An Anti-Abortion Bill in Pennsylvania Could Also Undermine Climate Laws

Local climate groups claim that a bill that would allow abortion in Pennsylvania would also threaten environmental regulations passed by Pennsylvania’s executive branch.

SB 106A bill that was initially drafted to define rules for the election of lieutenant governor, has slowly morphed into a bill that would amend the commonwealth’s constitution to revoke the right to an abortion and diminish the power of the governor’s veto.

The language is subtle, and sandwiched between an anti-abortion provision and a series of voter qualification regulations, but environmentalists say it was written as part of a broader attempt to block the commonwealth’s entry into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a nine-state carbon trading program it attempted to join this summer after years of debate.

“This has been really an effort targeted at the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative,” says Ezra Thrush, senior director of government affairs at PennFuture.

SB 106 could be used to block environmental regulations by removing the requirement that disapproval decisions, or legislative documents that can effectively stop a rule being passed, must be submitted. two-thirds majority to override the governor’s veto. It would create a pathway for the Legislature to overturn executive orders — like the one Gov. Tom Wolf signed in 2019 to instruct the Department of Environmental Protection to create a rule entering Pennsylvania into RGGI — and to prevent the governor from stopping it.

“Every order, resolution or vote, to which the concurrence of both Houses may be necessary, except … [the] disapproval of a regulation,” the bill reads, “shall be presented to the Governor and before it shall take effect be approved by him, or being disapproved, shall be repassed by two-thirds of both Houses according to the rules and limitations prescribed in case of a bill.”

Sponsors of this bill argue It only establishes checks & balances without advancing any partisan agenda. In fact, if the constitutional amendment passes in a referendum it could serve any party that holds power in General Assembly while limiting executive branch power. Opponents of the bill, such as Robert Routh, a public policy and regulatory lawyer at the Clean Air Council argue that shifting power away form agencies, which are staffed by subject matter specialists, to the legislative branch is wrongheaded regardless of who is in power.

Thrush claims that the language is one of many clear attacks against RGGI in recent times, given current political circumstances. He believes that SB 106 is the result a Republican-led Legislature, which was unable to stop a Democratic executive branch from passing through the rule-making procedure.

“This is precipitated by years and years of the Legislature trying to curtail the powers of the executive branch agencies in Pennsylvania,” he said. “It’s been exacerbated the last two and a half, approaching three years now, that the administration has been trying to put in place a new regulation to draft their own carbon trading program in Pennsylvania.”

The language in the bill mirrors that of another bill — HB 2069 — that Rep. Bryan Cutler (R-100), speaker of the House, introduced around the same time that a resolution disapproving the commonwealth’s entry into RGGI was moving through the Legislature. Cutler’s bill died in committee, but its language was amended to SB 106 by a co-sponsor of his bill passed by the House on Dec. 15, 2021, the same day the disapproval resolution on RGGI was approved by the same chamber and sent to the governor’s desk. Wolf vetoed The January resolution of disapproval and the Legislature failed to find To override the veto, a two-thirds majority must be present three months later.

The anti-abortion language wasn’t added In the bill until JulyIt passed the Senate and House at the eleventh hour on the last day in annual budget negotiations, which were extended before the legislature wrapped up for the summer.

“It became this omnibus amendment package over the summer, just before summer break,” recalls Routh, who says he wasn’t made aware of the language of the bill until a few days before it was passed. “There are lots of things to be concerned about in this. A lot of very extreme changes to state policy.”

The bill manages to diminish the executive branch’s ability to pass regulations in just “four words,” Routh says. “Those four words would enact truly sweeping fundamental changes to our state.”

Indeed, at the time that it was debated, legislators opposed to the bill feared it would undermine the governor’s ability to prevent environmental damage via lax bills passed in the Legislature. Cutler is one of those supporting the bill.

“This would simply allow the people to speak through us, their representatives, on the regulatory process,” Cutler said in the House on Dec. 15. The representative, whose voting record was firmly conservative, had supported corporate tax cutsVoted to approve a bill Transgender women are not allowed to join female sports teams. encouraged Gov. Wolf to turn Pennsylvania into a “natural gas leader,” has also encouraged funding watershed cleanup Farmers. He has been a farmer for the past year. accepted funds Campaign finance records are available from industry groups such as the Chamber of Commerce and fossil fuel entities such as Range Resources and National Fuel Gas.

The constitutional amendment bill SB 106 must also pass the next legislative session which begins Dec. 1. Before it can be voted on by Pennsylvania voters as a referendum. Opponents of the bill — including Gov. Wolf, who has challenged it in the state’s Supreme Court — fear that it could be put to a vote as soon as next year.

Molly Parzen is the executive director of Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania. She worries that the bill will be passed if there is no public understanding of the implications of a seemingly complex provision.

“How the hell do you educate the public about these? How do you make sure voters are properly informed?” Parzen said. “It’s really hard to imagine how you get people to a point where they’re not just checking the box.”

And while SB 106 was drafted and passed amid widespread debate over an environmental policy, she notes that its passage could lead to “massive deregulation across the board.”

“This is like the next logical step in that fight to just totally allow polluting industries free rein here,” she said. “We’re talking about deregulation across so many potential issue areas.”