Virginians, we have the power to ensure clean air, protect health, and build a healthy economy in our state.
Last legislative session, the General Assembly restricted the use of any state funds to implement a proven program that would have made Virginia a regional leader on climate change.
Carbon dioxide is the leading cause of climate change, with one of the largest sources in Virginia coming from burning fossil fuels to generate electricity. Virginia’s program taps into an already successful cap-and-trade initiative called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI (pronounced like “Reggie”). Utilities must buy allowances through the established RGGI auction for each ton of carbon dioxide they produce. The number of allowances is reduced each year, which would result in Virginia’s power plants emitting 30 percent less carbon dioxide into the air after just 10 years.
Not only will this program help us start addressing climate change, it will also make the air we breathe cleaner, improve public and environmental wellbeing, and build a healthy economy. Over the first decade of RGGI, participating states have benefitted by an estimated $5.7 billion attributed to improved public health, while experiencing economic benefits of $4 billion. Participating states have also been reinvesting the revenues from RGGI into programs that help consumers use less energy, which saves consumers money on their electricity bills and means power plants need to burn less fossil fuel.
Despite the significant public health and economic gains poised for Virginia, the 2019 General Assembly elected to withhold about $200,000 in funding necessary to get this program going—a tiny fraction of the Commonwealth’s nearly $60 billion operating budget.
The 2020 General Assembly must let this proven program get underway immediately. First, our legislators need to pass a clean budget, without any restrictions that would prevent this successful program from being implemented. Second, our legislators need to vote “YES” on House Bill 981 and Senate Bill 1027, which will allow Virginia to invest the revenue from this program into energy savings programs in low-income communities and protections against flooding across the Commonwealth. As these bills continue to make their way through the legislative process, special interests are still fighting against the program. But we can fight back these attempts if you make your voice heard. Legislators care deeply about their constituents but they won’t know what you think unless you let them know.
Seventy percent of Virginians already support setting strict carbon dioxide limits on coal-fired plants, and cutting carbon with an established cap-and-trade program is proven and inexpensive. It is time to start making real progress on climate change.