblocks that impede the progress of the industry’s efforts. Allowing them to innovate and invest in advanced technologies without unwarranted restrictions or penalties will help to maintain the momentum already created in reducing methane emissions.

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Senate Environment Committee Okays ‘Carbon Sequestration’ Measure

Pennsylvania may soon begin capturing and sequestering carbon underground with the passage of a measure that one Republican senator calls a “pragmatic solution” to address climate change concerns without interfering with economic activity.

Senate Bill 831 seeks to “provide [e] for the injection of carbon dioxide into an underground reservoir for the purpose of carbon sequestration,” a novel approach to mitigating carbon emissions. It has gained traction among climate advocates in recent years.

The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee approved the bill on Wednesday.

Peter Psarras, a research assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, told DVJournal the practice involves “storage of CO2 in a non-atmospheric system, and usually for meaningful time periods.

“There is a bit of back-and-forth over what constitutes meaningful in this sense,” Psarras said, “but we’re mostly concerned with ensuring that the CO2 does not revert back to the atmosphere any time soon.”

He said the maximum ideal storage time is more than 1,000 years.

State Sen. Gene Yaw, the bill’s prime sponsor, told DVJournal the bill “is a proactive step to secure Pennsylvania’s future as a hub for carbon capture and sequestration.”

“It’s a pragmatic solution to a problem that we all want to solve – reducing our carbon emissions without crippling the reliability of our existing power grid,” Yaw said. “Pennsylvania is uniquely qualified to develop a vast [carbon capture] network, thanks to our robust energy industry and extensive geological formations.”

“We should act now to establish a solid regulatory framework that will attract investment, development, and economic opportunity for decades to come.”

In carbon sequestration, CO2 is captured during industrial processes such as energy generation and heavy fabrication outfits. The gas is then compressed and stored in underground rock formations. In some cases, CO2 can also be used to produce materials such as graphene, which can be used in smartphone screens.

Carnegie Mellon Thomas Lord University Professor of Chemistry Neil Donahue said large-scale carbon sequestration is likely feasible–if it’s done right.

“Most oil and gas formations already have a lot of CO2 in them, which typically just vents from the wells,” he explained. “For the most part, those formations do not leak unless we poke a hole in them.”

Donahue said the formations “have held the gas and oil (and CO2) for millions of years. So shoving new CO2 into them probably would work.”

Hannah Wiseman, a Wilson Faculty Fellow in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences at Penn State said studies have shown carbon sequestration is an “essential” component to mitigating the worst theoretical effects of climate change.

“Many criticize carbon sequestration as allowing continued production of fossil fuels while capturing the carbon,” Wiseman said.

“But the technique of direct air capture simply removes carbon from the atmosphere—a critical enterprise given that even if we were to reduce [greenhouse gas] emissions tomorrow, there would be massive quantities of GHGs still in the atmosphere and being released from the oceans, continuing to contribute to climate change.”

Yaw’s bill said carbon capture “will benefit [Pennsylvania] and the global environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and will help to ensure the viability of the energy and power industries of [the state].”

The state Department of Conservation & Natural Resources said it “has been engaged on the topic of carbon capture utilization and storage for nearly 20 years.”

The state “has geologic resources in the western and northern portions of the state that could be used for beneficial use or permanent storage of CO2,” the DCNR claims.

Wegmans Exec to New Jersey: Bag Ban Means More Plastic, Not Less

Everyone wants to do “what is right for the environment.” But what about when the proposed solution is worse than the supposed problem?

Wegmans, a regional supermarket chain with 107 stores, announced in April it is eliminating plastic shopping bags from all of its locations by the end of 2022. It plans to shift all customers to stitched-handle reusable bags instead. They are also made of plastic (polypropylene)—and usually imported from China, unlike single-use bags made in the U.S.—but Wegmans considers them “the best option to solve the environmental challenge of single-use grocery bags.”

“We understand shoppers are accustomed to receiving plastic bags at checkout and losing that option requires a significant change,” said Jason Wadsworth, Wegmans’ category merchant for packaging, energy, and sustainability in a press release. “We are here to help our customers with this transition as we focus on doing what is right for the environment.”

But in a December 2021 pre-enforcement meeting with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Wadsworth raised questions about the net impact of the new policy on the environment. (New Jersey banned plastic grocery bags beginning May 4, 2022.)

According to publicly-available transcripts of the meeting, Wadsworth noted that by completely ending the use of traditional plastic shopping bags or paper bags the grocery chain would be sending a steady supply of the stitched-handle bags via home delivery services like Instacart, which Wegmans uses for online food orders.

“We’re working on that and hopefully we’ll have a solution soon. But even whether it’s a recycling solution, just think about the bags (that) are manufactured using plastic, a thicker plastic.” And because reusable bags require so much more plastic to manufacture than traditional shopping bags, the net result could be more plastic in the supply chain, not less.

“So, if we just go by the principles of reduce, reuse, recycle, we are increasing the amount of material being used compared to a paper bag and that supply chain from China, which is where these bags are manufactured,” Wadsworth went on. “If you were just to use it once and recycle it, that becomes more problematic than a paper bag that gets recycled after one use, so just making those comparisons.”

Wadsworth’s words were prophetic. Just four months after New Jersey’s ban on single-use shopping bags was imposed, shoppers complain they are being buried under mounds of the larger, stitched-handle plastic bags.

“They may be reusable bags, but in too many cases they are only being used once,” said New Jersey state Sen. Michael Testa (R).  “It is a waste of money that is burdening the state’s employers and piling on to product costs, compounding the impact of 8 percent inflation.”

Even one sponsor of the bag ban acknowledged the problem, which he dismissed as a “glitch.”

“The only glitch so far that we’ve had (during the ban) is the fact that the home delivery of groceries has been interpreted to mean you have to do it in a reusable bag, and what’s happening is the number of these bags are accumulating with customers,” state Sen. Bob Smith (D) told Staten Island Live. “We know it’s a problem. We agree it’s a problem.”

In the 2021 meeting, Wadsworth also pointed out that proponents of reusable bags were pushing recycling as a solution, but that was not feasible, either. While a tag on reusable bags from Wegmans instructs customers to return them to a Wegmans Service Desk for recycling purposes, “there is no mechanism to recycle these reusable bags,” he said.

According to John Tierney, contributing editor at the City Journal, the entire conversation around stitched handle bags is off the scientific mark.

“They are worse for the environment, they are less healthy, and they are more expensive,” said Tierney.

A science writer known for New York Times articles including “Recycling is garbage,” Tierney considers the single-use plastic bag a miracle of economic and environmental efficiency.

“It takes very little energy to create it, transport it, takes up little room in landfills and these multiple-use plastic bags involve a lot more greenhouse gas emissions because it takes more energy to make them and to transport them and people do not use them often enough to offset those extra greenhouse gas emissions,” Tierney added. “By banning single-use plastic bags, you are actually increasing carbon emissions and you’re inconveniencing people.”

And, said Testa, you are costing New Jersey jobs by importing the bags from China instead of buying local.

“These imported carriers, specifically allowed by the current law, are all manufactured overseas, and they cannot be recycled in the U.S. This is what happens when legislation is rushed through and proponents refuse to listen to reason,” Testa pointed out. “The restriction should have been designed to utilize bags made in America and recyclable in America. It is more important to get things done right than it is to get it done fast.”

Julian Morris, senior fellow for Reason Foundation and author of “How Green Is That Grocery Bag?” also says the common plastic bags being replaced are the better option for people and the planet.

“You’re moving a heavier, oil-derived bag or cloth bag thousands of miles in order to get it to the United States, whereas the ones that are produced here are made from natural gas,” Morris said.

As for the issue of plastic bags being found in streets and other areas, Morris said that is an indicator that littering is a problem that should be addressed.

“It could be the sanitation department not doing its job or the public could be doing more to litter less,” said Morris. “Try to encourage your citizens to behave better and also maybe engage in cleanup campaigns as well as your sanitation department doing its job properly.”

All things considered, Tierney said, banning plastic bags is nothing but virtue signaling that is bad for the environment and bad for the consumers.

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ALPERT: The Ethanol Fraud

America’s ethanol scam is responsible for the malnourishment of millions of people, higher energy costs and substantial resource misallocations. The most damning count of this indictment is corn ethanol fails to do what it is supposed to do and is more tragic because corn ethanol is not environmentally responsible. 

The United States now uses 40 percent — or more than 6 billion bushels — of its corn production for conversion to ethanol (2021). If this acreage were employed for corn or other grains for human consumption, it could be enough to stave off starvation for millions. In addition, it would also lower fuel costs and improve automotive performance. 

Currently, if the United States were to devote the 6 billion bushels of corn used for ethanol to corn for food, it could more than meet the world’s total demand for imported corn. 

The scam began with the bipartisan passage of the Open Fuel Standard Act of 2011, which phased in requirements that new vehicles be engineered to operate on sustainable fuels to reduce carbon emissions and lower American dependence on oil.

We produce so much ethanol because the government subsidizes it big time. As David Frum points out in a recent Atlantic article, the government has required ethanol to be added to gasoline, with the production of ethanol receiving “all kinds of grants and subsidies.” 

An honest computation of these subsidies would be helpful but is not readily available. In congressional testimony in 2017, the Congressional Budget Office stated the private economy could not make profit-producing ethanol, therefore “the federal government provides financial support for the development, production and use of fuels and energy technologies … through tax preferences and … spending programs … with the purpose of increasing energy production, reducing greenhouse gasses and encouraging research.”

While the amount of government financial support is uncertain since both the prices of oil and corn are involved in the final prices received by producers (farmers and oil refiners). These are classic examples of production complements — when the demand for gasoline increases, the need for ethanol also increases.

However, a higher price of gasoline will cause the quantity demanded of gasoline to decline and, likewise, the demand for ethanol. There are many moving parts when determining government payments for ethanol, including the jumble of corn subsidies and the payments for ethanol itself. Estimates of taxpayer costs via subsidies and special interest carveouts vary widely, but a reasonable guess is $10 billion per year.

Frum recalls that the late senator John McCain joked that he began his day with a glass of ethanol. It would be an amusing quip if it were not for the fact that the ethanol boondoggle is costing lives and treasure. It costs the world not only American corn but other crops that would be grown in replacement of corn without ethanol subsidies.

A recent study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (“Environmental Outcomes of the US Renewable Fuel Standard” by Tyler J. Lark et al.) shows that ethanol does not help the environment and might be harmful to it.

The authors state that “our findings confirm that contemporary corn ethanol production is unlikely to contribute to climate change mitigation.” In addition, the authors point out that their research does not consider land-use impacts. They do find that ethanol production harms water quality, and it changes farmers’ planting decisions, heavily favoring corn over other grains that are more desirable for human food consumption.

The tragic consequences of ethanol mandates are not only that are they costly to the world community via misallocation of food production but that they pollute the planet with fertilizers and farm-equipment exhausts and are useless in combating climate change. Unless a technical change is made and adopted in ethanol production and use, these mandates are harmful and will be at best neutral for carbon emissions going forward.

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Easttown Township Supervisors Vote to Ban Single-Use Plastic Bags

The Easttown Township Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to ban single-use plastic carry-out bags at their bi-weekly meeting Monday night.

The township released a statement beforehand on the issue saying, “The use of single-use plastic bags has severe environmental impacts, including entering local waterways, causing harm to wildlife and littering the environment, becoming stuck in or upon natural resources and public property, and blocking storm drains.”

According to the ordinance draft, numerous commercial establishments within the township provide single-use plastic bags to their customers.

The taxpayers of Easttown already pay the costs related to the cleanup of single-use plastic bags from the roadways, trees, sewers, waters, and parks within the township. From an overall environmental and economic perspective, the best alternative to address this situation is to ban single-use plastic carry-out bags, the supervisors said in their statement.

“I think this motion is a great start for our community to address this issue and will directly benefit our residents,” Supervisor Betsy Fadem said.

The law will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2023, at which time no commercial establishment will be allowed to provide any customer with a single-use plastic bag. Establishments that don’t comply after an initial written warning notice will also be liable for a violation.

The measure does allow businesses to provide a customer with a bag that complies with the ordinance at the point of sale. The store must charge not less than 15 cents for those bags provided to the customers.

“I agree with my fellow supervisors that this ordinance is a good sign of progress for our township to be cleaner and more environmentally friendly,” Supervisors Chair Beth D’Antonio said.

One woman objected to the move.

“I’m not supportive of the ban because I’m skeptical about whether paper bags are a better solution than plastic bags. I also wonder about the sanitation of those reusable bags that customers bring and how often they are cleaned after each use,” she said.

Board members also said that this plastic bag ban would conserve resources and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as waste, litter, and water pollution while improving the quality of life for the township residents and visitors.

However, the data are clear that plastic shopping bags have a smaller carbon footprint than the alternatives. Environmental reporter John Tierney rejects the claim that “single-use plastic bags are the worst environmental choice at the supermarket. Wrong: they’re the best choice.”

And other environmentalists say plastics help the environment by reducing the harvest of similar renewable resources from wildlife and the environment in general. They point out the problem is actually litter, not plastic.

Several other Delaware Valley municipalities have also imposed plastic bag bans, including Philadelphia, West Chester, and Narberth.

However, one downside of the anti-plastic push is that it will put jobs throughout the Commonwealth at risk.

Pennsylvania has approximately 37,221 plastic-related jobs, including 6,931 in the Delaware Valley. In 2019, plastic product manufacturing generated $11.5 billion in economic output and paid $2.1 billion in employee compensation per year.

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Two Neighboring Townships, Nonprofit Unite to Manage Stormwater in Jenkintown Creek

From a press release

While Walt Whitman once penned “good fences make good neighbors,” stormwater knows no boundaries. Such was the case for the Jenkintown Creek that runs through Abington Township and Cheltenham Township.

Since 2014, the Jenkintown Creek has been a priority focus area for Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership (TTF) restoration efforts. One of TTF’s recent projects along Jenkintown Creek is the Conklin Recreation Center project, which is also part of Cheltenham Township’s Pollution Reduction Plan.

“An agreement was negotiated with Abington Township crediting Cheltenham for treating Abington’s stormwater by way of this project,” said Robert Zienkowski, Cheltenham Township Manager. “Cheltenham Township is a founding member of TTF and has a longstanding relationship working with TTF and other partners on water quality and stormwater management issues.”

A volunteer plants a new tree.

The restoration removed 235 feet of straight, piped concrete in order to let the Jenkintown Creek flow freely through the constructed wetland. With the TTF watershed being 98 percent developed, it has been difficult for communities to manage stormwater in the area. As communities develop and build, there is less ground to absorb stormwater; however, the Conklin Recreation Center restoration alleviates some of these issues.

In the fall of 2019, construction began to remove the piping next to the Charles D. Conklin Jr. Pool and Recreation Center in Cheltenham Township. Next, the stream had to be rerouted into a zig-zag pattern that follows the natural lay of the land. In addition to allowing the water to flow freely, this design prevents erosion as it slows the flow of water against the banks. Sediment can also drop out of the water into the creek bed to reduce pollution.

The COVID-19 pandemic put the project on hold until the following year. In the fall of 2020, volunteers planted flowering and ground-covering perennials, large grasses, shrubs and trees, on the banks of the newly restored tributary. The plants keep soil from eroding, hold in moisture, and prevent trash from entering the creek.

“The now naturally flowing Jenkintown Creek and wetland planted with native, deep-rooted plants not only improves water quality, it creates habitat in addition to slowing down and cleaning 40 acres of stormwater,” said Julie Slavet, Executive Director of TTF. “There are now fish in the creek, and more bees, birds, and butterflies visit, turning this site into an outdoor environmental classroom.”

In addition to making the area more environmentally friendly and visually appealing, the freely-flowing creek is much safer than the pipe, which had fast-moving water and ditches of dirty water.

Water in the Jenkintown Creek comes mostly from rain running off of more than 40 acres upstream in Montgomery County, including roads, residential properties, condominium complexes and commercial properties. This $183,662 project and others in the watershed impact the Tookany Creek, which flows into Tacony-Frankford Creek, and then connects into the Delaware River.

“This new green stormwater infrastructure improves the water quality of 42 acres of developed drainage area around the rec center, which had been directly discharging to the Jenkintown Creek,” said Anne Leavitt-Gruberger, administrator for the Montco 2040 Implementation Grant Program and manager of the County Planning Section of the Planning Commission. “This project directly ties to township goals as well as goals explicitly laid out in the county’s comprehensive plan.”

TTF and Cheltenham Township designed and managed the project, which was funded by the Montgomery County Planning Commission and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Temple University also partnered up with TTF and Cheltenham to develop the project’s concept and proposal, and provided assistance with water quality monitoring.

A ribbon cutting at the Charles D. Conklin Jr. Pool and Recreation Center was held on June 19, 2021. Many community members attended the event, including Cheltenham Township Ward 7 Commissioner Irv Brockington.

“The community members and families enjoying Conklin Pool this summer offered many positive remarks about the project and the revitalized natural system,” said Brockington.


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Legislators React to Shapiro’s Break With Dems on RGGI

Democrat Josh Shapiro wants Gov. Tom Wolf’s job, but he’s breaking with the incumbent’s politics — at least on one key energy policy. And now Pennsylvania legislators are responding to the attorney general’s opposition to Pennsylvania entering the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

“We need to take real action to address climate change, protect and create energy jobs and ensure Pennsylvania has reliable, affordable, and clean power for the long term,” Shapiro said in a statement. “As governor, I will implement an energy strategy which passes that test, and it’s not clear to me that RGGI does.”

Sens. Gene Yaw (R-23) and Joe Pittman (R-41) reacted in a joint statement.

“Candidate Josh Shapiro acknowledged today that RGGI could have a detrimental impact on Pennsylvania. We only hope that Attorney General Josh Shapiro will look at RGGI in the same light.”

Pittsburgh public radio station WESA reports Shapiro made similar comments to the Indiana Gazette and officials from the Boilermakers’ union.

“He told me he does not stand for RGGI the way it stands right now and he feels it should be run through the Legislature,” said John Hughes, the business manager of Boilermakers Local 154. “We should get everyone to the table and talk about it…. I said, ‘we are going to support the guy who doesn’t support RGGI,’ and he told me, ‘I can’t support it as is.’”

Pittsburgh Works Together, an alliance of labor, business, and civic leaders, is also opposed to RGGI.

“It will lead to significantly higher power prices in Pennsylvania, which will hurt the state’s efforts to rebuild a manufacturing base, and it will adversely affect low-and fixed-income households and seniors.”

Climate activism is believed to be a key part of the Democratic Party’s coalition. Wolf has certainly embraced it, performing a legally dubious end-run around the legislature to force the state into RGGI’s cap-and-trade carbon tax system.

“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 September after the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRCC) voted 3-2 for Pennsylvania to join RGGI. “By participating in RGGI, Pennsylvania is taking a historic, proactive, and progressive approach that will have significant positive environmental, public health and economic impacts.”

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is a cooperative, market-based effort among the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia to cap and reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector. It represents the first cap-and-invest regional initiative implemented in the United States.

States sell nearly all CO2 allowances through auctions and invest proceeds in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other consumer benefit programs. The costs of those allowances are felt in consumers’ energy bills.

“RGGI will dive up energy costs, chase away jobs to other states, and do little to nothing to improve the environment,” said Senators Yaw and Pittman. “That has been our position on RGGI since the outset, however, Attorney General Josh Shapiro had the power to stop this as part of the regulatory review process previously, and his office failed to act.”

The senators added Shapiro’s office could have another chance to review this regulation in the future — if the legislature’s efforts to stop this regulation through the concurrent resolution process is unsuccessful.

“We hope the actions of Attorney General Josh Shapiro match the words of Candidate Josh Shapiro if or when he has another chance to put a stop to the devastating impacts of RGGI.”

Other legislators concerned about RGGI include Sen. Bob Mensch. The Republican from Berks, Bucks, and Montgomery Counties told Delaware Valley Journal in September that RGGI endangers Pennsylvania jobs and Wolf needed approval from the legislature.

“With RGGI, the argument is it is environmental and the legislature should not be involved in that according to the governor,” said Mensch. “I think it’s way too much power placed in the hands of the governor because you have one person who will have control over the pricing of energy, the placement of jobs, and that is way too much-concentrated power.”