Republicans push back on cap-and-trade plan

Gov. Tom Wolf’s order signing Pennsylvania onto a regional cap-and-trade initiative has drawn praise from climate and environmental advocates, and murmurs of concern from Republicans in Harrisburg.

Wolf announced an executive order Thursday that would place Pennsylvania in compliance with a regional group seeking to limit carbon emissions from power plants. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, commonly called RGGI, runs from Maine to Maryland but has long been missing Pennsylvania — a global center for the natural gas industry and a major source of greenhouse gases.

The cap-and-trade initiative limits emissions through markets, issuing what are effectively tokens to release pollutants. A limited market keeps prices up, forcing energy companies to either limit their emissions or spend more on dirtier power sources.

“This initiative represents a unique opportunity for Pennsylvania to become a leader in combating climate change and grow our economy by partnering with neighboring states,” state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Patrick McDonnell said in a written statement.

Wolf’s office pointed to already significant costs associated with climate change, with increased rainfall causing tens of millions of dollars in damage. While many climate activists argue cap-and-trade policies aren’t enough to slow environmental damage, groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council call the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative a model for other states.

The multistate initiative is set to gradually reduce emissions limits, pushing energy companies to switch to cleaner methods over a period of years.

“We know that we can’t complete this process in a vacuum. … And it will take buy-in from the Legislature to ensure we’re protecting Pennsylvanians from the increasing effects of the climate crisis,” Wolf said in his announcement.

Wolf’s order is set to pass slowly through the state’s regulatory system, but it can’t readily be stopped by the Republican-controlled Legislature. Instead, lawmakers have an advisory role in a series of hearings.

In Virginia earlier this year, lawmakers effectively barred the state from its planned RGGI adoption for at least a year by blocking funds slated for the program.

Pennsylvania Republicans have not yet said they would seek to block a cap-and-trade program, but leaders and lawmakers complained that they’re being left out of key energy decisions. In a statement, House GOP caucus leaders claimed energy providers are already reducing emissions without “burdensome regulations.”

“The people of our Commonwealth, as represented and heard through the General Assembly, have the absolute right to review, approve, or disapprove any plan that has such far reaching implications,” the GOP statement said. “This move calls for another new energy fee on Pennsylvanians.”

Bill would toughen remains rules

Months after a Supreme Court victory paved the way, state lawmakers — including Rep. Lou Schmitt, R-Altoona — are proposing a bill that would require abortion providers to treat fetal remains more like adults or children who have died.

Introduced late last month, House Bill 1890 would impose new rules on facilities that provide abortions. Where many such facilities have historically treated the remains as medical waste and disposed of them as such, some anti-abortion rights activists argue they deserve cremation or burial.

The bill would not require facilities to name the remains, or to issue a birth certificate. But it would require disposal in line with state burial laws, including the possibility of cremation.

While the bill addresses the subject broadly as an “unborn child” — including fetuses lost in miscarriage — the definition provided clearly includes abortion.

“I have spoken openly about the loss my wife and I suffered when we lost our unborn child,” the main sponsor, state Rep. Francis X. Ryan, R-Lebanon, said in a memo. “This creates a standalone act which will provide for a respectful internment of these innocent lives which have been lost.”

The bill follows similar efforts in other states — most prominently in Indiana, where then-Gov. Mike Pence signed a fetal cremation and burial law before becoming vice president. Critics said that bill would increase pressure on abortion providers while making it difficult or impossible to donate fetal tissue for medical and scientific research.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld most of the law in May, a victory Ryan acknowledged in his own memo to colleagues.

Altoonan fights

in New Hampshire race

An Altoona native is joining the race to unseat a longtime New Hampshire senator in next year’s elections.

Bryant “Corky” Messner, an Altoona Area School District graduate, announced his candidacy last month for the GOP nod against Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Messner spent much of his life in Denver, where he founded the law firm Messner Reeves LLP, before moving to New Hampshire, the Concord Monitor newspaper reported last month.

His campaign website notes that he was “raised in a blue-collar family in Altoona, Pa.,” before attending West Point.

While Messner’s website doesn’t lay out detailed policy plans, it points to a conservative campaign: support for tax cuts, defense of gun rights and opposition to “Democrats’ socialist agenda.”

Messner already faces a handful of fellow GOP hopefuls in the primary to face Shaheen, who is seeking her third Senate term.

Wolf lets worksite rule become law

Wolf said last week that he wouldn’t veto a bill meant to keep undocumented immigrant workers off Pennsylvania construction sites.

The new law is set to require construction workers to use the federal E-Verify system at job sites, electronically confirming their right to work in the country. While some construction trade unions backed the bill, groups like the American Civil Liberties Union describe it as a draconian “prove yourself to work” system.

“It would contribute to a massive government database of workers’ information that threatens privacy and could be used to facilitate additional forms of data surveillance,” the ACLU said.

Immigration hardliners and construction unions argued that unscrupulous employers use undocumented workers to drive down wages. But opponents said there are other ways to enforce those rules, including tougher penalties for employers who violate wage laws.

Wolf called his decision “a tough one,” according to WHYY. While he wouldn’t sign the bill, he said he also wouldn’t issue a veto, in effect allowing it to become law.

Ryan Brown can be reached at rbrown@altoonamirror.com.