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Senator Yaw continues greenhouse gas fight

The Senate Environmental Resources & Energy (ERE) Committee, chaired by Senator Gene Yaw, R-Williamsport, and the Senate Community, Economic & Recreational Development (CERD) Committee held a joint hearing in November to examine the consumer and economic impacts of failing to invest in the state’s natural gas infrastructure.

By JOHN WHITTAKER

jwhittaker@post-journal.com

Sen. Gene Yaw is asking for an updated review of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative amid fears the program could cost more than originally projected.

Yaw, R-Williamsport, and Sen. John Yudichak, R-Nanticoke, have sent a letter to the Independent Fiscal Office requesting an audit of modeling used to justify Pennsylvania’s entry into RGGI.

“The IFO’s impartial analysis has been regarded as among the most trustworthy perspectives in state government for more than a decade,” Yaw said. “The office’s projections will offer clarity on RGGI’s true economic impacts, given the Wolf administration’s repeated unwillingness to do so.”

The senators requested an IFO review after the Department of Environmental Protection refused an invitation to testify before the before the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, of which Yaw is chairman, about skyrocketing RGGI costs not contemplated by prior modeling.

Yudichak, as chairman of the Senate Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee, is planning to host a joint hearing with Yaw’s ERE Committee in March to discuss the IFO’s findings.

“Pennsylvania taxpayers, consumers and businesses deserve honest, accurate information about the proposed RGGI program and how it will impact their everyday lives,” said Yudichak. “The plan is expected to substantially increase utility bills for every small business and homeowner in Pennsylvania.”

When Gov. Tom Wolf signed the 2019 executive order that forced Pennsylvania into the regional carbon tax program, auction clearing prices — the amount energy producers pay to buy “credits” to offset their emissions – were $3.24 per short ton. At that time, taxpayer-funded analysts insisted prices would stay under $4 through 2030.

The most recent auction clearing price set on Dec. 1, however, exceeded $13 per short ton, more than four times what the department estimated and 40% above the Sept. 8 clearing price alone. Inflationary pressures show no sign of slowing down anytime soon, either, meaning prices will continue to climb.

“This de facto carbon tax will translate into electricity bills spiking by double digits, ballooning fuel costs and price increases on just about everything we use daily,” Yaw said. “Thousands of jobs will disappear. And zero carbon emissions will be removed from the atmosphere. Taxpayers deserve to know the true cost of Wolf administration’s out-of-touch policies.”

Both the House and Senate have, in recent months, voted to block the state’s entry into RGGI. A December vote by the House was on a resolution Wolf could veto, and the authorizing regulation — which would make Pennsylvania the first major fossil fuel state to adopt carbon pricing — can take effect if both the House and Senate cannot generate a two-thirds majority to override the veto.

A Senate vote in late October to disapprove the policy, like the House’s vote December vote, was just short of the number needed to override a gubernatorial veto.

“In addition to the environmental benefits, participating in this initiative will allow Pennsylvania to make targeted investments that will support workers and communities affected by energy transition,” Wolf wrote in his veto message. “With power generation being one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, joining RGGI is a common sense solution that would have an immediate impact on Pennsylvania’s climate and public health.”

Wolf meanwhile wants the regulation to take effect immediately, but is being held up an agency that answers to the Legislature.

The plan has won approval from regulatory bodies and signoff by the governor’s office of general counsel and the attorney general’s office under reviews for form and legality. It still could face a legal challenge in the courts from opponents, who contend that it is an illegal use of regulatory authority. Eleven of the 12 states participating in RGGI sought legislative approval to do so.

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