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Court battle over Pennsylvania climate rule set to begin

One is between the Wolf Administration and the Legislative Reference Bureau on what was the appropriate timeline to publish the regulation.

Rachel McDevitt, Stateimpact Pennsylvania

The battle over the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is now in the courts.

Parties arguing over whether Pennsylvania should participate in the regional effort among 11 other states will soon start presenting their arguments in the courtroom.

There are two cases concerning RGGI before Commonwealth Court.

One is between the Wolf Administration and the Legislative Reference Bureau on what was the appropriate timeline to publish the regulation.

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That won’t affect the state joining RGGI. The regulation is published and, under it, power plants will need to start tracking their greenhouse gas emissions in July.

In a separate suit, coal and labor groups and power plant owners are suing the Department of Environmental Protection, saying the rule will cause them irreparable harm.

They are seeking a preliminary injunction to stop enforcement until the merits of their case can be heard.

A judge is slated to hear arguments on the injunction over two days, starting Tuesday, May 10.

Parties to the case, including outside groups hoping to intervene, plan to call more than 15 witnesses.

The earliest the court could hear arguments on the merits is during its June session. If the parties aren’t ready by then, the case might not be heard until sessions this fall.

If the judge grants a preliminary injunction, and the full case isn’t heard until the fall, that could delay Pennsylvania’s participation in the program until next year.

Joining RGGI is the centerpiece of Gov. Tom Wolf’s plan to address climate change. This is his final year in office. The next governor would have the power to remove the state from RGGI.

Under RGGI, power plants must buy an allowance for each ton of carbon dioxide they emit, making dirtier sources more expensive and less competitive when selling electricity to the grid. In the most recent allowance auction, the price was $13.50 per ton.

States can use the money raised at auction to invest in clean energy, energy efficiency, and other measures to benefit people in the state.

The most recent modeling from DEP expected RGGI to raise about $200 million in 2022, had the state joined at the beginning of the year.

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