Lobbyists for coal and gas interests crafted letters and resolutions for elected officials in Pennsylvania as part of the industry’s efforts to oppose a proposal to add the state to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-invest program to reduce emissions. The officials, which include state lawmakers, signed off on the industry documents and filed them as their own with two state government agencies, according to records obtained by the Energy and Policy Institute.
Governor Tom Wolf initiated the move to join RGGI, a multi-state compact that sets a price on carbon emissions from the power generating sector, in an October 2019 executive order. Last fall, after an environmental board approved the regulations under which Pennsylvania will join RGGI, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) opened a months-long public comment period, which ended in January this year. Simultaneously, the state’s Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) accepted comments on the RGGI proposal as part of its review.
The RGGI proposal has been a political lightning rod in the state, facing staunch opposition from coal producers, coal-fired power plant operators, and building trade unions. The state’s most prominent groups representing gas interests – the Marcellus Shale Coalition and the Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association – are also resisting Pennsylvania’s attempts to join the compact.
Additionally, right-wing think tanks funded by climate deniers and manufacturing associations have fought the proposal, creating an anti-RGGI messaging echo chamber.
The K&L Gates Connection
Emails, which the Energy and Policy Institute obtained through an open records request, shed more light on the behind-the-scenes work by the fossil fuel industry in opposition to RGGI.
Lobbyist Peter Gleason of the firm K&L Gates shared a draft letter opposing RGGI with four Pennsylvania state representatives on January 11, 2021. “As we discussed on the call last week, we are doing everything possible to encourage IRRC to draft strong, adverse comments on the proposed RGGI regulation,” Gleason wrote to Representatives Jim Struzzi, Donna Oberlander, Pam Snyder, and Carrie Lewis DelRosso. “Can one or all of you get this circulated and help get as many signatures as possible?”
Struzzi and Oberlander, who are Republicans, along with Snyder, a Democrat, have been at the forefront of various legislative attempts to thwart RGGI. In his latest move, Struzzi reintroduced legislation aimed at slowing the process by requiring approval from the state legislature last week. An earlier version of the bill passed both chambers last year but was vetoed by Gov. Wolf.
Lewis DelRosso, a Republican, was elected to office last November.
“We think a strong letter, signed by as many House members as possible – Republican and Democrat – would certainly send a strong message to IRRC and, hopefully, encourage IRRC to take a strong stand against the proposed regulation,” Gleason wrote in the email.
Gleason is a veteran Harrisburg-based lobbyist whose clients include coal-fired generator Olympus Power and gas producing companies Cabot Oil & Gas and Chesapeake Appalachia.
Three days later, after a total of 74 Representatives signed the letter, Struzzi’s legislative assistant informed Gleason that she submitted it to the DEP and IRRC.
In his email to the state representatives, Gleason added that “[Senator] Joe Pittman is circulating the letter in the Senate.” On January 14th, an identical letter signed by a number of senators, including the President Pro Tempore Jake Corman and Pittman, was posted on the IRRC public comments webpage.
Pittman, like Struzzi, Oberlander, and Snyder, represents several coal-heavy counties in western and southwest Pennsylvania.
Gleason’s ability to mobilize the lawmakers in the comment period on behalf of his fossil fuel clients appears to have been effective; earlier this month, the IRRC’s final comments on RGGI echoed some points in the letter Gleason provided the lawmakers. The IRRC suggested that the RGGI rulemaking be delayed for one year in order to “allow the regulated community an opportunity to adjust their business plans to account for the potential increased costs associated with Pennsylvania joining RGGI.”
County Resolutions Ghostwritten
Additional documents show that another coal lobbyist crafted two county resolutions submitted in opposition to RGGI. Both counties – Indiana and Armstrong – are home to coal-fired power plants, and public officials fear a loss of jobs and revenue from possible facility closures.
On December 21, Sen. Pittman, a Republican, asked Will Dando, then a lobbyist for the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance, whether Dando could produce a resolution for the county commissions.
“Do we have any updated templates of resolutions local governments can pass to submit comment by the 14th?,” Pittman asked. “I’d like to press a few more to consider doing so – especially in Armstrong County and I can’t seem to find a template resolution.”
“Will pull together an updated template,” Dando replied, “and have it to you tomorrow morning.”
After receiving the template from Dando the following day, Pittman forwarded it to Indiana and Armstrong County commissioners. “I’d appreciate your passage of this resolution prior to January 14th, if possible,” Pittman told the commissioners, adding that “[A]bsent real change to this proposed regulation, the power plants in your counties will likely cease any meaningful operation in 2022.”
Soon after, the county commissioners in each county signed the resolutions on their respective letterheads and submitted them to the DEP and IRRC.
Dando, meanwhile, recently joined a new lobbying firm, Allegheny Strategy Partners, whose first client is a coal company, Rosebud Mining. The firm also hired former Republican state Senate leader Joe Scarnati, who retired in December.