Gov. Youngkin has announced plans to withdraw Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative by the end of this year. In typical Youngkin fashion, the governor has occasionally spoken in public like a moderate on the environment, while he has consistently acted as an extremist. He has appointed far-right climate deniers to important state regulatory positions and worked to dismantle the generally progressive environmental laws and regulations adopted by Democratic majorities in Virginia in recent years.
Virginia joined the multi-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative last year. It is a cap-and trade cooperative that provides market incentives for producers of electric power to reduce their emissions of CO2. Under the RGGI, power companies must buy allowances for the carbon they emit, and a cap is placed on their total carbon emissions.
If Virginia continues to participate in the RGGI, carbon emissions by Virginia’s power companies should fall by 30% by the year 2030. After only a year of participation, carbon emissions from Virginia’s power plants have fallen by 13%. At the same time Virginia’s participation in the RGGI is providing the state with hundreds of millions of dollars for protection from floods and sea-level rise caused by climate change and for energy-efficiency programs in low-income housing. The RGGI is one of the most important U.S. cap-and-trade programs supporting the United States’ clean energy and climate goals.
In states where the RGGI has been in place since 2009, CO2 emissions have dropped over 35%. The reductions reflect power companies’ switching away from their dirtiest power plants, improvements in energy efficiency, and the growing use of renewable energy. Economic growth in participating states has not been adversely affected.
The need for reductions in carbon emissions has never been more acute. An authoritative annual report on the global climate system found that concentrations of the most dominant greenhouse gases—methane, nitrous oxide, and carbon dioxide (CO2)—reached new highs last year. The report also said that temperatures worldwide continued to rise in 2021, and that the last seven years are the hottest on record. Higher temperatures contribute to more frequent and more severe flooding and to a rise in sea levels, both problems that the funds Virginia receives from the RGGI help address. Thus Youngkin’s decision to take Virginia out of the RGGI is a bad idea at a bad time.
Youngkin’s plan to withdraw Virginia from the RGGI faces some obstacles. He has abandoned his initial plan to take Virginia out of the cooperative by executive action, having discovered that he lacked the legal authority to do this. Now Youngkin plans to issue a notice of intended regulatory action, a step that will require an extended regulatory process including a thirty-day public comment period. The process would not be completed until at least the end of this year, and would not take effect until next year. Some legal commentators believe Youngkin cannot take Virginia out of the RGGI by regulatory maneuvering alone and that action by the state legislature is required. One observer notes that Youngkin may have proposed such a prolonged process because he knows the legal basis for his proposed action is weak. Rather than undergoing a lengthy regulatory process and then extended litigation, Virginians would be better served by having Virginia simply remain in the RGGI.
Email the Governor and tell him to keep Virginia in the RGGI and to support rather than dismantle Virginia’s regulatory and legislative environmental initiatives.
I support Virginia’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. It will reduce harmful emissions in Virginia, and the proceeds of our participation are already helping vulnerable Virginians prepare for the ravages of climate change. Climate change threatens the future of Virginia and the entire world. Virginia should be in the vanguard of efforts to reduce its destructive impact.