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The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, touted by environmental activists and favored by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, is not getting much local love from organized labor.

Tom Melcher, business manager for the Pittsburgh Regional Building Trades Council, has emailed a letter to Wolf and the state Legislature expressing opposition to the state joining the initiative. The 30-plus unions comprising the council, including 19 union crafts, contend that joining RGGI could lead to a carbon tax on all fossil fuel-related power generation, higher rates and the loss of “thousands of jobs” across the state.

The initiative aims to cut carbon emissions by creating a cap-and-trade program for the electricity generation sector. Wolf in September vetoed a bill, which had been passed by the Legislature, that would have required General Assembly approval to join RGGI.

The council’s letter to state House and Senate members, copied to the governor, reads in part: “To be clear, our trade unions and members are not opposed to policies intended to mitigate or adapt to climate change impacts. We live, work and raise our families here. And we are people who enjoy the natural beauty and benefits of our state.

“In fact, we support the efforts being discussed by the Pennsylvania Senate and House Environmental Resources and Energy Committees as they relate to carbon capture and storage, and the development of hydrogen fuel from natural gas.

“Governor Wolf and (state Department of Environmental Protection) secretary Patrick McDonnell claim joining RGGI is the will of the people. If they are so convinced of this, then why do they fear going through the legally proper process of putting this question to the Legislature – the body that represents the people.”

Zach Smith, a spokesman for Southpointe-based Consol Energy, said: “We’re certainly in agreement with the Building Trades Council. We think (RGGI) is wrong for Pennsylvania. That could really put a lot of things at risk in this region.”

Consol is a Southpointe-based producer of coal, an industry that is suffering, but is part of the energy portfolio.

“Our perspective is we need all-of-the-above resources,” Smith said. “We’re a coal producer – we mine and ship to power plants in Pennsylvania. Our concern is (RGGI) could have a negative impact on workers and sales of coal.

“We’re on the cutting edge of new uses of coal. We’re finding new ways to utilize that resource with low or no emissions. We’re actually doing it. We just need a little time.”

Business Writer

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won eight individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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