Pennsylvania’s Republican House Speaker Mike Turzai recently revealed he will rely on private attorneys who represent the fossil fuel industry to thwart Governor Tom Wolf’s executive order for Pennsylvania to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). RGGI is a carbon cap-and-trade program designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states are current members of RGGI. 

Turzai made the remarks about relying on the industry lawyers in a presentation to attendees of an event by the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association (PIOGA) on November 7th. According to a recording from the event, Turzai told the crowd of fossil fuel executives and attorneys that he will consult with lawyers at Steptoe & Johnson, a large legal and lobbying firm with offices across the country, on a court battle to prevent Pennsylvania from joining RGGI. 

State lawmakers recently introduced two bills that would require the governor to get approval from the legislative branch before joining cap-and-trade initiative.

At the signing of his October 3rd order, Wolf cited climate change as “the most critical environmental threat confronting the world,” adding that RGGI “will give us that opportunity to better protect the health and safety of our citizens.” According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, between 2005-2016 Pennsylvania had the fourth highest carbon dioxide pollution from electricity power generation in the nation, after Texas, Florida, and Illinois. According to RGGI’s data, since 2005 the program has reduced CO2 pollution by 45% amongst member states.

At the PIOGA event, Turzai told the industry that his opposition to RGGI stems from his contention that Pennsylvania will be disadvantaged compared to other non-fossil fuel producing states within RGGI.

Turzai then said that a legal battle, with the industry’s assistance, was also in the cards.

“We will ultimately go to court,” he said.

Turzai said that he will specifically consult with attorney Adam Ennis and “others at Steptoe & Johnson,” on these legal moves. Ennis had earlier introduced Turzai, who went on to call the Steptoe & Johnson lawyer a “very, very good friend” and a “neighbor.” 

“Adam consistently updates me on industry information, that I find so helpful,” Turzai said.

Gary Slagel, another attorney at Steptoe & Johnson, is the current Chair of the PIOGA Board of Directors. 

According to their biographies on the firm’s website, both Ennis and Slagel represent the oil and gas industry extensively.

Steptoe & Johnson’s federal lobbying clients include the American Gas Association and Peabody Energy, a private coal mining company.

Later in his presentation, Turzai briefed attendees on the pro-gas legislative package, Energize PA, which several of Turzai’s Republican colleagues introduced. One of the eight bills in the package would weaken the authority of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), removing from it all permitting functions.

“We have to decide,” Turzai said, “are we going to take on the DEP for real or not?” 

State law currently grants the DEP environmental permitting authority over extractive activity, as well as inspection and enforcement authority through its Office of Oil and Gas Programs

Turzai’s strong ties to the state’s fossil fuel industry are well known. A recent report by the watchdog group Global Witness found that the largest oil and gas contributions to PA state representatives in 2018 went to Turzai, who received nearly $120,000 from the industry.

Posted by Itai Vardi