Fate of Virginia’s carbon reduction program lies with Governor

The State Captiol Building in Richmond, Virginia. 

The clock is ticking for Virginia Governor Ralph Northam to act on the state budget currently sitting on his desk. By May 3rd, the Governor must decide whether to approve the budget as-is or whether certain items should be vetoed. Buried in this lengthy document is a provision that would tie Virginia’s hands when it comes to implementing real, sensible climate solutions. If the Governor does not veto this restriction, the newly approved carbon cap-and-trade program—that would lead to a 30 percent reduction in carbon emissions from power plants statewide—would be blocked before it even got started.

In a move to throw up roadblocks to the program, a handful of state lawmakers have added language to the Virginia budget that would prevent the state from participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, known as RGGI.

“Air quality and addressing climate change in practical ways cannot and should not be a partisan issue in the Commonwealth,” said SELC Attorney Nate Benforado. “We need lawmakers to work together and start taking real steps to protect Virginia from climate change, which is already hurting communities and the environment, and negatively affecting public health and the economy.”

The State Air Pollution Control Board voted 5-to-2 for Virginia to join Virginia RGGI last week. This adds Virginia to nine other states in the northeast already in the program and would position Virginia as an environmental leader in South by being the first state in the region to join. If the budget restriction is not vetoed, however, it appears state regulators would be precluded from implementing the program, likely pushing back carbon reductions by at least a year. 

“Virginia is not in a position to delay addressing climate change,” said Benforado. “The market-based carbon trading program is proven and cost-effective. Over the past decade, states already participating in RGGI have significantly reduced carbon emissions while keeping electricity bills low.”

Governor Northam has long championed Virginia’s efforts to join RGGI, a move that was set in motion and considered a hallmark issue of his predecessor, Governor Terry McAuliffe.

Without action at the federal level, it is up to states and local governments to address climate change.  The veto decision is a critical moment for Governor Northam’s environmental legacy.

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