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The Attorney General’s office has signed off on a rule that would let the state join a regional program to cut emissions from power plants.

The decision comes after AG Josh Shapiro, a Democrat who is running for governor, said he has reservations about the plan.

Shortly after Shapiro announced his 2022 gubernatorial run, he criticized fellow Democrat Tom Wolf’s move to have the state join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Shapiro said it’s not clear RGGI will address climate change while protecting energy jobs and ensuring affordable power.

But even if the AG isn’t sold on the effort, his Office of Legal Review has determined the rule to allow RGGI participation does not conflict with state law and can go forward. The decision was signed by a deputy AG.

In a statement, the office said the law prevents it from rejecting a proposed regulation based on policy concerns.

Republican opponents have claimed RGGI amounts to a tax, which only the legislature could legally enact.

They also say RGGI will hurt the state’s energy economy and cause job losses.

Climate change and Pennsylvania

There’s overwhelming scientific evidence that human activity is warming Earth at an unprecedented rate. It’s already responsible for extreme weather, rising sea levels, and more severe droughts worldwide.

Pennsylvania is on track for more intense heat waves and stronger storms in coming years, the Department of Environmental Protection says. Scientists stress that rapid action is crucial to avoid the worst effects. Pa.’s most recent Climate Action Plan calls for an 80% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, compared to 2005 levels. Doing that will require hard choices by the nation’s fourth-largest carbon emitter: Pennsylvania must figure out how to cut emissions while planning for the future of people and communities that rely on the fossil fuel industry.

What’s RGGI?

RGGI is an effort with 11 other states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector. Under it, power plants must pay for each ton of carbon dioxide they emit.

The Wolf Administration has made joining RGGI a key part of its plan to address climate change.

Asked if Shapiro would distinguish between his earlier comments on RGGI and his office’s action, his campaign spokesman directed requests for comment to the Office of Attorney General, calling it “a legal question about the work of the agency.”

A disapproval resolution of the RGGI rule is awaiting a vote in the state House. Lawmakers there have 10 legislative days to act on it from the time it entered the chamber. Based on the posted legislative calendar, the House could wait to vote until January. As long as the resolution is still in the legislature, the executive branch cannot enact the regulation.

The governor has veto power over the resolution. If that happens, the legislature has a chance to try to override the veto.

If the House does not pass the resolution, or if a veto override attempt fails, the legislature is considered to have approved the proposed rule.

The Wolf Administration has said it also expects a court challenge to the RGGI rule, which could further delay implementation.

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.