by Morgan Sweeney
Environmental groups are suing the Youngkin administration over its attempts to remove Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a commitment by several states to reduce their carbon emissions.
The filing is the latest in an ongoing policy tug-of-war between the commonwealth’s legislative and executive branches, environmental groups and businesses that started with former Gov. Ralph Northam’s efforts for Virginia to join the RGGI.
The nation’s “first market-based, cap-and-invest regional initiative,” according to RGGI, Inc., the initiative began in 2005 when the governors of seven Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states signed a memorandum to combat global climate change by creating CO2 Budget Trading Programs. Essentially, they agreed to limit their states’ total carbon emissions; entities that produce more carbon emissions (like power plants) can purchase needed carbon credits, but allowances decrease each year, and entities that exceed their allowance are fined.
As The Center Square previously reported, eager to add Virginia to the RGGI roster but anticipating opposition from a then-Republican-majority House and Senate, Northam endeavored to legalize his unilateral authorization of the move – but this too was blocked by the legislature, halting attempted advances on that front in 2019.
However, the fall of 2019 General Assembly elections flipped House and Senate membership to majority Democrat, which gave Northam the support needed in 2020 to pass several climate and energy bills, including the Virginia Clean Economy Act and the Clean Energy and Community Flood Preparedness Act – the latter of which included a pledge to participate in RGGI.
But once Gov. Glenn Youngkin began his term, he went to work on repealing the RGGI commitment for the commonwealth to make good on campaign promises to do so.
Youngkin is fighting that battle much like Northam did early on – without full support from the General Assembly – but he has chosen to accomplish withdrawal from the initiative through Executive Order 9, by which he directed Virginia’s Air Pollution Control Board to nullify existing initiative regulations for the state.
The board voted to do so earlier this summer to objections from assembly Democrats and environmental groups saying that the governor did not have the power to act without the legislature’s consent.
Youngkin’s office argued in a statement that because the 2020 legislation “authorized but did not mandate the Air Board to adopt [these] regulations,” the governor has substantial reason to repeal RGGI regulations by executive fiat.
Yesterday, the Southern Environmental Law Center filed a petition on behalf of four environmental groups officially challenging the Youngkin administration’s actions. The groups claim that the board “does not have the authority to end the state’s participation in the carbon trading program,” according to a statement by the law center.
“Our participation in RGGI has been effective in achieving significant pollution reductions while benefiting communities from Hampton Roads to the coalfields through investments in energy efficiency and in flood mitigation programs. RGGI is a climate solution that is very popular with Virginias, but more importantly, it is the law,” said Peter Anderson, director of energy policy for Appalachian Voices, one of the groups involved with the petition.
If found legally defensible, the board’s decision is slated to go into effect in 2024.
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Morgan Sweeney is a staff writer covering Virginia and Maryland for The Center Square. Morgan was an active member of the journalism program as an undergraduate at Hillsdale College and previously freelanced for The Center Square.
Photo “Glenn Youngkin” by Governor of Virginia.