Governor Tom Wolf’s plan to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) has successfully passed through a major regulatory hurdle. In a 3-2 vote, the state’s Independent Regulatory Review Commission, who deemed the carbon cap-and-trade “in the public interest”.
The Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRCC), was created in the PA Regulatory Review Act of 1982, and is tasked with reviewing proposed regulations. Their mission is to “review regulations to make certain that the agency has the statutory authority to enact the regulation and determine whether the regulation is consistent with legislative intent”. It is comprised of a five-member body, each of which is appointed by one of five state authorities: the Governor, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives. This process is in place to ensure that the Commission remains independent, with no one state authority building the Commission to work in favor of that authority.
The regulation considered and then approved by the IRCC comes from the state Environmental Quality Board (EQB), who proposed an amendment to the PA Code to allow for the state’s participation in a carbon dioxide budget trading program. The program referenced is the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a ten-state partnership that creates a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions. If Pennsylvania joins, they will be the eleventh member.
Opinions on whether or not Pennsylvania should join the partnership are varied, with proponents focusing on the environmental benefits that could be achieved from the system, while opponents argue that the economic consequences, particularly in communities supported by the coal industry, vastly outweigh any potential environmental good. It has become a very contentious and widely discussed topic. More than 1,500 public comments were submitted during the proposed rulemaking public comment period.
Regardless of one’s own opinion, the path to join RGGI is getting shorter. With the approval of the IRCC, the regulation now heads to the Republican-majority state Senate who will vote to either pass or strike down the regulation. Per the legislative process, if struck down, the Governor can veto the decision, which can then be overruled by a two-thirds roll call vote by the General Assembly.