Shapiro says he’s not sold on RGGI, which Wolf has touted as ‘historic’ climate effort in Pa. | StateImpact Pennsylvania

Shapiro says he’s not sold on RGGI, which Wolf has touted as ‘historic’ climate effort in Pa.

AG is running to succeed fellow Democrat as governor

  • Marc Levy/The Associated Press

(Harrisburg) — Josh Shapiro, the Democratic candidate for governor, is breaking with Gov. Tom Wolf on the centerpiece of Wolf’s plan to fight climate change amid the strong and sustained pushback it has received from building trades unions that have long backed the party’s candidates for governor.

Wolf — a fellow Democrat who has endorsed Shapiro, the state’s two-term attorney general — has worked for two years to finalize regulations to make Pennsylvania the first major fossil fuel state to adopt a carbon pricing policy by imposing a price on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

Pennsylvania is a major producer of fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas and is the country’s fourth-largest carbon dioxide emitter.

Scientists say we must act immediately to cut emissions to avoid the worst effects of climate change, which include more frequent heat waves and droughts, and more intense storms.

Wolf has called the policy a “historic, proactive and progressive approach that will have significant positive environmental, public health and economic impacts.”

But Shapiro, in a statement from his 2-week-old campaign, suggested that Wolf’s plan — which involves joining the multistate consortium, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI — does not satisfy criticism that it will hurt the state’s energy industry, drive up electric prices and do little to curtail greenhouse gases. Those are the main complaints from Republicans who oppose joining RGGI.

“We need to take real action to address climate change, protect and create energy jobs and ensure Pennsylvania has reliable, affordable and clean power for the long term,” Shapiro said in the statement. “As governor, I will implement an energy strategy which passes that test, and it’s not clear to me that RGGI does.”

That, he said, “is a determination I will make as governor, in close consultation with workers and affected communities.”

All energy jobs, including those in clean energy, made up 4.5% of the state’s total workforce at the end of 2019, according to the Wolf Administration.

The Department of Environmental Protection expects electric prices to rise slightly under RGGI. A Penn State analysis found Pennsylvanians will pay about $43 more each year in energy costs per household under the program.

Penn State researchers also say that, while emissions are likely to rise outside of Pennsylvania if the state joins RGGI, the drop in emissions inside the state will still benefit the climate.

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.

Shapiro’s statement came as he prepared Wednesday to address union leaders from the pipeline trades who planned to question him about his position. They are among the labor unions whose members work on power plants, gas pipelines and refineries.

Wolf said Tuesday that he still expects his plan to take effect next year. For now, Wolf’s plan faces solid opposition from Republicans in the Legislature and in the double-digit-deep field running for governor in next year’s election.

The Wolf Administration expects Pennsylvania to raise $131-187 million dollars annually from the fees power plants pay for pollution. It hopes to use the money to help energy communities transition to a cleaner energy future with measures such as job retraining and money to support school districts that lose part of their tax base.

Wolf also wants to use the money to clean up low-income areas with high pollution burdens–known as environmental justice communities–and to support energy efficiency and clean energy programs.

That plan requires new legislation. Republicans who control the legislature have so far been focused on opposition and have yet to introduce a measure guiding where the money would go.

If no new law is passed, all money raised from RGGI must go to the state’s Clean Air Fund, which the administration can only use to reduce air pollution.

Republicans can halt Wolf’s carbon-pricing regulation if they win over enough Democrats to muster veto-proof majorities in both the House and Senate. Wolf’s regulation also faces litigation from opponents who question its legality.

Shapiro has made similar comments, both to the Indiana Gazette and officials from the Boilermakers’ union. The day Shapiro formally announced his candidacy, Oct. 13, he had lunch at the electricians’ union hall in Pittsburgh, where they asked him about his position.

“He told me he does not stand for RGGI the way it stands right now and he feels it should be run through the Legislature,” John Hughes, the business manager of Boilermakers Local 154, said Tuesday. “We should get everyone to the table and talk about it. … I said, ‘we are going to support the guy who doesn’t support RGGI,’ and he told me, ‘I can’t support it as is.’”

StateImpact Pennsylvania’s Rachel McDevitt contributed to this report.

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