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Wolf vetoes measure to block RGGI entrance

  • Rachel McDevitt
The coal-fired Homer City Generating Station. Photo: Reid R. Frazier

Reid R. Frazier / StateImpact Pennsylvania

The coal-fired Homer City Generating Station. Photo: Reid R. Frazier

Update, 6:38 p.m. April 4:

The state Senate has failed to override Governor Tom Wolf’s veto on a measure that would stop the main pillar of Wolf’s climate plan.

Lawmakers voted 32-17. That’s one vote short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto.

Opponents to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative were trying to push through a disapproval resolution that would stop the state from joining the effort.

Under the program, power plants have to pay for each ton of pollution they emit. The goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by making dirtier sources of power more expensive.

The failed vote means the regulation to join RGGI can be enacted.

But RGGI-watchers expect a court fight before the state could officially join the program.

Original story:

Gov. Tom Wolf is rejecting a measure that would keep the state from joining an effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Before leaving for the winter recess in December, the Republican-controlled legislature passed a disapproval resolution that would have blocked a new regulation allowing the state to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

In his veto message, Wolf said the regulation “is a vital step for Pennsylvania to reduce carbon emissions and achieve our climate goals.”

Wolf also said the legislature’s effort failed to comply with the timeline laid out in the Regulatory Review Act. His administration argues both chambers must consider a disapproval resolution on a concurrent schedule.

But the legislative agency that publishes new laws disagrees with Wolf’s reading, saying the chambers can consider the measure in consecutive timeframes.

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.

The veto sends the resolution back to the legislature, where each chamber has 30 calendar days or 10 legislative days–whichever is longer–to attempt to override it.

The Wolf Administration can’t move forward with the regulation during that period.

If the legislature fails to come up with the two-thirds majority needed, the state can join RGGI.

Neither the Senate nor the House passed the original resolution with a veto-proof majority.

Lawmakers could launch a legal challenge to RGGI, which would further delay the state’s entrance.

Opponents to RGGI believe joining will hurt the state’s economy, particularly in the energy sector and in areas dependent on coal. They also argue the amount power plants must pay to emit carbon dioxide amounts to a tax, which the executive branch can’t levy.

House GOP spokesman Jason Gottesman said the veto could hinder energy development in the state.

“With today’s veto, Gov. Wolf is once again standing in the way of the people’s voice exercising a check on his continued attempts to turn the Governor’s office into a one-person legislature,” Gottesman said.

Spokesperson for Senate Republicans Erica Clayton Wright said the caucus plans to counter Wolf’s actions on RGGI.

“As the third largest energy producer and second largest producer of natural gas in the U.S, no other state has more to lose economically than Pennsylvania by joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). The governor’s stance on joining RGGI will result in the loss of good paying jobs and harm our state’s economy,” Wright said in a statement.

Supporters of joining RGGI say it can help create jobs in clean energy and that it is an important step in reducing emissions that contribute to climate change.

“This disapproval resolution is the latest attempt by lawmakers to obstruct the will of Pennsylvanians. A strong and growing majority in the Commonwealth supports climate action and Governor Wolf is following through after more than a decade of legislative neglect,” said Rob Altenburg, PennFuture’s Senior Director for Energy and Climate.

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