GOP vows to continue RGGI fight after Wolf vetoes resolution

Gov. Tom Wolf

State Senate Republicans Tuesday quickly announced their intention to override Gov. Tom Wolf’s veto of a resolution that would block Pennsylvania from joining the controversial Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) without first receiving a decidedly long-shot approval from the state legislature.

The Senate Republican Caucus said that Wolf’s announcement on Monday that he had vetoed Concurrent Regulatory Review Resolution 1 would result in a staggering loss of jobs and other economic benefits associated with the fossil fuel industry.

“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,” caucus spokesperson Erica Clayton Wright said in a written statement. “The governor’s stance on joining RGGI will result in the loss of good-paying jobs and harm our state’s economy. The Senate Republican Caucus remains steadfast in our position and plans to take steps to override the governor’s actions.”

There was no immediate announcement of when the Republicans would make their move in Harrisburg to formally override Wolf’s veto, but it appeared likely that the caucus would not rush a vote, which would require a two-thirds majority in the Senate. At the same time, Wolf’s executive order that would bring Pennsylvania into RGGI cannot take effect until the veto process is completed.

Adding to the headwinds for Wolf would be anticipated legal action taken by power plant operators facing a financial squeeze brought on by RGGI’s carbon rules. Observers note that the tactics raise the possibility of RGGI being hung up in the courts and in the General Assembly until Wolf leaves office in 2023 due to term limits and a new governor is elected.

“This fight is far from over,” Sen. Joe Pittman (R-41) said Monday night, adding, “We will continue to explore all legislative and legal options to avoid allowing a lame-duck governor from making such a unilateral and illegal action by imposing a tax without our consent.”

Neither Wolf’s veto nor the Republicans’ vow to continue their fight were unexpected. The two sides have been butting heads since 2019 when Wolf issued an executive order to state regulators to prepare the necessary rules that would make Pennsylvania the 11th state in the RGGI program and the first state that is a major fossil-fuel producer.

Republicans in the legislature have insisted that RGGI’s required participation in a carbon auction amounted to an energy tax placed on power plants fueled by the state’s ample natural gas and coal supplies. And as a tax, joining RGGI requires legislative approval and could not be unilaterally ordered by the governor.

Concurrent Regulatory Review Resolution 1 was passed under a state law that allows the General Assembly to block a proposed regulation by passing such a resolution in both the State Senate and House, which was accomplished in the Senate in October and the House last month.

With the backing of organized labor, Republicans have steadfastly warned that RGGI’s requirements would crimp Pennsylvania’s gas production and force gas-fired power plants out of business, resulting in layoffs of scores of workers, cutting into local tax revenues, and simply shifting fossil power production to Ohio and West Virginia, which would not be weighed down by the added costs of being part of RGGI and would essentially offset any carbon reductions achieved in Pennsylvania.

Wolf, however, said climate change was a priority that required quick and decisive action, something that was unlikely in the legislature. “Addressing the global climate crisis is one of the most important and critical challenges we face,” he said Monday.

“While the Republican-controlled General Assembly has failed to take any measures to address climate change, by joining RGGI, my administration will take a historic, proactive, and progressive approach that will have significant positive environmental, public health, and economic impacts,” Wolf said in his veto message.

Wolf also contended that the regulations his administration had crafted allowed Pennsylvania to join RGGI under the authority of the Air Pollution Control Act, and also that the legislature missed the deadlines for passing its resolution blocking RGGI.