Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf is asking Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled Legislature to take steps toward authorizing the state to join a regional consortium that sets a price and caps on greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants.
The Democratic governor’s move is part of his effort to fight climate change in the nation’s No. 3 electric power state. If the state does enter the cap-and-trade program, the price paid by power plant owners to emit carbon dioxide would net hundreds of millions of dollars each year for state government.
Wolf said in April that he wanted to take a serious look at joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative during a heated debate in the state Capitol over whether ratepayers should have to pay extra to Pennsylvania’s nuclear power plant owners for “zero emission” electricity in the age of global warming.
Wolf’s aides have approached key lawmakers about adding the provision to budget-related legislation that’s expected to pass this month before lawmakers depart for their traditional summer break.
Wolf’s administration did not respond to requests to discuss the provision. Top Republican lawmakers said they were reviewing it.
“They reached out, we said that we would work with them to see if there was something we could all be comfortable with, we haven’t landed on that yet,” Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, said. “So we’re going through it.”
In the past, Wolf’s office has said Pennsylvania has broad authority to regulate air pollution, including carbon emissions, although it said that using that authority to impose an emissions cap would be susceptible to a court challenge.
Securing legislative backing for joining the consortium could give the Wolf administration additional legal protection to write regulations under its existing authority to require power plants to buy credits for carbon dioxide emissions and to allow the credits to be traded in the consortium’s market. The consortium includes Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states.
Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee Chairman Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming, said Wolf thinks his administration has the authority to enact the cap-and-trade regulations, but wants the Legislature’s blessing “because he’s obviously not quite sure.”
In any case, Yaw said the administration only brought this forward in recent days and he did not sense a strong desire in the Senate to move on it before the summer break.
“I get the feeling that there’s not going to be any movement now, that it’s just too soon, too fast, too much,” Yaw said.
Separate legislation would be required to spend the money raised by the program, the Wolf administration has said.
In consortium states, owners of power plants fueled by coal, oil or natural gas with a capacity of 25 megawatts must buy a credit for every ton of carbon dioxide they emit.
That gives them an incentive to lower their emissions while making non-emitting plants – such as nuclear plants, wind turbines and solar installations – more cost competitive in power markets, said Jackson Morris, a climate and clean energy specialist for the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council.
Selling the credits would net Pennsylvania hundreds of millions of dollars annually. With dozens of coal and natural gas-fired power plants, Pennsylvania would be, by far, the biggest emissions state in the consortium. It emits about 92 million tons a year compared with the consortium’s 2019 cap of 80.2 million tons.
Credits sold at the most recent auction for $5.62. Meanwhile, the cap is programmed to drop by 3% a year through 2030.
The earliest Pennsylvania could reasonably join and see the program take effect is 2021, Morris said.
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