PA Lt. Gov. highlights Shapiro Administration’s investments in workforce in Tec Centro visit

Investments in workforce development, technical training, and apprenticeships highlighted Lt. Gov. Austin Davis’s visit Thursday to Tec Centro SW in Lancaster. 

Gov. Josh Shapiro’s budget proposes to increase funding by $23.8 million to build partnerships between career and technical education and industries, trades and entities seeking skilled workers. 

“The governor and I want to make Pennsylvania a leader in innovation, job creation and economic development,” Davis said in a statement. “If we’re going to address the workforce shortages facing our communities, we must empower Pennsylvanians to pursue their dreams, no matter what they may be. 

“That’s why the Shapiro-Davis budget invests more into apprenticeship programs, expands vo-tech and brings career and technical training back into the classroom, to give students that freedom and help prepare them for the future.” 

A provider of bilingual education and skill training for those who are unemployed and under-employed, Tec Centro operates two workforce centers in Lancaster and one in Reading. The Tec Centro centers in Lancaster train more than 1,200 workers. 

Tec Centro plans to open a facility in Lebanon this summer, one in York later this year, and another in Harrisburg in 2024. 

State Rep. Ismail Smith-Wade-El said the proposed budget increase in partnerships between education and industry will build an information bridge between workers, educational institutions, and industries. 

“Workers will know what skills they need to get the jobs they want; educational institutions will design programs that teach workers the in-demand skills they need to thrive; and businesses will be able to fill their talent pipeline with highly skilled workers,” said Smith-Wade-El. “This is a smart and necessary investment in our people, our communities, and our industries that will pay dividends in the years to come.”

Area banks respond to Federal Reserve Survey on lending practices

Tighter standards and weaker demand for commercial and industrial loans (C&I) were among the highlights of the April 2023 Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey on Bank Lending Practices released recently by the Federal Reserve. 

Banks likewise reported tighter standards and weaker demand for commercial real estate (CRE) loans. 

“With the fight against inflation, this sort of thing happens so it’s not surprising to see our peers experiencing the same things as we’re experiencing here at Peoples,” said Jeffrey Drobins, executive vice president, chief lending officer at Peoples Security Bank & Trust Company. 

“Really, it’s probably the prudent thing that business owners who predict there could be a recession are not looking for credit, they’re holding on to cash. They’re worried about liquidity and leveraging their balancing sheets. Even our existing customers, that’s what we’re seeing them do.” 

Rory Ritrievi, president & CEO at Mid Penn Bancorp, Inc., and Mid Penn Bank, said that through the first quarter of 2023, their organic loan growth had annualized growth of around 11%. 

“That is at the top end of the range we projected for the year even though historically the first quarter is our slowest loan growth quarter of any year,” said Ritrievi. 

“As a publicly traded company I cannot give loan growth numbers beyond that first quarter as we have not made any of the numbers past that point public, but I will say that our loan pipelines are just as brisk in the second quarter as they were in the first.”

Three sets of special questions comprised the April 2023 Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey (SLOOS): 

  • Changes in banks’ lending policies for CRE loans over the past year. 
  • Reasons for banks changed standards for all loan categories over the first quarter of 2023. 
  • Banks’ exceptions for changes in lending standards over the remainder of 2023 and reasons for these changes. 

Banks responded to the first of questions by reporting tightening lending policies for all categories of CRE loans over the past year. Wider spreads of loan rates over banks’ cost of funds and lower loan-to-value ratios were the changes most frequently reported. 

In response to the second set of questions, banks cited a more uncertain or less favorable economic outlook, reduced tolerance for risk, deterioration in collateral values, and concerns regarding banks’ liquidity positions and funding costs. 

The third set of questions concerning banks’ outlook for lending standards over the rest of 2023 led to banks reporting an expected tightening of standards across all loan categories. An expected deterioration in the credit quality of their loan portfolios and in customers’ collateral values, a reduction in risk tolerance, and concerns regarding bank funding costs, bank liquidity position and deposit outflows were cited frequently by banks as reasons for their expectations of tightening lending standards for the remainder of the year. 

Survey results, as they have been in past releases by the Fed, are tabulated for two domestic bank size categories consisting of large banks and other banks. Large category banks contain $50 billion or more in domestic assets as of Dec. 31, 2022. All other banks have less than $50 billion in domestic assets. 

The largest banks are defined as those with $250 billion or more in total domestic assets as of Dec. 31, 2022, and mid-sized banks as those with assets between $50 billion and $250 billion. Mid-sized banks reported more frequently than the largest or other banks the tightening in standards for business loans, these reports were for both for the first quarter and in expectation for the rest of 2023. 

Mid-sized and other banks reported concerns about their liquidity positions, deposit outflows, and funding costs more frequently than the largest banks, as reasons for tightening standards on all loan categories, both in the first quarter and for the remainder of the year.

More than $200M in contracting opportunities available through PA police project

Contractors are being sought to build the new Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) Academy. 

The announcement was made Thursday by Pennsylvania Department of General Services (DGS) Acting Secretary Reggie McNeil and Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Christopher Paris. 

August 1 is the deadline for contractors to submit proposals for the PSP Academy Project that is estimated at more than $200 million. 

The project will have contracts solicited for general contractor, HVAC, electrical and plumbing. Each contract has goals set for the participation of small diverse and veteran businesses.

McNeil said in a statement the project will ensure that Pennsylvania’s State Police will have the necessary infrastructure and facilities to provide quality training. Construction is aimed at replacing aging, outdated facilities with state-of-the-art, technologically advanced facilities that meet the PSP’s present and future training needs. 

“This project also presents the construction industry with the opportunity to participate in an estimated $200 million-plus project that will deliver value to Pennsylvania,” said McNeil.

The PSP Academy project calls for the construction of a combined 366,000 square feet of new buildings on a 146-acre site that includes the following:

  • Gym. 
  • Indoor shooting range. 
  • Historical vehicle garage. 
  • New Bureau of Emergency and Special Operations (BESO) Headquarters. 
  • The Marquee Building which will house the administrative/office areas, academic areas, training areas, auditorium, cafeteria, kitchen, and dormitories.

Gov. Josh Shapiro’s budget proposal includes $16.4 million for four new trooper cadet classes in 2023-24, which would hire and train 384 new troopers to help fill gaps in staffing and provide added coverage across the state. In addition, Shapiro has proposed creating a Public Safety and Protection Fund, thus reducing PSP’s reliance on the Motor License Fund, and allowing funding for bridge and road projects.

Paris said the new academy will allow the Pennsylvania State Police to train its cadets, current troopers, and federal and local law enforcement partners in a new, state-of-the-art facility.

“The knowledge we will impart here will improve safety and security for all residents of Pennsylvania, creating safer and more secure communities across the Commonwealth,” said Paris.

PA taking new measures in bipartisan fight against blight

Pennsylvania is stepping up its fight against blight and doing so in bipartisan fashion. 

The state House Housing and Community Development Committee unanimously approved last week a bill sponsored by Pennsylvania Rep. Bob Merski, D-Erie, to help municipalities fight blight. House Bill 225 would allow local governments to cooperate with one another to address blight and establish a fund to support enforcement efforts. 

HB 225 heads to the House chamber for consideration. 

Merski said in a statement that Gov. Josh Shapiro has proposed revitalizing communities via new projects, and those investments can transform Pennsylvania communities. 

“But we need to lay the groundwork by eliminating the blighted, abandoned properties that invite crime and deter investment,” said Merski. “My bill would allow communities to join forces in fighting blight and would bolster those efforts by providing the additional resources needed to enforce code violations.” 

To fund new code enforcement programs and the hiring of enforcement officers, HB 255 would create a grant program administered by the Department of Community and Economic Development. 

From blight to housing 

 Sen. Dave Argall, R-Carbon/Luzerne/Schuylkill, received an award from the Association of Community Development Corporations for transforming blighted buildings into housing. 

Argall credited the bipartisan work of government and volunteers for revitalizing Pennsylvania communities by ridding them of decaying and derelict buildings. 

“One of the biggest issues we face is the need to transform more blighted properties into new housing,” he said. 

Argall’s legislation this year to increase funding for demolition earned bipartisan approval by the Senate Urban and Housing Committee. In 2016 he sponsored Act 152, legislation allowing counties to raise money for demolition programs. The program enlists 25 counties and has raised millions of dollars to tear down hundreds of blighted buildings. In 2022, Argall introduced legislation to make the demolition programs permanent. 

Argall’s work to combat blight includes creating housing for seniors from a blighted building and an empty lot; demolishing the shell of a burned-out factory and converting it into 36 housing units for seniors; restoring the upper floors of vacant buildings into housing units; and transforming unused upper floors of buildings into apartment units.

Ben Franklin Tech investments secure more than $2 billion in revenue for PA economy

Ben Franklin Technology Partners helped drive Pennsylvania’s economy by generating $2.4 billion in revenue and securing $1.1 billion in post-Ben Franklin financing, according to the 2022 Annual Statewide Impact Report. 

The annual report also shows that Ben Franklin Tech created close to 1,508 jobs, helped retain 10,145 positions, and supported 2,018 companies. 

“The numbers say it all,” Ryan E. Glenn, Ben Franklin’s Director of Statewide Initiatives, said in a release. “Ben Franklin Technology Partners and its clients are powering Pennsylvania’s economy and helping the state maintain its competitive edge in an increasingly high-tech world.” 

Ben Franklin clients developed 130 patents and software copyrights, commercialized 249 new products, and launched 90 new processes. 

Glenn said investments in innovation are the foundation of the new economy. 

“That’s why the competition among states is so intense,” he said. “Investments in early-stage firms, established manufacturers, and entrepreneurial ecosystems can transform our economy and create the types of new jobs and career opportunities that top talent seeks.” 

Ben Franklin serves all 67 counties in Pennsylvania, and has regionally based centers in Bethlehem, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and State College, along with satellite offices across the state. The “2022 Annual Statewide Impact Report” examined the combined impact of Ben Franklin’s regional offices. 

Ben Franklin partners with the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development to provide funding, business, and technical expertise, in addition to access to resources for both early-stage and established companies. 

Ben Franklin has contributed more than $30 billion to Pennsylvania’s economy in the 40 years since its inception and generated more than 58,000 jobs in client firms along with 101,000 spinoff positions for a total of 159,000 new jobs. According to an independent analysis, each dollar invested by the state into Ben Franklin creates $4 in added state taxes.

PA House passes bill for state-run retirement plan

The Keystone State is moving closer toward a state-run retirement plan. 

House Bill 577, a measure that would establish the Keystone Saves Program and an automatic enrollment payroll deduction IRA retirement savings program, was passed last week by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. 

HB 577 passed by a 106-95 vote and now moves to the Pennsylvania Senate for consideration. 

Each of the 101 Democrats in the House voted for the bill, along with five Republicans. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Kyle Mullins, D-Lackawanna, on March 20 and approved by the House Commerce Committee on May 3. 

The measure would provide coverage for private sector employees whose employers do not offer a retirement plan. It would create the Keystone Saves Program Fund, the Keystone Saves Administrative Fund, and the Keystone Same Program Advisory Board. It would also address the duties and powers of the Pennsylvania Treasury Department in relation to the program. 

Mullins remarked in the May 1 Commerce Committee hearing that the bill would not replace employees’ ability to locate additional options to invest in their retirement, “but it will start them on a path to learning more about saving for retirement.” 

Rep. Marla Brown, R-Lawrence, was among those casting a “no” vote for the Keystone Saves Program. 

The subcommittee chairperson for local business under the House Commerce Committee, Brown said the bill would further damage small businesses still suffering from the pandemic and inflation by establishing unnecessary mandates. 

“This legislation would make it harder to do business in Pennsylvania,” Brown said in a statement. “Employers would be required to prove if they have an existing retirement savings program and are responsible for registering new employees. 

“Businesses must manage certain portions of the program, including varying contribution percentages, workers’ anniversaries, and tax filings. In addition, they could be subject to penalties should they not be able to keep up with the demands of the new program.” 

Brown said that under the bill, any business that employs more than five people must comply. She added that according to the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), 84% of Pennsylvania’s small businesses oppose the measure. 

“An alternative would have provided tax credits to companies that provide private retirement plans to their employees,” Brown said. “This would have helped to ease the burden on employers by removing mandates while incentivizing retirement savings without government penalties.” 

Andrew Remo, Director of Federal and State Legislative Affairs for the American Retirement Association (ARA), said his organization favors the bill.  

“Data shows that private sector retirement plan adoption rates increase in states that have fully implemented an auto-IRA program with a retirement plan coverage requirement like the Keystone Saves Program,” said Remo. “The Keystone Saves Program will complement, not compete, with the private sector and ARA urges its prompt enactment into law.” 

Employees participating in the Keystone Saves Program would be enrolled automatically unless they opt out. Regular deductions would be taken from a participant’s gross wages and put into the participant’s program account. 

Covered employees could also choose from the program’s investment options and could change their investment option at any time. If a participant does not select any investment option, deductions from a participant’s gross wages will be invested in a default option established by the Treasury Department. 

The default payroll deduction rate would be 4% of gross wages. The bill provides an automatic increase of the deduction equal to 1% of annual gross wages, up to a maximum of 10%.  

Participants would be able to select the rate of payroll deduction, increase or decrease the deduction, and freeze the automatic increase in the annual deduction rate.  

The Keystone Saves Program Advisory Board, which would be part of the Treasury Department, would be composed of the following members: 

  • the Governor, or a designee. 
  • the State Treasurer, or a designee. 
  • four members, who would serve a term of four years, one each appointed by the President pro tempore of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Minority Leader of the Senate; and Minority Leader of the House of Representatives.  

The State Treasurer, or a designee, shall serve as chairperson of the board. 

The bill states that no later than 24 months from the effective date the legislation is enacted, the Treasury Department would be required to begin implementing the program and allow a participating employer to register with it. 

Registration would be phased in by employers according to their number of employees: 

  • Employers with 100 or more employees: no later than two years after the effective date. 
  • Employers with 20-99 employees: no later than 30 months after the effective date. 
  • Employers with 10-19 employees: no later than three years after the effective date. 
  • Employers with 5-9 employees: no later than four years after the effective date.  

The department may delay implementation for up to one year if it determines that would be in the program’s best interests.

Workforce challenges in rural communities subject of public hearing

Workforce challenges faced by employers in rural communities were voiced by PA Chamber Director of Government Affairs Kevin Sunday this week in a public hearing hosted by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania. 

Held at Penn College, the hearing included participants from PA Chamber members, UPMC, University of Pittsburgh, Penn State, Coterra Energy, Shippensburg University, and Penn College. Leaders from Pennsylvania’s energy and healthcare sectors along with agency officials, educators, and nonprofit associations were also on hand. 

Sunday testified on workforce challenges in rural communities, highlighting the importance of improving Pennsylvania’s economic competitiveness through favorable tax and regulatory policies. He said the PA Chamber’s goal is to make Pennsylvania the most economically competitive state in the country. 

“This requires a tax and regulatory environment that encourages investment into the state,” Sunday said in a release. 

Sunday emphasized the need to support economic growth across Pennsylvania through modernized infrastructure. 

“We need modernized infrastructure across the state – from a safe and efficient system of roads and bridges to world-class airports and ports, to reliable gas, electric, and water infrastructure, and, just as important, access to high-speed broadband,” he said.

Sunday restated the chamber’s support for efforts to improve Pennsylvania’s workforce by addressing key issues such as affordable childcare, occupational licensing requirements, re-entry into the workforce following incarceration, and childcare for working families.

Noting Pennsylvania’s population decline, Sunday called for policymakers to focus on creating an environment in the state promotes population growth and attracts investment. Citing IRS data showing that businesses and citizens are leaving Pennsylvania for states with better economic climates, he urged a close look at regional economic needs and population migration trends.

“Reforms to the state’s tax and regulatory structure help everywhere,” said Sunday, “but it is certainly the case that each region of the state has its own key industries.”

Sunday reiterated the PA Chamber’s commitment to working with the Shapiro Administration, state legislature, local communities, and other key stakeholders to deal with Pennsylvania’s workforce challenges.

Small, disadvantaged businesses to gain access to increased federal contracting

A new initiative to increase federal contracting with small, disadvantaged businesses was announced Thursday by the Biden-Harris Administration. 

The 8(a) MAS Pool Initiative is a joint effort by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) to help small, disadvantaged businesses (SDBS) in the 8(a) Business Development Program gain access to additional federal contracts in GSA’s Multiple Award Schedule (MAS) Program. 

By establishing a pool of 8(a) firms, procurement officials will find it easier to locate and contract with SBDs across industries. The joint initiative between the SBA and GSA is aimed at increasing federal contracting opportunities for minority-owned and other small, disadvantaged businesses. 

Participants accepted into the 8(a) MAS Pool will receive a designation indicating to buyers that the business is eligible for awards. Federal agencies can then leverage the size and scale of the MAS marketplace to achieve their contracting goals. 

“We know America’s diverse small business communities provide tremendous value to our government and to taxpayers,” said GSA Administrator Robin Carnahan said in a press release. “We’re excited about this new pool that will make it easier for federal acquisition professionals to find them, buy from them, help them create jobs, and advance agency missions across government.” 

Guided by an executive order advancing racial equity and support for underserved communities, the MAS Pool will seek to create new avenues for minority-owned small businesses to compete in the marketplace. 

The 8(a) Business Development Program provides opportunities for socially and economically disadvantaged participants to develop and grow their businesses, create wealth, and generate jobs in underserved communities. Business development training with SBA’s district teams is part of the program, along with one-on-one counseling, business workshops, and management and technical guidance. 

Future path of PA energy debated in state Supreme Court

Proponents of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI)see it as a path to a modern economy that will see Pennsylvanians benefit from both a health and economic standpoint. 

Opponents to RGGI see it as something else – a plan that will raise taxes on residents and devastate the state’s economy. 

Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court heard arguments on both sides Wednesday on an issue that will determine entry into the multi-state initiative. 

“We are pleased to see the court seriously addressing Pennsylvania’s Environmental Rights Amendment and pushing the Department of Environmental Protection on its obligations as a trustee of our public natural resources,” said attorney Jessica O’Neill, who argued the case for PennFuture, a Harrisburg-based environmental advocacy nonprofit. 

“Several justices questioned the Commonwealth Court’s injunction, which stopped the RGGI regulation from going into effect, and we are confident that the Supreme Court will agree with the nonprofits and the DEP that the injunction was wrongly issued.” 

Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court enjoined the state’s entry into RGGI while legal merits were being argued in court. Wednesday’s arguments were part of an appeal of that ruling that could result in Pennsylvania’s entry while the case proceeds. 

PennFuture President and CEO Patrick McDonnell called RGGI an initiative where every Pennsylvania citizen wins on health and economic outcomes. 

“RGGI is a cap-and-invest system that will add $4 billion in economic value across our region and create 30,000 new jobs in Pennsylvania,” said McDonnell. “The market has spoken, and fossil fuel plants continue to close, giving no employment alternative for the communities that host them. 

“Not only will RGGI reduce carbon pollution in Pennsylvania by up to 227 million tons by 2030, but the energy industry can easily make that transition with proven and affordable renewable energy, energy efficiency, and energy storage technologies.” 

McDonnell said the 11 current RGGI states have proven that the benefits of moving forward equal lower costs, more jobs, better health, and a sustainable future. 

“It’s time to start delivering on the promise of a clean energy future for Pennsylvanians,” he stated. 

Pennsylvania House Republican Leader Bryan Cutler of Lancaster called on the state Supreme Court to follow the law and continue the delay placed on entry into the initiative by the Commonwealth Court while legal merits are presented. 

Cutler said in a statement Wednesday that as the Pennsylvania Supreme Court hears arguments that will decide whether the state’s entrance into RGGI can continue concurrent while legal questions are still being determined, he encouraged the court to follow the law and continue to pause entry. 

Cutler added that legal questions include whether a governor can “unilaterally place a tax on Pennsylvanians.” He said Pennsylvania’s entry into the 11-state compact “will do nothing but raise energy prices on Pennsylvania’s families and crush family-sustaining energy sector jobs.” 

O’Neill remarked in an interview on the eve of the hearing that a decision by the Supreme Court wasn’t expected soon. 

“The Supreme Court will write an opinion and it could take them some time, so we don’t really have a timeline,” she said, adding that there is a timeliness about entry into RGGI. 

“But for this injunction, we would have begun participating in RGGI last September,” she said. “Every quarter that we’re not in it, the state is losing out on potential proceeds. 

“There is a real sense of urgency to being able to not just start capping this pollution, but to actually receive these benefits and start this program of working toward energy transition.”

Montgomery County Rep. sponsors bill to aid family-owned bars, taverns, restaurants

Proponents of a House Bill leaving committee hope it might serve as the solution to rising costs for Pennsylvania’s restaurants and bars, according to the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association. 

The Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association (PLBTA) issued a statement supporting the Pennsylvania House Liquor Control Committee’s voted Tuesday to move House Bill 1160 out of committee. 

The vote was unanimously in favor of the measure, whose primary sponsor is Rep. Napoleon Nelson, D-Montgomery. The bill is seen by proponents as aiding the state’s family-owned bars, taverns, and licensed restaurants as they seek to recover from restrictions placed upon them during the pandemic. 

Under Rep. Nelson’s bill, liquor licensees would be able to hold an unlimited number of off-premises catering events beyond 2024. Act 87 of 2021 sunsets at the end of 2024, and if allowed to sunset, the state would revert back to liquor codes limiting the number of off-premises catering events. 

HB 1160 would remove the sunset date. 

Nelson said that while the pandemic emergency is lessening, many Pennsylvania restaurants and bars continue to struggle. 

“New hurdles have appeared with raising costs due to inflation and supply chain issues along with labor shortages,” Nelson said in a statement. “We need to do all we can to help these businesses adapt and remain flexible.” 

Chuck Moran, executive director of the PLBTA, said the organization fully supports Nelson’s bill. 

“The past decade has been a financially difficult one for family-owned taverns, bars, and licensed restaurants,” said Moran. “First, the industry lost the exclusive right to sell six-packs to go, resulting in significant loss of revenue. This was followed by pandemic restrictions that closed indoor dining. Then recovery efforts were hampered by supply chain issues, inflation, and a lack of workers. 

“Each of these have acted as a gut punch to drinking establishments statewide. The time has come to give these small businesses hope that they can prosper and make it on their own in the future.”

PA Supreme Court to hear RGGI appeal

Later today, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court will hear the appeal of the injunction stopping the Department of Environmental Protection’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) Regulation. 

The regulation is supported by Gov. Josh Shapiro and his predecessor Tom Wolf and was something of a political football last November when Shapiro’s Republican opponent, Doug Mastriano, opposed RGGI in favor of fossil fuels. If approved, the regulation will enable Pennsylvania to join the multi-state initiative. 

Jessica O’Neill, a PennFuture staff attorney who will be arguing the case on behalf of the  environmental advocacy nonproft and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), said Tuesday that the injunction to maintain the pre-RGGI regulation status quo was wrongly issued. She will also be arguing the Commonwealth Court that heard the case last November was wrong to stop the rule from going into effect. 

“The other thing that we’re challenging,” she added, “is that we attempted to intervene on the same side as the Commonwealth, and we were granted provisional intervener status, but the Court ultimately denied our application to intervene overall. We’ve also appealed that. 

“We’ll be arguing that an environmental groups like ours that has a membership of Pennsylvanians across the state who are concerned about their health and about the climate impact, we should be able to intervene and advocate for our members’ interests in this legal challenge.” 

O’Neill said her hope is that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court finds that it was wrong to stop the rule from going into effect and vacate the injunction so that the right to regulation can take effect. If so, she said Pennsylvania will “start seeing the benefits that this rule will bring to our state.” 

Critics of RGGI, such as Carl Marrara, vice president of Government Affairs for the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association, contend that the regulation will have a devastating effect on Pennsylvania’s economy. 

In his testimony before the Pennsylvania State Senate, Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, and Community, Economic, and Recreational Development Committee in a March 2022 joint public hearing on the Economic Impacts of RGGI, Marrara called the regulation the “antithesis” to the idea that Pennsylvania is “perhaps the most regulated, safest, and provides the best working conditions of any energy producing state or nation.” 

Marrara stated that more than 8,000 predominantly union, family sustaining jobs that would be uprooted when RGGI goes into effect. 

“Thousands of indirect and induced jobs in these most impacted communities depend on this industry,” Marrara said in his testimony. Manufacturers would pay significantly more for energy, forcing their operations to locate and expand in other states. This would place Pennsylvania’s population decline on an even steeper downward trajectory. 

“It does not have to be this way,” Mararra said. 

O’Neill said that opponents of RGGI who will be likewise arguing their case are members of the General Assembly who don’t want to see the rule go into effect. 

“It’s interesting that it’s the Department of Environmental Protection and us on the one side, and the other side is various members of the Pennsylvania House and Senate who don’t want to have regulation,” she said. 

She noted that there were challenges brought before the state Supreme Court by industry, power plants, and coal-affiliated industries, but those cases were dismissed. 

RGGI sets a state-wide cap on carbon dioxide emissions. At the end of the reporting period, a power plant that is covered by the regulation will need to purchase allowances for every ton of carbon dioxide it has emitted during that period. The cap will then decline over time. 

O’Neill notes that Pennsylvania is not the first state to do these regulations. 

“The initiative has been going on for nearly a decade in other states, who have seen environmental and economic benefits from the regulation,” she said. “We’re hoping that Pennsylvania can also achieve those benefits.” 

O’Neill says there has been some misinformation in the public about RGGI. 

“There is a view that consumer electricity bills will go up,” she said. “That’s not the case. When the state conducted modeling to try and evaluate that very issue, what they found is that there might be a very small, short-term rise, like a dollar or two, in consumer electric costs.” 

O’Neill said that over time, people’s energy bills will decrease because of reinvestment in renewable energy as well as the market changing to bring older, less efficient energy sources offline. 

“That’s one source of opposition to the regulation,” she said. “Another source is the fossil fuel industry, which has promoted the narrative that this regulation will kill the energy sector in Pennsylvania. Again, I think there’s some misinformation there. I don’t believe that’s the case. We know our remaining coal plants have committed to cease operating within the next five years because they do not intend to upgrade their facilities to comply with other federal regulations. 

“This transition is coming. Our energy sector in Pennsylvania is transforming from one of coal and fracked gas into one of renewables. Transitions are hard and there are concerns in a lot of communities that this regulation will affect what was a potential economic driver of their community. But the coal plants are closing anyway. 

“With this regulation, we’re finally putting a price on the pollution that these plants are emitting and sending that price back to the Commonwealth so it can reinvest in newer energy sources we’re helping to fund that transition rather than leave these communities out in the cold.”

PennDOT announces Cargo Growth Incentive Program fund extension

The Pennsylvania Intermodal Cargo Growth Incentive Program (PICGIP), which looks to increase containerized cargo activity by incentivizing shippers to move cargo through Pennsylvania ports, is being extended to July 2024. 

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) announced on Friday the extension of the program, which was scheduled to end in June 2023. 

“Pennsylvania’s ports are a crucial part of our state’s transportation network,” PennDOT Secretary Mike Carroll said in a press release. “Increasing shipping activity will help ensure that goods are delivered to market in a timely manner, and the Cargo Growth Incentive Program is a critical tool in keeping Pennsylvania’s economy moving.” 

PICGIP was created in 2015 through PennDOT’s Multimodal Fund, and it makes up to $1 million available annually to participating ocean carriers that move cargo through Pennsylvania’s ports. Increased cargo helps secure full-time employment at the terminals and also increases economic activity through indirect and induced jobs. 

Used as a tool to compete with other ports in attracting new ocean carriers and trade lanes to Pennsylvania, the Intermodal Cargo Growth Incentive Program helps retain and reward loyalty as carriers return to Pennsylvania ports and have the chance to achieve incentive payment. 

Since 2015, nearly 3 million units of cargo have been sent to Pennsylvania ports by participating ocean carriers. Over the same time, ocean carriers have been awarded approximately $6 million in incentive funds. 

New service at a Pennsylvania port as well as existing carriers qualify for the program incentive. New carriers receive $25 per new container unit loaded or discharged from vessels to a Pennsylvania port. Existing participants who exceed established benchmarks also qualify for the incentive payment.