Prove your humanity

State lawmakers are advancing a measure to block Gov. Tom Wolf’s climate plan by keeping Pennsylvania from joining a regional program to cut emissions from power plants.

Wolf has vetoed a similar attempt before. But this time, Republicans say they’re offering a solution.

The state House passed House Bill 637 Wednesday by a vote of 126-72.

It would require the legislature’s approval before the state could join a program such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. That’s unlikely to happen, given Republicans who hold the majority oppose RGGI.

The measure, previously called the Pennsylvania Carbon Dioxide Cap and Trade Authorization Act, has been renamed the Energy Sustainability and Investment Act.

It was amended to give $250 million in federal COVID relief money to develop emissions reduction technology, including carbon capture, for electricity generation and manufacturing and improve sewer and stormwater systems. It would also help workers affected by closed plants, through apprenticeship programs and redeveloping shuttered sites.

“You’ve asked for a plan, an alternative to RGGI, something you can vote yes on to support Pennsylvania families and our energy and economic future. This is it,” said Rep. Jim Struzzi (R-Indiana), the bill’s sponsor. “This is real money we can invest now, not the promise of some fictitious funds that may or may not come from RGGI.”

A recent analysis from the state’s Independent Fiscal Office shows Pennsylvania would get more than $700 million annually from RGGI if current conditions hold. The most recent modeling from the Department of Environmental Protection expected RGGI to raise about $200 million this year, had the state joined.

The cap-and-trade program with 11 other states charges power plants for each ton of carbon dioxide they emit, making dirtier sources of energy less competitive. The state can use the money raised to fund clean energy and energy efficiency programs.

Opponents say it will hurt the state’s economy, killing jobs at coal-fired power plants and raising costs for manufacturers.

Supporters say joining RGGI is the most important thing the fossil fuel-producing state can do now to act on climate. Pennsylvania ranks fourth in the U.S. for carbon emissions, according to 2018 data from the federal Energy Information Administration.

Wolf opposes the bill. His office said Republicans are creating a false choice. It added that the governor has already proposed investing in carbon capture and sequestration and using RGGI proceeds to support communities.

Environmental group PennFuture called the amended bill “a veiled attempt to kill the one program we can count on to lower carbon pollution in Pennsylvania.”

The bill now goes to the Senate.

The House also advanced Senate Bill 119 Wednesday, which also requires legislative approval to join a cap-and-trade program. It still needs a third vote before it would go to the governor’s desk.

This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among The Allegheny Front, WPSU, WITF and WHYY to cover the commonwealth's energy economy.