HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf took a step toward capping greenhouse gas emissions from power plants Thursday, part of an effort to fight climate change in a heavily populated and fossil fuel-rich state that has long been one of the nation’s biggest polluters and power producers.
Wolf, a Democrat, ordered his administration to start working on regulations to bring Pennsylvania into a nine-state consortium of Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states that sets a price and limits on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
Joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative could face pushback from the Republican-controlled Legislature, which is historically protective of Pennsylvania’s influential coal and natural gas industries.
“If we want a Pennsylvania that is habitable for our children and our grandchildren, where temperatures aren’t in the 90s as they were yesterday in October, and flooding doesn’t destroy homes and businesses over and over again, we need to get serious right now about addressing the climate crisis,” Wolf told a news conference Thursday in his Capitol offices.
Pennsylvania would be, by far, the biggest emissions state in the consortium. It emits about 92 million tons a year, compared with the consortium’s 2019 cap of 80.2 million tons.
In consortium states, owners of power plants fueled by coal, oil or natural gas with a capacity of 25 megawatts must buy a credit for every ton of carbon dioxide they emit. The earliest Pennsylvania could reasonably join and see the program take effect is 2021.
Wolf’s aides have approached top Republican lawmakers in recent months about passing legislation to authorize the move, without success.
The governor’s administration has maintained that it can write regulations for the cap-and-trade program under its existing authority to regulate air pollution, although Wolf acknowledged the process would eventually need “buy-in” from lawmakers.
Wolf also said his administration would need to make sure that the “transition to a cleaner energy mix does not leave workers and communities behind.” He said he did not know to what extent the program’s cost on dirtier power plants would trickle down to the state’s ratepayers.
Reaction from Republican lawmakers and the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry was mixed Thursday, with vows to protect the state’s homegrown industries and ratepayers, and an insistence that Wolf’s regulations reflect their views.
“Climate change is real and so is the need to have the business community at the table to discuss solutions and consider the tradeoffs,” the chamber’s CEO, Gene Barr, said in a prepared statement.
Still, House Republican leaders struck a more oppositional tone, saying they strongly disagree with Wolf’s “go-it-alone” approach and warned that Wolf’s administration doesn’t have the authority to “bind” Pennsylvania into multi-state agreements without approval from lawmakers.
State. Sen. Wayne Langerholc was vehement in his opposition.
“This morning, the governor turned his back on the hard-working men and women of the 35th Senatorial District by his announcement calling on Pennsylvania to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. The governor’s executive order essentially proposes a new energy tax on Pennsylvania energy producers and residents.
“The 35th senatorial district is home to three coal refuse power plants which remove coal refuse resulting in cleaner land, cleaner air and cleaner waterways, while also providing a beneficial source of alternative electricity and thousands of family sustaining jobs. In fact, with my full support the General Assembly enacted a considerable tax credit that recognizes both the environmental and economic value these plants provide to the Commonwealth. If this industry falters and ceases to exist, the responsibility for this cleanup effort will fall solely upon taxpayers,” Langerholc continued.
In the meantime, Wolf’s administration is reviewing a regulatory petition filed last year by more than 60 parties, including solar energy firms, that is pursuing a broader, California-style cap-and-trade program seeking to make Pennsylvania carbon neutral by 2052.