A Pennsylvania House panel recently approved a measure that would limit Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s ability to enter the state into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). In October, Governor Tom Wolf directed the state Department of Environmental Protection to draft a plan for joining RGGI—a 10-state coalition that uses a “cap and trade” system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the electricity generation sector. The Pennsylvania state Environmental Resources and Energy Committee passed House Bill 2025 to keep coal plant workers from losing their jobs if the state joins RGGI in 2022 as scheduled. The bill would halt the regulatory process and require legislative approval before moving ahead.
An amendment to the bill lays out additional steps that must be undertaken before a lawmaker could move a similar plan through the legislative process, including submitting a draft bill to the Legislative Reference Bureau for public comment, holding at least four public hearings and itemizing a list of costs associated with joining RGGI. It is believed that the Governor’s entrance into the RGGI without legislative approval violates the state’s constitution. House Bill 2025 allows the representatives of the people to have a say in the process, which is important because the “cap and trade” program results in a hidden tax that must be paid by Pennsylvania residents and businesses.
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is a compact among New England and Mid-Atlantic states. It was initiated in 2009 as a “cap and trade” program. It currently includes 10 states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The carbon dioxide emissions from electricity production within those states are capped or limited by the agreement and a tax is levied that ensures the cap is met. If an electric generating utility cannot meet its cap, it must buy allowances from another company or via interstate auctions to pay for the carbon dioxide emissions it emits above the cap. Allowances may be traded back and forth among companies subjected to the carbon dioxide caps. Revenues from interstate auctions are divided among the participating states.
The idea behind a cap-and-trade program is to provide energy companies with financial incentives to reduce emissions and make renewable energy more cost-competitive. Companies that meet or exceed emissions targets then may sell any excess allowances to companies that have not done so. In reality, it is a tax that is added to the cost of electricity to the consumer.
The RGGI is similar to the failed legislative proposal that became known as the “Cap and Tax” program proposed in the early days of the Obama Administration, which would have made the RGGI program national in scope.
While the recovery from the coronavirus is at the top of many states’ agendas and in the minds of their constituents, the Virginia General Assembly recently passed the Clean Energy and Community Flood Preparedness Act, which positions the state to join the RGGI—the “cap and trade” program limiting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants described above. Green energy initiatives became a priority when Virginia’s General Assembly shifted from Republican to Democratic control this year despite the increased expense they entail for the state’s energy consumers.
Last year, when Republicans held the majority in the General Assembly, they imposed budgetary restrictions that prevented the state’s Department of Environmental Quality from allocating funds to participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. When those budgetary restrictions expire in July, Governor Northam’s administration can rework the state’s regulations to accommodate the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, allowing Virginia to become a full member in 2021.
The Democratic-controlled Legislature and the governor hid behind the coronavirus pandemic to sneak green initiatives into law that will dramatically increase energy prices for all Virginians. One cost estimate for entering the RGGI for Virginians is that ratepayers will pay between $3.3 and $5.9 billion in the first decade and increase average electricity bills between $7 and $12 per month.
New York’s Fiasco
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo pulled a fast one on upstate N.Y. residents during the coronavirus pandemic. Governor Cuomo eliminated residents’ ability to decide if they want industrial-scale wind and solar projects in their towns. Upstate communities that do not want these projects had enjoyed a legal right to veto them if they had concerns about their impacts on lands or other values, but Governor Cuomo chose to ignore those rights due to a climate-change “emergency.” To avoid public debate, the N.Y. governor used the budget process to remove residents’ ability to veto those projects and announced the change just weeks before the deadline for budget passage, thus giving critics little time to try to stop it.
Prior to the change, the plant-approval process required agreement by a board that includes two local representatives. Now, decisions will be made by the new Office of Renewable Energy Permitting, which is part of the state Department of Economic Development under Governor Cuomo. The governor needed to make this change in order to have any hope of reaching the targets in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act passed and signed by Governor Cuomo last year. That Act requires 70 percent of the state’s electricity to come from “net-zero” emission sources by 2030 and 100 percent by 2040. By 2050, the state must achieve “net-zero” emissions for everything, including electricity, motor vehicles, industrial uses, etc. Replacing all of the non-electric fossil-fuel use with wind and solar power will be a huge task, given the rate at which the renewable resources will have to be developed and the amount of land that will be required.
These Democratic Party governors are ignoring their states’ constitutions and are pushing green initiatives despite the increased costs to their residents. Hopefully, the Pennsylvania legislature can enforce the state’s constitution and allow for the necessary input into the process by state residents and their representatives.