Some Pa. Democrats are pushing back against eco-fundamentalism

In a sign of how far left the Democratic Party has veered, once-avowed progressives are now hesitant to embrace eco-fundamentalism — the dogmatic ideology that vilifies affordable energy, oversells “green” initiatives and advances ruinous policies.

Consider Sens. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and John Fetterman (D-Pa.). They’re both loyal, party-line Pennsylvania Democrats. But they’re also politicians who know which way the wind is blowing with the American people. So they broke ranks with President Biden on his liquid natural gas (LNG) export ban.

“If this decision puts Pennsylvania energy jobs at risk, we will push the Biden Administration to reverse this decision,” they said. 

Fetterman and Casey were joined by fellow Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) in opposing the ban, but not all liberals are on board. Their party-mates in Washington, D.C. would be wise to follow their example and moderate on energy policy, or they will soon discover that as Pennsylvania goes, so goes the nation. 

The warnings appear to be falling on deaf ears among Democratic leaders. Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro’s efforts to keep the state in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), along with Biden’s LNG ban, are among the most recent efforts to impose extremist energy policies. 

When he was running for office, Shapiro declared that RGGI was not “real action” and added that it likely wouldn’t address climate change. But as governor, he has become its champion. 

Biden and Shapiro are singing from the same eco-fundamentalist hymnal. Their siren song would cripple American energy production and independence. Though an easy pitch to blue states, these purported carbon-reduction schemes are harder to sell in energy-producing purple states such as Pennsylvania, as Shapiro knows perfectly well. 

RGGI, like the LNG ban, is not popular in the Keystone state. This multi-state compact taxes carbon-emitting companies and doles out the extracted funds from successful energy businesses in corporate welfare to renewable energy businesses and conservation organizations.

A Commonwealth Court recently struck down Pennsylvania’s entry into RGGI, calling the carbon tax illegal. Much to the chagrin of the 71 percent of Pennsylvania voters who oppose the program, Shapiro appealed the decision and prolonged the RGGI’s unwelcomed presence in Pennsylvania, which will now come before the state’s Supreme Court.

Before RGGI, Pennsylvania had already significantly reduced carbon emissions through the introduction of natural gas. In fact, the state’s carbon-reduction efforts had already been exceeding RGGI member states. From 2007 to 2019, RGGI states cut emissions by 37 percent. Comparatively, Pennsylvania cut more, reducing emissions by 40 percent. Since 1970, Pennsylvania’s carbon dioxide emissions have dropped 30 percent, whereas national emissions have increased by 15 percent. 

Increased production and extraction of natural gas, which emits half as much carbon dioxide as coal, drastically reduced emissions in Pennsylvania. The most precipitous drop in emissions occurred following the 2005 shale boom. 

Pennsylvania did this all without RGGI.

Ultimately, RGGI doesn’t decrease emissions — it merely exports them. Comparing energy consumption of RGGI and non-RGGI-member states in the Eastern Interconnection, a 2021 study found decreased emissions in the RGGI states but increased emissions in non-RGGI states — a phenomenon experts refer to as “leakage.” By reducing consumption and production in member states, RGGI’s leakage incentivizes neighboring states to pick up the slack.

RGGI states rely heavily on importing their electricity. Based on total consumption, three of the top-five net-importing states — Massachusetts, Maryland, and Delaware — are RGGI states. 

Pennsylvania, on the other hand, is an energy juggernaut, home to abundant natural gas reserves, a well-established history of coal production, and a robust nuclear industry. This full-bodied statewide production inspired one pundit to call the Keystone State “the Saudi Arabia of North American energy supply.”

Energy production is the lifeblood of Pennsylvania’s economy. Energy production supports more than 423,000 jobs and contributes more than $75 billion annually to the commonwealth’s economy. Cutting into Pennsylvania’s energy sector threatens the livelihoods of hard-working Pennsylvanians and the communities where energy extraction is the leading employer. 

Moreover, increased energy costs translate into increased utility bills, placing an undue burden on consumers already struggling with the higher cost of living. Virginia, also now a purple state, is in the process of leaving RGGI due to increased rates caused by the program’s caps. Needing $370 million in allowances to offset its above-cap emissions, Dominion Energy, headquartered in Richmond, added a surcharge to its monthly billing to make up the difference, passing the cost of RGGI along to Virginia residents. 

As Virginia exits RGGI, Pennsylvania and other states must follow suit. Senators Casey and Fetterman would do well to make their opposition to Biden’s LNG export ban consistent by opposing RGGI. Governor Shapiro should stop trying to have it both ways on RGGI, and should clarify his policy toward Pennsylvania’s energy sector by dropping his appeal of the Commonwealth Court’s decision. 

As the second-largest energy-producing state and the eighth-highest net exporter, Pennsylvania is a microcosm of our country’s growing momentum toward energy independence. In 2019, American energy exports exceeded imports for the first time since 1952, providing diplomatic leverage to the U.S. and freeing our reliance on foreign despots and cartels. From Ukraine to the Middle East, the escalating specter of global conflict and intensifying chaos abroad make our need for energy independence more urgent than ever.

From RGGI to LNG bans, destructive “green” initiatives — and their quixotic quest for carbon neutrality — undermine our national momentum toward energy independence. Instead of one-size-fits-all carbon-reduction plans, state legislatures should embrace and strengthen our country’s position as an international leader in energy production.

This should not be a partisan issue — it is an American issue.

Victoria Coates is vice president for foreign policy and national defense at The Heritage Foundation. Jennifer Stefano is executive vice president of the Commonwealth Foundation.

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