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Shapiro to appeal court decision that stopped Pa. from joining climate program

  • Rachel McDevitt
Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro smiles during an appearance at the Pennsylvania Press Club, Nov. 20, 2023, in Harrisburg, Pa.

Marc Levy / Associated Press photo

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro smiles during an appearance at the Pennsylvania Press Club, Nov. 20, 2023, in Harrisburg, Pa.

Gov. Josh Shapiro is appealing a court decision that stopped Pennsylvania’s effort to join a cap-and-trade program targeting power plant emissions.

The administration says it’s a matter of executive authority.

Supporters of the 11-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative are praising the move while those who fought against joining are condemning it.

In a statement Tuesday, Shapiro spokesperson Manuel Bonder said the administration must appeal the Commonwealth Court’s decision earlier this month that joining RGGI amounts to an illegal tax because the opinion was based on a question of authority.

Bonder said it’s important to keep that authority for the Shapiro and future administrations.

Joining RGGI was the signature climate effort of former Governor Tom Wolf, who directed Pennsylvania to join by executive order. The move would have made Pennsylvania the first major fossil fuel-producing state to put a price on carbon.

Shapiro has never committed to the program, citing doubts about how well it could reduce emissions while protecting energy jobs.

A working group he convened could not agree RGGI is the best program for the state, but that a cap-and-invest program covering the entire electric grid to which Pennsylvania belongs would be optimal.

Shapiro is asking lawmakers to work with him on a RGGI alternative.

“Should legislative leaders choose to engage in constructive dialogue, the Governor is confident we can agree on a stronger alternative to RGGI – if they take their ball and go home, they will be making a choice not to advance commonsense energy policy that protects jobs, the environment, and consumers in Pennsylvania,” Bonder said.

Environmental groups had urged the administration to appeal. Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter director Tom Schuster thanked Shapiro for leading on the climate crisis by appealing.

“Today Governor Shapiro stood up for the health, safety, and futures of all Pennsylvanians by defending the most important climate protection policy in our state’s history,” Schuster said. “We urge the legislature not to engage in any further obstruction of meaningful climate policy and to instead join the discussion about how RGGI proceeds can best be put to work for communities across the Commonwealth.”

Rachel Gleason, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance, said the administration’s decision to appeal is disappointing.

“The Governor claims he is willing to implement the recommendations of his RGGI Working Group, yet they never endorsed RGGI nor was a broad policy consensus reached. While major energy policy should be determined by the General Assembly, embracing an illegal energy rulemaking that the Court has deemed an unconstitutional tax with today’s appeal is not the General Assembly’s call,” Gleason said.

The RGGI rule was published in April 2022, but was paused by Commonwealth Court that July. The Court ruled against the program Nov. 1. Judges sided with Republican state Senators and industry groups who claimed the Department of Environmental Protection did not have the constitutional authority to collect revenue from the program, and that only the legislature can levy taxes.

If the Supreme Court reverses that decision, the state could choose to participate in RGGI.

Some advocates estimated that the state has lost more than $1 billion by not joining RGGI when the regulation was finished.

That money could have been put toward addressing climate change by investing in clean energy. If the legislature and Shapiro had agreed on a plan, it also could have offered relief to fossil-fuel industry workers who lost jobs when power plants closed.

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