Updated: Sep 12
By now, you’ve probably heard about the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gas emissions from large electric generating units. Right now, 11 states in the northeastern United States participate in the program, and Pennsylvania is looking to be the 12th.
GASP has blogged regularly about the program, submitted formal comments on the regulation proposed by the Environmental Quality Board (EQB), and is now watching an unexpected turn of events. Here’s what’s going on:
Last week, the full Pennsylvania Senate passed a Senate Concurrent Regulatory Review Resolution that disapproves the RGGI regulations. But because the Senate’s action here doesn’t seem to be contemplated by Pennsylvania’s Regulatory Review Act, it is not at all clear what this might mean.
According to a press release from Sen. Joe Pittman’s office (FYI: Pittman, R-District 41, is the vice chair of the Senate Environmental Resources & Energy Committee), the concurrent resolution next moves to the state House of Representatives, which has a window of 10 legislative days or 30 calendar days to vote on the resolution.
Also according to Senator Pittman: If the House passes the concurrent resolution, it will be presented to Gov. Tom Wolf. If he vetoes the resolution, it will then return to the Senate, which can override the veto with a two-thirds majority vote. But for the override of the veto to become fully effective, it must also receive a two-thirds majority in the House.
But here’s the thing: Under the Regulatory Review Act, Pittman’s timeline is all wrong.
“The House would seem to have had only until October 2, 2021 to vote to kill the RGGI regulations,” GASP senior attorney John Baillie explained. “The House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee approved a concurrent resolution to kill the regulations on September 2, 2021, and the Act says that the full House must act on such an approved resolution within the earlier of 10 legislative days or 30 days on the calendar.”
The Environmental Health Digest put it another way:
“There is no provision in the Regulatory Review Act for a second time period to act on the resolution…This is not even debatable, but this Senate and House do what they want.”
Further complicating matters, Attorney General Josh Shapiro recently announced his opposition to the RGGI regulations. Under the Regulatory Review Act, the office of the attorney general must review all regulations for “form and legality” before they take effect.
“Even if the RGGI regulations survive the expected attempts by the House and Senate to prevent them from taking effect, they will face challenges in court,” Baillie added.
Opposition to the RGGI regulation is generally based on the notions that:
The regulation will drive up electricity prices in Pennsylvania
That the regulation imposes a tax, which only the General Assembly (not the EQB or the Governor) has the constitutional power to levy; and
That the EQB lacks the statutory authority to adopt the regulation under Pennsylvania’s Air Pollution Control Act.
Despite the opposition of the General Assembly, RGGI has had an overwhelming amount of public support. Dozens of GASP members submitted comments in support of the RGGI, but you can still give the Legislature your 2 cents.
While the people in Harrisburg sort out their mess, we encourage you to email your state Representative to let them know you support the RGGI and ask for a vote against Senate Concurrent Regulatory Review Resolution 1.
You can find contact information for your state representative here.