Editor & Publisher, Marcellus Drilling News (MDN)
Tom Wolf’s cabinet members and other green signaling sycophants insist on imposing a RGGI carbon tax on all of us and just voted it forward.
The Pennsylvania Environmental Quality Board (EQB), a powerful committee operating under the larger umbrella of the PA Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP), held a hearing and cast a vote yesterday on whether or not PA should join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a tax on carbon for power generators. As we predicted earlier, EQB, which is packed with political appointees by PA Gov. Tom Wolf, voted in favor of their boss’s plan. It would have been career suicide to vote against it.
Wolf is attempting to force the state to join RGGI by sidestepping the legislature–something that has not been done in any of the other 10 states that already belong to RGGI. The PA legislature is controlled by Republicans and they want nothing to do with assessing a $2.36 billion tax (over 10 years) on PA residents. They also want nothing to do with instantly forcing all coal-fired electric plants out of existence, and forcing many gas-fired plants out of existence too. That’s the fate that awaits PA if Wolf is successful in joining RGGI. It is the demise of gas-fired plants, an important market for PA Marcellus gas, that has us interested in the outcome of this misguided effort to join RGGI.
Yesterday’s 13-6 vote by the EQB, which followed four hours of spirited discussion, was a vote to approve and publish the proposed rules necessary to force PA to join, launching 60 days of public comment on the proposed rules. As part of the public comment process, the EQB will conduct five virtual public hearings (no in-person hearings) in their attempt to ram it through. The PA Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) and two legislative committees will independently review the proposed RGGI rules before a second (and final) vote by the EQB sometime next year.
We have several reports to share about yesterday’s hearing and vote. The first is from David Hess, a former Secretary of the DEP from the Jurassic period (when dinosaur Tom Ridge roamed the state as its governor). Hess is thrilled with yesterday’s outcome. Writing on his PA Environment Digest Blog, Hess does a good job of chronicling the details of how the meeting progressed yesterday:
On September 15, the Environmental Quality Board voted 13 to 6 to approve the proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction for Power Plants consistent with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative for public comment and review by the General Assembly and the Independent Regulatory Review Commission…
The vote came after nearly four hours of discussion and questions and after seven different motions to Table and make other changes to the proposal and supporting documents were defeated by similar votes…
Those voting for these motions and voting no on the final motion approving the regulation for public comment were Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming); Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler); and four members of DEP’s Citizens Advisory Council– Mark Caskey, Duane Mowery, John St.Clair, and Jim Welty.
Legislative opponents of the proposed carbon pollution reduction program made several of the same points they raised during hearings and information sessions on the proposal over the last few months.
Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), Majority Chair, House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, questioned the statutory authority for adopting the regulation.
DEP’s Counsel noted the state Air Pollution Control Act gives DEP to regulate pollutants and adding Carbon dioxide is a pollutant regulated under the federal Clean Air Act and by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
He also objected to having virtual hearings versus in-person hearings where the public can “look people in the eye” that are proposing these changes. Given the federal court ruling Monday declaring some of Gov. Wolf’s COVID-related orders unconstitutional, he said he hopes that changes.
Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), Majority Chair, Senate Environmental Resource and Energy Committee, said the climate is changing and has been changing for thousands of years. For example, he said, the Finger Lakes in New York were formed after the withdrawal of glaciers.
He also said the proposal addresses only a small part of the energy sector and does not address other energy sources like solar and nuclear that also cause pollution.
Sen. Yaw noted China is planning to construct hundreds of coal-fired power plants and he does not understand how closing the remaining coal-fired power plants in Pennsylvania will help climate change.
Legislative supporters of the proposal also made similar comments before.
Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware), Minority Chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, said climate change is real and is having negative impacts on Pennsylvania today and it needs to be taken seriously.
He noted the vote by the EQB starts a public participation process that will involve the General Assembly, the public and many stakeholders…
Sen. Steven Santarsiero (D-Bucks), Minority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, said the proposed carbon pollution reduction program would give the state the resources to help communities impacted by the closure of coal-fired power plants that will close with or without the proposal.
He said the Senate and House have not been interested in helping these impacted communities when dozens of coal-fired power plants closed in the past and it’s time the General Assembly has a serious conversation about this issue.
Sen. Santarsiero also said, in response to Sen. Yaw’s comment about China, that if the United States had a different kind of national leadership, we could put pressure on China to make changes, but that does not excuse our obligation to do our share on climate change.
As part of its presentation to the Board on the proposal, DEP said it will have a separate development process with its own public participation process for how to invest the estimated $300 million annual proceeds from the carbon pollution reduction program.
DEP’s detailed presentation on the proposal will be posted on the Board’s webpage.
DEP is proposing a 60-day public comment period and five virtual public hearings.
In addition to the general public comment period, the General Assembly, and the environmental committees in particular, and the Independent Regulatory Review Committee have the opportunity to review and comment on the proposal under the Regulatory Review Act.
Wow, the Democrats on the committee who spoke don’t understand international politics, and they certainly don’t understand economics. Completely ignorant.
A student reporter from Lehigh University watched the hearing and reveals a few tidbits in his excellent report not picked up by other accounts we read. Apparently there was some colorful language (including an “f-bomb”) uttered during the hearing:
The four hour-long meeting featured intense debate, fierce opposition among board members and even an “f bomb” before a 13-6 vote to move forward in the regulatory process for the key, Gov. Tom Wolf-backed climate initiative…
RGGI is a cap and trade program in which the state would price carbon into the market by requiring carbon-emitting power plants to purchase “allowances” for their emissions. The less carbon a particular plant needs to produce electricity, the less allowances they will need to purchase.
Energy providers then are forced to factor cost of allowances into how much they charge for electricity, making the cleaner electricity also the cheapest. The number of allowances the state would offer for purchase would decline over time, according to DEP modeling. Funds raised through the purchase of allowances would then go back into the state’s economy to support green energy and other environmental causes…
RGGI has become a lightning rod of sorts in recent months among Republicans and even some Democrats in the GOP-controlled Pennsylvania Legislature. Metcalfe, calling RGGI an “illegal scheme” and a “job killing regulation” at the Tuesday meeting, questioned the authority of both Wolf — who directed the state to join RGGI in an October 2019 executive order — and the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to enforce the new regulation without legislative approval.
The DEP cited the Air Pollution Control Act as its statutory authority for regulating air quality in Pennsylvania.
But the House and Senate have both passed House Bill 2025, with a minority of Democrats in both chambers joining Republicans to support the measure. The bill, which now heads to Wolf’s desk, would require General Assembly approval before the state enacts any carbon cap or joins any multi-state greenhouse gas cap and trade program.
Wolf is expected to veto the bill.
Finally, a day before the hearing, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe sent a letter to DEP Sec. Pat McDonnell asking him to delay the hearing until it can be conducted in-person. McDonnell chose to ignore Metcalfe’s request. We like Metcalfe’s letter and the arguments he makes. We also love how he sticks it to the DEP and to McDonnell:
“Dear Secretary McDonnell:
“I write you today to state my serious concerns with the Department of Environmental Protection’s decision to move forward in bringing the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) regulation before the Environmental Quality Board tomorrow. Considering the impact that the governor’s COVID-19 related orders have had on our economy and the fact that you still do not believe it to be safe to be holding this meeting in person, I request that you remove the regulation from the agenda and cancel the EQB meeting.
“It should not come as a surprise to you that I do not believe that you should be holding EQB meetings on any regulation virtually. I have contacted your department twice before to raise this point in a letter sent to you on April 14 of this year and an email sent to the EQB members on May 19. I have yet to receive an answer from you as to why you believe it is acceptable to be holding these meetings virtually, which will have severe consequences for Pennsylvania’s energy economy, while your offices are still shuttered.
“It is my understanding that the majority of DEP staff, if not all of them, are still not physically coming in to work. My staff recently visited the Rachel Carson Building and found that the doors were locked, preventing them from entering. They were informed by a security guard that there really was not much point in entering anyway as there were few, if any, employees present for them to speak with.
“It is simply not possible to have the same level of debate and engagement between EQB members, DEP staff, and the public, when a meeting is held virtually as opposed to in person. The seriousness of the RGGI regulation which we would be considering demands our full attention, and must be considered, if it is considered at all, at an in-person meeting. To do otherwise smacks of a lack of transparency and supports the conclusion that you are committed to sneaking this regulation through as quickly as possible while the public’s attention is diverted on the COVID-19 outbreak.
“If you believe that the COVID-19 pandemic is still such an extreme danger that your employees should not be coming in to work, surely now is not the time to be plowing forward with a blatantly partisan regulation such as RGGI. RGGI would not only fail to assist the crucial effort of helping Pennsylvania recover from the dire economic circumstances which we are currently facing, but it would actively harm our economic recovery by driving more business from the state and instantly stealing away family-sustaining jobs from hard working citizens.
“The industries which RGGI will hurt initially, and those that it will likely hurt in the future if Pennsylvania joins, are the very industries whose fees and fines feed your Department’s budget. This funding allows you to continue providing salaries to your employees who have the privilege of being paid to work from home, while so many in the Commonwealth are unemployed. These industries, like most at the moment, have been hit deeply by the economic devastation created by the COVID-19 outbreak. By pursuing RGGI you are harming our citizens and businesses when they can least afford it. DEP’s focus should be on aiding our economic recovery, not actively making it more difficult.
“Secretary McDonnell, if you were in the office, you may have taken more seriously the advice and expert opinions of the three advisory committees which all voted to refuse to endorse your RGGI proposal. As far as I have learned, the actions taken by the Air Quality Technical Advisory Committee, Citizens Advisory Council, and Small Business Compliance Advisory Committee to all unify in rejecting your proposal are unprecedented. It is extremely arrogant to proceed without taking into account any of the serious concerns that the esteemed members of these committees have raised.
“Finally, to pursue a regulation based on modeling created by a company, ICF, which has lobbied on several occasions in favor of RGGI and how RGGI proceeds should be spent is unacceptable. This is the height of corruption when the supposedly neutral company whose analysis is meant to be relied upon on is publicly lobbying in favor of what they should be analyzing in an unbiased fashion, and further lobbying regarding how these funds should be spent, revealing an additional conflict of interest. How can any of ICF’s data be trusted?
“The seriousness of the RGGI regulation demands that we have an in-person meeting to consider it. Your timing in pushing forward despite the severe economic struggles our state is currently facing is unacceptable. I request that you at least temporarily, if not permanently, remove the RGGI regulation from EQB’s agenda.”
Last week the legislature sent Gov. Wolf a bill passed by both chambers that prevents the state from joining RGGI unless the legislature (the representatives of the people) first have a say. Wolf has pledged to veto the bill. Legislators have said they will take the matter to court if Wolf persists. This fight is far from over.