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State lawmakers are advancing a new attempt to prevent the commonwealth from joining a regional cap and trade program targeting power plant emissions.

The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee on Tuesday passed Senate Bill 119 along party lines. The measure requires legislative approval to enter a program that puts a price on carbon emissions, like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

Gov. Tom Wolf is trying to join RGGI through a regulation, which could be finished later this year. He vetoed a similar bill last year. Spokeswoman Elizabeth Rementer said he will veto this bill if it reaches him.

She added the Department of Environmental Protection “is authorized to control carbon emissions under the authority of the Pennsylvania Air Pollution Control Act– authority that was granted by the legislature.”

The vote marks the second move within a week by Senate Republicans to try to keep Pennsylvania out of RGGI. Last week, they told Wolf they wouldn’t approve his nominations to the Public Utility Commission unless he backed off RGGI. He said he wouldn’t.

Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming) called joining a superficial, feel-good effort that will have little impact on global emissions.

“We’re hurting ourselves. We’re shooting ourselves in the foot — why? Just because we’re not looking at the big picture,” Yaw said.

Many Republicans and some Democrats are opposed to RGGI because it will likely hasten the decline of coal-fired power plants and could hurt surrounding communities. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Joe Pittman (R-Indiana), said the administration has not engaged with affected communities or offered a plan for how to help them.

Wolf’s office rejected that claim and said DEP has met with several stakeholders, including coal plant operators and legislators.

Opponents also say it will raise electricity rates. DEP modeling projects a slight increase in prices in the first years of RGGI.

Supporters say RGGI is an important way for the state to address climate change that could help the overall economy. They point to the 11 northeastern states in RGGI that have cut emissions from the power sector faster than the rest of the country, while their economies grew.

Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming) and Sen. Joe Pittman (R-Indiana) were among the GOP lawmakers who supported Donald Trump’s 2020 election-fraud lie by signing a letter urging members of Congress to delay certifying Pennsylvania’s electoral votes going to Joe Biden. The election-fraud lie led to the attack on the Capitol.

Sen. Carolyn Comitta (D-Chester) noted coal jobs are already disappearing.

“Coal-fired plants are not closing because of RGGI, but due to competition from natural gas,” she said. “Meanwhile, we’re not doing anything yet to help transition those jobs to clean energy.”

DEP expects the program to bring in $300 million in the first year. Wolf has proposed using some of the revenue to help affected areas.

Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Lehigh) voted no on the bill and said, while she’s inclined to join RGGI, she doesn’t think executive action is the right course.

“If Pennsylvania should join RGGI, it should be a commitment that cannot be undone by the actions of another governor,” Boscola said, adding uncertainty could cause problems for the electricity market and consumers.

She encouraged the governor to meet with caucus leaders in the House and Senate to find a path forward “that makes more sense.”

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.

 

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As part of WITF’s commitment to standing with facts, and because the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was an attempt to overthrow representative democracy in America, we are marking elected officials’ connections to the insurrection. Read more about this commitment.