General Assembly clears way for Virginia’s participation in regional carbon-cutting program

Legislators in Richmond sent a bill to the Governor’s desk taking bold action on climate change by joining a successful regional carbon accounting program.

After a late-night vote, Virginia will soon become the first southern state to participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a carbon-cutting program for power plants that will also direct more than $100 million annually to programs that will benefit all Virginians, particularly struggling families.

The House of Delegates and the Senate both passed the Clean Energy and Community Flood Preparedness Act, which will allow Virginia’s cap-and-trade program to get underway.

“This is a watershed moment,” said SELC Attorney Nate Benforado. “Budget restrictions last year meant Virginia’s participation in the Reginal Greenhouse Gas Initiative was delayed, but this bill will enable full implementation of the market-based program. We know it will significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions in Virginia while boosting our economy and improving public health.”

The Clean Energy and Community Flood Preparedness Act authorizes Virginia to use the revenue from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, with 50 percent going towards energy efficiency programs for low income families, 45 percent going to communities dealing with recurrent flooding issues, and 5 percent being set aside for administrative expenses and statewide climate change planning.

“Low income families really struggle to pay high energy bills and are severely underserved by existing efficiency programs,” Benforado said. “Investing this revenue in energy saving measures, like weatherizing homes and updating inefficient appliances, not only saves these families money, it reduces emissions and costs for everyone. Combined with the revenues to deal with community flooding, this is a win for all Virginians.”

The bill was championed in the House by Majority Leader Charniele Herring and in the Senate by Senator Lynwood Lewis, with strong support from Governor Ralph Northam and Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew Strickler. Having passed both bodies of the General Assembly, the bill will soon make its way to the Governor’s desk for signature.

“Climate change can feel daunting but that’s why this bill is such an important step. There are solutions, and if we make our voices heard, we can take this head on,” Benforado said.

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