Gov. Wolf

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced Tuesday that all COVID-19 mitigation orders, with the exception of mandatory masking, will end on May 31. Masking orders will be lifted when 70 percent of Pennsylvania adults are fully vaccinated, he said.

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf has taken the “extraordinary” step of recalling the nominations of seven Cabinet members in response to a threat by Senate Republicans that they won’t confirm his nominees to the Public Utility Commission if the administration continues its planned entry into a Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

A spokeswoman for the governor said the Cabinet officials can continue to do their jobs without Senate confirmation.

“At this time, the governor has withdrawn several of his nominations because the Wolf administration will not let its cabinet officials be held hostage by the Senate Republicans’ insistence to halt progress on policy issues that are important to Pennsylvania’s citizens. The individuals will continue to serve in an acting capacity. The title of ‘acting’ does not impact their ability to do the job in any way,” said Lyndsay Kensinger, a spokeswoman for the governor.

The seven officials whose nominations were withdrawn are: Acting Adjutant General Mark Schindler, Acting Secretary of State Veronica Degraffenreid, Acting Secretary of Education Noe Ortega, Acting Secretary of Labor and Industry Jennifer Berrier, Acting Secretary of Human Services Meg Snead, Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam and Acting Physician General Denise Johnson, according to state Sen. John Gordner, R-Columbia County, the vice chairman of the Senate rules and executive nominations committee.

Gordner called Wolf’s move “extraordinary” and added that Senate leaders haven’t decided whether to honor Wolf’s request. Last November, Wolf sought to recall the nomination of then Victim Advocate Jennifer Storm, but the Senate ignored him and voted against confirming her.

He said if the Senate were to ignore Wolf’s recall request it’s not even clear that the Senate wouldn’t confirm the nominees.

“We can take any action on them,” Gordner said.

The Senate had been preparing to confirm Berrier as Labor and Industry secretary before Wolf recalled her nomination, Gordner said.

Wolf’s move came a week after all Senate Republicans, plus state Sen. John Yudickak, an independent from Luzerne County, signed a letter threatening to vote against Wolf’s nominees for the PUC over the RGGI controversy.

Wolf announced his plan in 2019 to join RGGI — whose existing members include Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont — a cap-and-trade agreement intended to limit greenhouse gas production.

“We have made it clear over the past 19 months that this is about the balance of powers in Pennsylvania,” said Sen. Joe Pittman, R-Indiana County. “One of the key components of RGGI is a tax on carbon emissions. That in and of itself would destroy thousands of family-sustaining jobs across the commonwealth.

Beyond that, the power to tax is a function of the legislative branch, not the executive branch. It is dangerous precedent to tolerate the governor unilaterally imposing a tax. This moratorium on confirmation of PUC nominees is a reminder to the governor that Pennsylvania has three distinct and co-equal branches of government.”

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