In letter, lawmakers try to bypass Wolf, ask RGGI administrator to block Pa.’s entrance

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) said it’s lawmakers’ duty “to tell this organization that this governor has no authority to enter into a contract with them.”

Closeup of the Pennsylvania Capitol

The Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Monday, March 22, 2021. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

This article originally appeared on StateImpact Pennsylvania.

State lawmakers are asking the administrators of a regional cap-and-trade program to bar Pennsylvania’s entrance unless the legislature approves.

But the nonprofit RGGI, Inc. doesn’t require legislative backing to admit a new state.

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All Republicans and one coal-region Democrat on the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee voted recently to warn RGGI, Inc. against Gov. Tom Wolf’s “illegitimate” attempt to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

They voted the same day the Department of Environmental Protection released its final draft rule to participate.

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) said it’s lawmakers’ duty “to tell this organization that this governor has no authority to enter into a contract with them.”

The move is one of several attempts by lawmakers to prevent the state joining the program through regulation. Senators said they will block Wolf’s nominations to the Public Utility Commission unless he withdraws his executive order and bills pending in the House and Senate would block the state from entering without legislative approval.

Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware), who supports joining RGGI, voted “present” rather than for or against the letter. He said it was out of order.

“A committee voting on a letter to be sent to some out of state nonprofit — I’m aware of no authority we have to do this,” Vitali said.

RGGI, Inc. provides administrative and technical assistance to states in the program. It has no regulatory or enforcement authority.

According to RGGI’s website, a state may join RGGI if it has adopted a compatible carbon dioxide budget trading regulation, which is determined by the current RGGI states.

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Its board of directors, made up of state environmental agency heads, looks at a new state’s proposal to see if it can set and enforce a cap on emissions while maintaining a reasonable price on carbon.

“They do not pass judgement on a state that’s proposing to enter into RGGI as much as look to see that the program [of] the state that wants to enter, has the basics in place,” said Ben Grumbles, Secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment, and Vice Chair of RGGI, Inc.’s Board of Directors Executive Committee.

It does not matter whether a state joins by law or regulation, Grumbles said, as each state has the authority to regulate emissions under the federal Clean Air Act.

Grumbles said each state has flexibility to design its own program within the RGGI framework and that the board “doesn’t micromanage.”

The Wolf Administration maintains it has the authority to join RGGI through regulation. An analysis from the Penn State Center for Energy Law and Policy also found that the DEP and Environmental Quality Board have authority to move forward with RGGI.

The governor’s office called the letter “the latest desperate attempt by the House Republicans to prevent Pennsylvania from taking real, commonsense steps to reduce CO2 emissions.”

It also said the state’s newly-released Climate Impacts Assessment report shows the commonwealth is facing dire environmental and health consequences due to climate change and that joining RGGI is an important step toward addressing the crisis.

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