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Commonwealth Court Issues Injunction Blocking Wolf’s RGGI Move

Opponents of Pennsylvania’s entry into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) are celebrating after the Commonwealth Court granted an injunction Friday suspending the state’s implementation.

“This delay is an important, much-needed step for Pennsylvania residents and businesses,” says Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry President and CEO Luke Bernstein. “We appreciate the court pressing pause on this policy, which threatens to significantly increase energy prices at a time of high inflation, while also pushing more economic activity to states on our grid who are not in RGGI.”

Bernstein says businesses and families are already facing high energy prices due to a lack of supply and infrastructure.

“This is an opportunity for policymakers to embrace abundant domestic energy production, facilitate building new infrastructure, support competitive markets, and set long-term policies that encourage innovation.”

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) is also concerned that Pennsylvania’s participation in RGGI, not to mention the Wolf administration’s unilateral and unconstitutional push to put the state in RGGI without going through the legislature.

“NFIB is thrilled the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania has granted a preliminary injunction to Gov. Wolf’s unconstitutional energy tax,” said Greg Moreland, NFIB Pennsylvania’s state director. “For years, our members have complained about rising energy costs, and with inflation at 8.6 percent, RGGI may have been the nail in the coffin for energy-intensive small businesses.

Like the state Chamber, NFIB Pennsylvania hopes the governor will come to the table and negotiate with the legislature.

“We all want a clean environment,” says Moreland. “We just have different beliefs on how to achieve that goal.”

Gordon Tomb, Senior Advisor for the CO2 Coalition, says schemes such as RGGI do little more than transfer wealth from taxpayers and consumers to the special interests of wind and solar.

“Technologies that are expensive and unreliable,” adds Tomb.

Pointing to a recent Caesar Rodney Institute analysis, Tomb says billions of dollars have been poured into these so-called green energy sources with the only reduction in CO2 emissions coming from the expanded use of natural gas.

“As providers of energy and as stewards of the environment, RGGI’s favored technologies are abject failures.”

RGGI bills itself as a cooperative, market-based effort among northeast and mid-Atlantic states to cap and reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector.

“It represents the first cap-and-invest regional initiative implemented in the United States,” RGGI boasts on its website.

Wolf has wanted Pennsylvania in RGGI for years. As of 5 p.m. Friday, Wolf had not issued a press release or tweet about the Commonwealth Court injunction. However, he has stated on several occasions that state participation in RGGI is needed to help combat man-made climate change.

“Climate change is the most critical environmental threat confronting the world, and power generation is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions,” Wolf said in 2019 after an executive order instructing the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to join RGGI. “Given the urgency of the climate crisis facing Pennsylvania and the entire planet, the commonwealth must continue to take concrete, economically sound, and immediate steps to reduce emissions, (so), joining RGGI will give us that opportunity to better protect the health and safety of our citizens.”

Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association (PMA) filed a friend of the court brief in Commonwealth Court saying Governor Wolf’s carbon tax on Pennsylvania energy generation will “irreparably damage” the state’s manufacturing, industrial, and commercial base.

“The new tax, pursued over the objections of the General Assembly, will also result in sharp increases in energy rates for consumers,” the groups noted.

Even unions have expressed concerns about RGGI.

“Thousands of blue-collar, union workers who build, operate, and maintain those plants will be lost,” says the Power PA Jobs Alliance, a coalition of labor, management, and consumer stakeholders that oppose state proposals that impose carbon dioxide emissions taxes. “Nearly 100 percent of CO2 reductions from Pennsylvania power plant closures will be offset by increased CO2 emissions in non-RGGI states, like Ohio and West Virginia, which will absorb Pennsylvania generation, emissions, and jobs into those states whose plants are not subject to the tax.”

As for Wolf’s argument that RGGI is necessary to combat climate change, Tomb disagrees.

“There is no climate emergency, and the theory that we are somehow threatened by carbon dioxide emissions is absurd on its face,” said Tomb. “Carbon dioxide is a harmless gas that each of us exhales on a daily basis, about two pounds of it on a daily basis, so it is ridiculous.”

The CO2 Coalition examined the governor’s proposal for RGGI and found that there was no scientific basis for it.

“Number one, there is no threat from carbon dioxide or whatever to the climate,” Tomb said. “Secondly, even if there were, the governor’s proposal RGGI would have virtually zero effect on the weather.”

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STEIN: Looking Back at DelVal News for 2021

“There is a Chinese curse which says May he live in interesting times.’ Like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty, but they are also the most creative of any time in the history of mankind,” Robert F. Kennedy said in 1966.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic reached our shores, the country and the Delaware Valley have been living in “interesting times,” to say the least. Everything from shopping to education to sports has been seen through the lens of COVID, and whether it might lead one to contract it or would mitigate the virus.

Local and state governments collected numbers and issued mandates. Schools were locked down, reopened, and some locked down again. One of the biggest political stories the Delaware Valley Journal covered in 2021 was the rise of parent power. Parents objected to COVID lockdowns and masks at school board meetings, parents opposed to Critical Race Theory, and shocked parents asking school boards to remove what they deem as pornographic books from school libraries, along with school boards limiting parents’ free speech rights.

This also gave rise to election victories for school board candidates who promised not to shut down schools again and the successful statewide political strategy of Back to School PA PAC, which gave about $700,000 to back those candidates’ campaigns.

Another big story this year is crime and violence in Philadelphia, arguably driven by progressive prosecution—or lack thereof—by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office headed by DA Larry Krasner, who was re-elected in November. As of this writing, 555 people were victims of homicide in Philadelphia in 2021—a horrific new record.

At the state government level, voters sent a clear message to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf in May when they approved ballot initiatives limiting his emergency powers. It was a also the year when amazing numbers of Republican candidates began vying for the governor’s seat in the 2022 primary, along with similarly large  fields of hopefuls of both parties seeking the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Pat Toomey. The Senate race, which may tip the balance of the Senate, could become one of the most closely-watched political contests in the U.S.

The 2021 election process in some DelVal counties also came under fire as delays, mistakes, and mail-in ballots caused consternation.  That has also been a huge issue nationwide since former President Donald Trump questioned the validity of the election process that resulted in his defeat in the swing states, including Pennsylvania. And a lawsuit was filed against Delaware County officials alleging malfeasance in the handling of the 2020 election there.

Another statewide issue in the DelVal Journal was Wolf’s unilateral plunge into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a move that will undoubtedly limit Pennsylvania’s job growth and drive up energy costs for businesses and residents.

RGGI is supposed to reduce greenhouse gases by an auction process for power producers and industrial plants in 12 states, which buy credits to offset emissions. But those other RGGI states are not energy producers like Pennsylvania, with its wealth of natural gas.

And we have closely followed the controversy over the $6.1 billion Mariner East II pipeline. Some residents who live in the vicinity of the pipeline along with public officials have fought the pipeline, while overlooking clear benefits from the pipeline for employment, safety over rail or truck transport, and reduced energy costs. Luckily, for the economy of the DelVal region those efforts appear to have failed and the project is on track for completion.

Locally, Hurricane Ida hit some DelVal areas hard with flood damage as streams overflowed their banks while tornadoes pummeled parts of Bucks and Montgomery Counties.

National issues of inflation and supply-side woes also affected the Delaware Valley region as the Biden administration’s energy and regulatory policies began to be felt here.

In Norristown, the DelVal Journal broke a story regarding Norristown Area School Board President Shae Ashe sending sexually suggestive messages on social media to an underage Norristown High School girl. In the wake of those articles, Ashe resigned from the board and, although he was re-elected, did not return to it.

In Delaware County, the new Health Department, promised by Democrats who were elected to a majority in the county council in 2019, is taking shape and expected to open in 2022. It will cost taxpayers an estimated $10 million its first year.

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CARUSO: Why PA Can’t Afford to Be Next in the EV Mandate Plague

Interest in electric vehicles has been popular among public officials this year. Even President Joe Biden issued an executive order in August incentivizing EV sales. They are a key part of the “Build Back Better” framework the White House released Thursday.

Now we are seeing this issue gain traction in Pennsylvania. Gov. Tom Wolf should know his state’s economy depends greatly on natural gas for jobs, economic activity, and supporting most residents’ transportation needs.

Natural gas produced in places like Pennsylvania can be converted to liquid fuel – such as gasoline – and is directly stored in the fuel tanks, sent to the combustion chamber, and ignited to make your car drive. We have all seen the signs on public busses saying “this bus runs on natural gas.”

Yet Wolf is disregarding that fact by proposing measures that would also deny consumers a choice for their vehicle use and ignore the clear environmental downsides about EVs.

The proposals laid out in the Pennsylvania Climate Action Plan surrounding electric vehicles are far too ambitious and give preferential treatment to programs that won’t be beneficial to the state. The Drive Electric PA (DEPA) Coalition, Alternative Fuels Incentive Grant (AFIG), and the C-PACE expansion are just a few programs that give clean energy unfair advantages and take away from funding for the already clean and profitable natural gas industry. The AFIG sets up four different incentive programs that provide things such as rebates to people who use alternative fuels. C-PACE expansion gives benefits to businesses like low-interest loans only for clean energy efforts. The plan itself notes the significant upfront costs that will be required to make any of it possible.

The natural gas industry has a unique importance to Pennsylvania, and this resource is a key element in traditional vehicles. Pennsylvania is the second-largest producer of natural gas in the U.S., making it a net exporter of gas to other states and countries. The sector supported half a million jobs in 2019 and contributed $78.4 billion. These unique statistics make it all the more concerning that public officials are considering subjecting Pennsylvania to other states’ standards. For example, the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Program in California is emulated in the PA Climate Action Plan. It would essentially implement a part of California’s smog and pollution control standards with the requirement of a percentage of electric vehicles in the state, even though California’s and Pennsylvania’s climates are on opposite ends of the spectrum. In addition, those two states’ economies are vastly different. California does not depend on a natural gas industry for driving economic activity as Pennsylvania does.

To force this kind of mandate on a state like Pennsylvania makes no sense. One argument Pennsylvania officials have enjoyed using thus far is that analysis shows even though EVs require a large upfront investment, they will eventually be cost-effective. As a former administrator for the U.S. Energy Information Administration, I have devoted my career to prioritizing the reliance on credible and accurate data for informing sensible policymaking. With electric vehicles on average costing $13,000 more than typical combustion vehicles, it would take an extraordinary amount of time to see the returns that are being predicted, if ever.

Electric vehicles may have some benefits for reducing emissions, but they are by no means a silver bullet solution. A recent Brattle Group study shows the switch to require these cars that use massive amounts of electricity will put a large strain on power production. There is also a misconception behind how they emit a significantly less amount of greenhouse gasses. Electric vehicles are not zero-emissions vehicles. In reality, all types of vehicles produce emissions at some point, even electric vehicles. During the manufacturing phase of electric vehicles down to having to charge them, there is still emission of carbon involved. The more you have to charge the battery the more worn down it gets, resulting in it losing its ability to maintain charge and increasing methane emissions by up to 16 percent. If we try to move towards EVs too quickly, we won’t have enough power to fuel the production, and our need for electricity will grow too quickly.  Current EIA data shows that 19 percent of electricity still comes from coal, a fuel source with a higher emissions intensity. Using more coal-fired electricity to power electric vehicles will therefore undercut any potential emissions reductions benefits with EVs.

Mandates for EVs are being proposed in various states, and to some degree are even included in the $3.5 trillion Reconciliation bill being put forth by Congress. It is high time we take a look at all the options and all the facts, instead of forcing something that does not meet the needs of most Pennsylvania residents.

PA Gov. Wolf Issues Executive Orders on Minimum Wage, Worker Safety

Gov. Tom Wolf signed an executive order Thursday raising the minimum wage for workers at companies that receive state grants, loans, or tax relief to $13.50 an hour. It is now the minimum hourly rate for state employees.

At a press conference near Pittsburgh Thursday, Wolf pointed out the current $7.25 minimum wage in Pennsylvania is less than workers are paid in all surrounding states. New Jersey’s minimum wage is $12. New York’s is $13.20, Ohio’s is $9.30, and West Virginia’s is $8.75.

Wolf also called on the state legislature to pass laws requiring paid sick leave, institute federal workplace protections, and raise the minimum wage for all workers to $12.00 with a path toward $15 an hour by 2024.

“With our economy on the comeback, there are so many job openings that people can select the option that is best for their family. This has created a tremendous moment for workers,” said Wolf in a press release. “With Pennsylvanians’ renowned work ethic, this is an opportunity to improve jobs and workplaces. My workforce plan will create safer workplaces, guarantee paid leave, and promote higher wages for workers.”

But Commonwealth Foundation Vice President Nate Benefield said Wolf’s actions were unnecessary because wages are already rising.

“Everything in Wolf’s action Thursday was meaningless and unnecessary,” said Benefield. “Wages have consistently risen in Pennsylvania because of market forces, and are rising now due to high demand for labor. Government mandates are neither helpful in raising wages or helping employers fill jobs. All this activity was simply virtue signaling to appeal to Wolf’s campaign donors (government union bosses).”

And  Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) said, “Pennsylvanians are tired of still dealing with the effects of the political agenda forced on them throughout the pandemic. From selective business closures, to mask and vaccine mandates, to breaching Pennsylvanians’ personal health information, as well as the inability to properly process unemployment claims, Pennsylvanians are worn out by the uncertainty presented by the Wolf administration.”

Wolf’s announcement is “one more attempt to bypass the voice of the people,” Ward added. “The efforts outlined today to protect Pennsylvania workplaces is a ruse that further opens the door to executive branch overreach, crushes small businesses, and generates greater confusion for employers to keep their employees employed and safe. Pennsylvanians have already spoken when it comes to government interference in our lives and workplaces when they voted to limit the governor’s executive powers with the passage of the constitutional amendment in the primary.”

Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce CEO Gene Barr said the Chamber “appreciates the governor’s intent” but warned of unintended consequences. “For example, requiring strict wage and benefit standards for employers to qualify for state aid may not impact larger corporations but could pull critical lifelines from small businesses already struggling through pandemic and workforce crises,” Barr warned in a statement.

“The governor has also called for public shaming of employers who violate labor laws,” Barr said.  “We certainly support holding accountable those who skirt the law, harming employees and creating an unfair advantage over law-abiding competitors. At the same time, policymakers should recognize that violations are often unintentional and eventually remedied. Employment laws and regulations are notoriously complicated; such as similar federal and state laws that include subtle differences creating what’s known as the ‘compliance trap.’

The governor mentioned employers owing unemployment compensation back taxes, but some may not even be aware they owe, especially after the chaos of the last year and a half.  We would hope a public list of ‘bad actors’ only includes companies who violate the law and willfully fail to comply after exhausting appeals or any administrative resolution process,” Barr said. “We look forward to working with the administration as it further develops these policies.”