After meeting for months in secrecy, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro’s working group on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative on Friday endorsed participation in a “cap-and-invest” process to reduce utilities’ greenhouse gas emissions but stopped short of endorsing membership in RGGI.
The group’s co-chairs said in a press release that they had “reached broad consensus” on the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and that “a cap-and-invest carbon regulation for the power sector” would be “the optimal approach” to protect energy jobs, supply reliable power and combat climate change.
Under cap-and-invest designs, states agree to set a cap on emissions from their power sectors that declines each year. Power generators then buy “allowances” at periodic auctions for each ton of carbon they will emit above the cap, with proceeds going to the states to assist in their transition to clean energy.
Pennsylvania’s membership in RGGI, the cap-and-invest cooperative involving 12 eastern states, has been contested since Shapiro’s predecessor, Democrat Tom Wolf, signed an executive order in 2019 pledging Pennsylvania’s membership. Republicans in the legislature, closely aligned with the state’s powerful gas industry, protested, and industry representatives aligned with coal and labor sued to block joining. The matter remains before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, awaiting a ruling.
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Shapiro’s RGGI working group did not fully endorse Pennsylvania’s participation in the 12-state cooperative, with some members favoring a cap-and-invest approach centered instead on the region that falls under PJM, a membership organization that operates the electric grid in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and 10 other states and the District of Columbia.
PJM’s region of operation includes states that are not part of RGGI, like West Virginia, Ohio and Michigan. The group acknowledged that it would take “significant time to pursue such a PJM-wide construct, and that the adoption of such an approach is far from certain.”
A four-page memorandum from the group outlined policy recommendations in the realms of governance, environment, jobs and consumers. The recommendations include creating a RGGI Advisory Council to oversee investments from the proceeds from RGGI, should the state join at some point, and a State Energy Policy Collaborative, to advise on statewide energy policy regardless of Pennsylvania’s involvement with RGGI.
“Throughout his campaign, Governor Shapiro listened to the concerns of a wide range of Pennsylvanians who felt left out of the conversation about RGGI and the Commonwealth’s energy policy,” said Manuel Bonder, Shapiro’s press secretary, in a statement to Inside Climate News. “He pledged to bring organized labor, environmentalists, the energy producers, and consumer advocates together for a serious and constructive dialogue for the first time on how to protect jobs, our environment, and consumer costs – and that’s exactly what he’s done.”
Bonder said that the administration will review the group’s recommendations, pending a decision from the courts on RGGI.
“The governor deserves credit for bringing constituencies from various backgrounds together to talk about the climate issue,” said David Masur, executive director at PennEnvironment and a member of the group. “Given that a lot of the folks at the table don’t see eye to eye, it was reassuring that there was consensus.”
Masur said that he was encouraged by the fact that the group was able to have productive conversation about a contentious topic like RGGI.
“These recommendations are the best possible results we could have gotten from a group that met in secret and did not allow public comment,” said Tom Pike, Environmental Policy Advocate at Protect PT, an environmental group in western Pennsylvania that co-signed a public letter demanding more transparency around the RGGI working group’s make-up and agenda in August.
Sen. Scott Martin (R-Lancaster), chairman of the state Senate Appropriations Committee, criticized Shapiro for failing to withdraw from RGGI. “Instead of withdrawing Pennsylvania from the disastrous RGGI carbon tax scheme and pursuing a realistic and pragmatic energy policy, Governor Shapiro has spent months dragging his feet,” Martin said in a press release. “Every day that he delays in abandoning this disastrous policy creates enormous risks to the reliability of our energy grid and will leave consumers stuck with sky-high energy costs.”
Ginny Marcille-Kerslake, a Pennsylvania organizer for Food and Water Watch, criticized the secrecy around the working group and the idea that RGGI, or a similar cap-and-invest program, was enough to address the climate crisis or the pollution and public health issues caused by fossil fuel companies.
Pike said that the group’s recommendations for investment in solar energy and for plugging abandoned wells were the “most exciting” of the listed policies. But he said that Protect PT was concerned about “polluting corporations” continuing to be included in governmental deliberations about RGGI in a new Advisory Council, as well as the group’s support for controversial technologies like carbon capture and blue hydrogen.
“These are false solutions which probably would not have made it into the final recommendations, if industry lobbyists had not had so many seats at the table,” Pike said. “Still, this result gives the Shapiro Administration a clear mandate from labor, industry, and environmental experts to take major actions to secure clean air and water for all Pennsylvanians.”
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The names and affiliations of all 17 group members were also published in the press release. In August, reporting from Inside Climate News revealed the names of several members, including those with ties to the oil and gas industry. Its co-chairs are Michael Dunleavy, a retired leader of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 5, and Jackson Morris, of the National Resources Defense Council, a leading environmental organization.
But this is the first time that the full list of working group memberss was made publicly available. The list includes John Walliser, senior vice president for legal & government affairs for the Pennsylvania Environmental Council; Julie LaBella of the power producer Talen Energy; and Kevin Walker, president and CEO of the Duquesne Light Company.
The announcement comes just two days before the Pennsylvania Climate Convergence, a “peaceful gathering” of climate and environmental activists, takes place at the Capitol in Harrisburg on October 1 and 2. On October 2, activists will hold the “People’s Hearing on Climate Change,” featuring testimony from Pennsylvanians about climate change and the fossil fuel industry.
Karen Feridun, an environmental activist with the Better Path Coalition who is helping to organize the Climate Convergence, said that she had noticed the lack of “frontline community voices” in the group’s membership. “We are holding the People’s Hearing on Monday because their voices have not been heard nor their messages heeded by the state legislature, regulators, or Governor Shapiro himself,” she said.