Lawmakers take up fight against governor's climate strategy

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania's Republican-controlled House of Representatives moved Wednesday to ensure that it can block Gov. Tom Wolf from imposing a price on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants as part of a multi-state effort, although the bill is destined for a veto.

Wolf, a Democrat, has made joining the 10-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, a centerpiece of his strategy to fight climate change in a major carbon-polluting state by setting a price and declining limits on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

If Wolf is successful, Pennsylvania would become the first major fossil fuel state to adopt a carbon pricing policy. But it is opposed by lawmakers who are historically protective of Pennsylvania’s coal and natural gas industries.

Republicans joined with 26 Democrats from western and northern Pennsylvania, as well as Democrats aligned with blue-collar labor unions, to pass the bill, 130-71. The vote, however, fell six votes short of a veto-proof majority after four Republicans from southeastern Pennsylvania joined most Democrats in opposition to it.

Under the bill, legislative approval is required to join the consortium, after six months of public comment and four public hearings on the governor’s proposed legislation.

The bill’s proponents said that imposing a price, or a “tax,” on carbon would devastate coal and natural gas jobs and businesses in their communities, including the home-grown economies that support those industries. They also questioned the legality of RGGI.

Opponents said the bill was designed to kill the effort to join RGGI and that the consortium's cap-and-trade program would inject new life into Pennsylvania's economy by prioritizing energy efficiency and cleaner energies.

Wolf’s office said Wednesday that the Democrat will veto the bill, which still requires approval in the Republican-controlled Senate before it can go to Wolf’s desk.

Wolf's administration, meanwhile, is working on regulations under the state’s Air Pollution Control Act that it maintains could usher Pennsylvania into the consortium in 2022.

Under the cap-and-trade consortium, owners of Pennsylvania's dozens of power plants fueled by coal, oil and natural gas could be forced to buy hundreds of millions of dollars in credits annually that the state could then spend on efforts to reduce energy usage and boost usage of renewable energies, such as solar and wind.

While regulations do not require legislative approval to take effect, spending the money would if it goes beyond pollution-reduction programs allowable under the Air Pollution Control Act, an administration spokesperson said.

The Wolf administration wants to talk to lawmakers about spending RGGI revenues, an administration spokesperson said.

The administration estimates that its strategy would eliminate carbon dioxide emissions by 180 million tons between 2022 and 2030.

Opponents warn that it would drive up electricity prices for consumers. But Wolf administration projections show those prices being ultimately lower, partly thanks to using the money to boost energy efficiency measures.

Pennsylvania emitted 217 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2017, or fifth-most among states, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration. Electric power production accounted for 35.5% of that, just ahead of the transportation sector, according to federal statistics.

In consortium states, owners of fossil-fuel power plants with a capacity of 25 megawatts or more must buy a credit for every ton of carbon dioxide they emit.

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