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.”