Kevin Mooney on October 6, 2022
Pennsylvania voters who played an instrumental role in bringing an overreaching executive to heel during the COVID-19 pandemic will have the opportunity to perform a similar service in the November elections.
Presumably, the same voting block that approved constitutional amendments last year limiting their governor’s emergency powers in response to business and school closures would also be inclined to restore checks and balances in other policymaking venues.
Since taking executive action to “combat climate change” in October 2019, Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat set to leave office in January, has sought to bypass the legislature while coercing Pennsylvania into joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multistate climate change compact widely known as RGGI, which has significant tax and regulatory implications.
But because state lawmakers, in combination with industry and labor plaintiffs, made a persuasive case in court that Wolf’s regulatory proposals would result in new carbon taxes that should fall within the purview of the legislature, the clock is running out for the incumbent governor.
In July, Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court issued preliminary injunctions in two related cases that temporarily puts Wolf’s climate change regulations on ice until the matter can be further adjudicated. In their litigation against the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, the coal industry and the labor unions directly take on the constitutionality of executive actions that usurp the authority of General Assembly to levy taxes. The companion suit from state senators delves into more esoteric questions about the separation of powers.
But in each case, it is the concept of “No Taxation without Representation” that is finding renewed expression. So where does Josh Shapiro, the Democratic attorney general running for governor, stand on the use of unilateral, executive authority as it relates to climate change?
That’s a live question since the Pennsylvania Senate fell just one vote shy this year of the requisite two-thirds majority needed to override Wolf’s veto of a concurrent resolution from the full General Assembly that would prevent the commonwealth from joining the multi-state climate change compact. Three Senate Democrats joined with Republicans in the override attempt. In his veto message, Wolf argues that anti carbon regulations are needed to combat what he describes as “the global climate crisis.”
Clearly, Wolf places a greater premium on climate change activism than he does on constitutional government.
So far, Shapiro has been sending out mixed messages about his views on RGGI. While on the campaign trail, he tells union members working in industries vulnerable to carbon taxes what they want to hear. But his office of attorney general has approved the rule enabling Pennsylvania to join RGGI.
As the lead sponsor of legislation that would prohibit the governor from joining RGGI and imposing carbon taxes without legislative approval, Jim Struzzi, a Republican state representative in Indiana County, finds that Shapiro adjusts his comments about RGGI with an eye toward different audiences.
“He knows RGGI is bad for Pennsylvania and bad for the trade unions, but I think he’s balancing his answers in an election year knowing that his base in urban areas that has no idea how energy production occurs but continues to support RGGI despite its shortsightedness,” Struzzi said in an interview. “However, Shapiro should definitely answer that question about the constitutionality of the process. We’re talking about a one-sided, unliteral proposal that will have wide ranging detrimental effects on Pennsylvania. You look at the capital investments in energy and they’re not going to Pennsylvania anymore because of these types of policies. They’re going to our neighboring states in Ohio and West Virginia.”
Doug Mastriano, the Republican state senator running against Shapiro, is already on record supporting the senate version of legislation reaffirming the legislature’s role in either approving or denying carbon taxes. Mastriano is also opposed to RGGI as a matter of policy.
Since the court injunctions have delayed implementation of Wolf’s regulations, the specter of executive action on carbon taxes in a new administration is ripe as a campaign issue.
What happens in Pennsylvania, may not stay in Pennsylvania. Shapiro could run for president in 2024 if he becomes governor, but only if he follows the directives of climate change activists who hold sway over his party.
Dan Kish, a senior fellow with the Institute for Energy Research, a nonprofit devoted to free market policies in the energy sector, sees ample opportunities for mischief with carbon tax plans at the federal level mixed in with President Joe Biden’s call for 87,000 new IRS agents.
“Carbon taxes could be an endless source of revenue for government officials to tax the people for everything they want to do,” he warns.
Since taking office, the Biden administration has been pushing hard to boost the social cost of carbon, which policymakers use to calculate the perceived effects of climate change. Shapiro could seize on this legacy.
Kevin is a journalist and investigative reporter for the Commonwealth Foundation in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and the Heritage Foundation in Washington D.C.
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