News | March 22, 2022

Clean energy, clean transportation survive attacks in Virginia—for now

Chase Counts, left, and Brett Hood, of Community Housing Partners in Christiansburg, Va., prep for their next home weatherization project to improve efficiency and lower power bills. (@ Stephanie Gross)

Virginia’s clean energy and clean cars laws came under ferocious attack in Richmond this year.

Bills in the 2022 General Assembly aimed to undercut the Clean Car Standards, the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA), and the Commonwealth’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

Together, these laws are undoubtedly the boldest actions tackling climate change to come out of the South.

The VCEA, for example, paves the way to a zero-carbon electricity grid by 2050 by retiring fossil fuels and ramping up renewable electricity and efficiency measures, creating good jobs in Virginia and increasing our energy independence in the process.

The Clean Car Standards adopt the strongest provisions in the nation to tighten tailpipe emissions and set specific goals for zero-emission vehicles in order to tackle the biggest source of carbon pollution in Virginia: transportation.

Yet lawmakers put both pieces of landmark legislation on the chopping block in the 2022 General Assembly, along with not one but several bills that took aim at Virginia’s participation in RGGI.

Two modest homes sit by side on a sunny day with the homes reflected in the flooded front yards.
Homes in Norfolk regularly contend with flooding on sunny days caused by tides and rising sea levels interacting. (@ Michael Caudill)

Ten other states have been benefitting from RGGI for years. Although Virginia only has a year under its belt, the program is already working to drive down our power plant emissions. With the proceeds, RGGI has so far funded 49 different projects to help localities cope with flooding, plus more than 2,300 affordable, highly efficient housing units. These projects — which are only possible thanks to Virginia’s participation in RGGI — are already helping Virginians on the frontlines of climate change in every corner of the state.

Improving public health, growing local economies, and reducing carbon emissions: participating in RGGI is a clear win for Virginia. Efforts to take Virginia out of RGGI represent a significant step backward — one that Virginia simply cannot afford to take.

Alarmed by lawmakers’ sweeping broadsides on clean energy and clean transportation, Virginians mobilized across the Commonwealth during the General Assembly. SELC’s passionate supporters — in lockstep with clean energy trade associations, businesses, and the entire Virginia environmental community — urged legislators to hold the line to stop these regressive attacks on Virginia’s commitments to reduce carbon pollution.

It worked. As the General Assembly winds down in Richmond, every single bill that took aim at the VCEA, Clean Car Standards, and Virginia’s participation in RGGI has been defeated.

It is a major victory. All those who work to defend Virginia’s air, land, and water can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that these crucial clean energy and clean transportation laws are still in place.

Along with our partners, we even convinced the legislature to complement these core laws by expanding electric vehicle charging, enhancing access to transit, and strengthening plans for making our coastal communities and natural areas more resilient to sea level rise and flooding.

Yet we cannot take our eye off the ball. It is clear that attacks on clean energy and clean air in Virginia can come from many directions. Although the regular session of the 2022 General Assembly has adjourned, the Governor’s opposition to Virginia’s RGGI participation remains. We must be prepared for other damaging proposals from the administration or through the budget process in the months ahead. 

SELC and our partners will stay vigilant against attempts to roll back landmark clean energy and clean transportation policies that make Virginia a leader in the South — and we will pursue opportunities for further progress.

For the sake of clean air, clean water, and thriving communities across the Commonwealth, now is the time to commit to the transformational policies that realize a truly healthy environment for all. Virginia must stay the course to achieve it.