Pennsylvania governor noncommittal on greenhouse gas strategy as climate task force finishes work

FILE - Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro speaks at the Finishing Trades Institute on March 9, 2023, in Philadelphia. Gov. Shapiro's task force on climate change came to an uncertain conclusion over how to make Pennsylvania the first major fossil fuel state to adopt carbon pricing over power plant emissions, and the Democrat on Friday, Sept. 29, 2023, remained noncommittal on a strategy to reduce planet-warming greenhouse gases. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Gov. Josh Shapiro on Friday remained noncommittal on a strategy to reduce planet-warming greenhouse gases after a task force the Democrat appointed came to an uncertain conclusion over how to make Pennsylvania the first major fossil fuel state to adopt carbon pricing over power plant emissions.

The task force sprang from Shapiro questioning his predecessor’s use of regulatory authority to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a consortium of 12 eastern states that imposes a price and declining cap on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

However, the 17-member task force — comprised of supporters and opponents of former Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s plan — could come to no consensus on it.

Wolf’s regulation allowing Pennsylvania to join the consortium remains hung up in the courts, and Shapiro gave no sign Friday whether he would carry out the consortium’s carbon pricing policy should it survive the legal challenge.

“Our administration will review the working group’s full set of recommendations as we await the Commonwealth Court’s decision on Pennsylvania’s participation in RGGI,” Shapiro’s office said.

As a candidate for governor, Shapiro had questioned whether Wolf’s plan satisfied criticism that it would hurt the state’s energy industry, drive up electric prices and do little to curtail greenhouse gases.

The task force met in secret, with no minutes, hearings or public agendas. Its members were drawn from the ranks of labor unions, utilities, power plant owners, the natural gas industry and environmental and consumer advocates.

In the statement, Shapiro’s administration said the task force met nine times and agreed that it supported a “form of cap-and-invest carbon regulation for the power sector” that reduces greenhouse gas emissions and generates money to support a transition to cleaner energies.

But it gave no hint what that might be and instead recommended the formation of new councils to guide policymaking on energy.

It also suggested Pennsylvania would be better off under a power-plant emissions cap if a wider group of states — such as Ohio and West Virginia, both big power producers — also abide by the same terms.

In a statement, state Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, said Shapiro should immediately withdraw Pennsylvania from the consortium, in keeping with the task force’s suggestion that legislative approval is the best way to enact changes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Assembling the task force might have been worthwhile, but its outcome is “overall quite hollow, and it is abundantly evident there is no consensus of the group on how to implement any type of electric tax on carbon emissions,” Pittman said.

Shapiro’s most well-defined clean-energy goal was a campaign pledge to ensure that Pennsylvania gets 30% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, up from the current 8% in state law. However, as governor, he has yet to press for that and legislation on it has not received even a committee vote.

Supporters of joining the consortium — nicknamed RGGI — have said it is the farthest-reaching step that Pennsylvania has taken to fight climate change.

The price on carbon is projected to raise hundreds of millions of dollars a year, money that Wolf had wanted to spend on programs to promote cleaner energy and energy efficiency.

Opponents contended that the money is a tax on electricity that would come straight from higher utility bills and make Pennsylvania less competitive as an energy state.

Wolf’s administration had estimated that the program would increase electricity bills in the short term but bring them back down by the end of the decade as money from the credits is spent on efficiency programs that ultimately result in lower use.

Wolf’s plan had been supported by environmental advocates and solar, wind and nuclear power producers. But it received sustained pushback from Republican lawmakers who accused Wolf of lacking the legal authority to join the consortium and impose the fee without legislative approval.

It was also opposed by coal- and gas-related interests that feared higher input costs, industrial and commercial power users that feared higher electricity bills and labor unions that feared workers will lose jobs.


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