General Assembly

Shapiro administration will appeal court decision on RGGI

A spokesperson said the governor is open to developing alternatives to the regional carbon-pricing initiative.

Gov. Josh Shapiro speaks during a visit to Claysville, Washington County.

Gov. Josh Shapiro speaks during a visit to Claysville, Washington County. Commonwealth Media Services

Gov. Josh Shapiro’s administration is appealing a lower court decision that blocked the state from entering into a regional effort to regulate carbon emissions. 

Manuel Bonder, a spokesperson for Shapiro, said in a statement Tuesday that the administration will appeal a decision from the Commonwealth Court that blocked the state from moving ahead with a plan to cap carbon emissions in conjunction with a consortium of states known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. 

“The Commonwealth Court’s decision on RGGI – put in place by the prior administration – was limited to questions of executive authority, and our Administration must appeal in order to protect that important authority for this Administration and all future governors,” Bonder said in a statement. 

The carbon pricing regulation developed by Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration sought to limit carbon emissions from power plants in the state by placing a cap on allowable emissions and requiring power generators to purchase carbon allowances. 

Critics of the proposal have suggested that the regulation would lead to higher energy prices and result in the premature closure of coal and natural gas plants, costing jobs and livelihoods.

In a set of rulings filed on Nov. 1, Commonwealth Court Judge Michael Wojcik wrote in a memorandum opinion that the carbon pricing regulation developed by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the state Environmental Quality Board “constitutes a tax that has been imposed by DEP and EQB in violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution.”

“Stated simply, to pass constitutional muster, the Commonwealth’s participation in RGGI may only be achieved through legislation duly enacted by the Pennsylvania General Assembly,” Wojcik continued.

Bonder said Shapiro “would sign legislation replacing RGGI with a Pennsylvania-based or PJM-wide cap-and-invest program,” referring to the PJM Interconnection service area. Bonder noted that Shapiro’s RGGI working group, which consisted of a mix of labor, business, energy and environmental leaders, suggested exploring a PJM-wide approach

“Should legislative leaders choose to engage in constructive dialogue, the Governor is confident we can agree on a stronger alternative to RGGI – if they take their ball and go home, they will be making a choice not to advance commonsense energy policy that protects jobs, the environment, and consumers in Pennsylvania,” Bonder added. 

A day earlier, during an appearance at the Pennsylvania Press Club’s monthly luncheon, Shapiro hinted that he would have more to say in the coming days on whether his administration would appeal the Commonwealth Court decision.

Shapiro previously expressed concerns with RGGI while on the campaign trail, and promised to work with workers and communities to make a decision on how to move forward. 

The state began developing a carbon pricing regulation model in 2019 after Wolf signed an executive order directing the state to begin drafting an RGGI-compliant rule. 

The administration’s decision to appeal drew immediate praise from environmental advocates, including Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania Executive Director Molly Parzen. “Conservation Voters of PA applauds the Shapiro Administration’s decision to appeal a deeply flawed Commonwealth Court ruling. Our policymaking processes must put the health and welfare of Pennsylvania’s families above the profits of entrenched corporate polluters,” Parzen said in a statement, adding that RGGI is a “vital tool” for fighting pollution.

Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman, a longtime opponent of the state’s planned entrance into the initiative, said in a statement Tuesday that Shapiro’s decision was a misguided one. 

“Just three weeks ago, the Commonwealth Court ruled the RGGI Electricity Tax violates our state Constitution,” Pittman said. “This was a tremendous victory for Pennsylvanians. Today, Gov. Josh Shapiro has made the misguided decision to carry the failed mantle of his predecessor and appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.”

“I am hopeful the Supreme Court will dispatch this matter quickly and the governor will accept the only real recommendation of his RGGI Working Group – that any type of cap and trade effort be approved through the legislature,” Pittman continued. “We will not negotiate environmental and energy policy with the anvil of RGGI hanging over the heads of Pennsylvanians. The responsible enactment of energy policies which balance development of our God-given natural resources with environmental needs continues to be our focus.”