News | November 9, 2017

Virginia announces South’s first carbon cap-and-trade program

In an important step for cutting greenhouse gas pollution, Virginia officials released a draft plan this week for the Commonwealth to create a carbon cap-and-trade program.

The plan centers around Virginia linking up with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade program involving nine East Coast states. Participation in the group will help Virginia meet its proposed target of a 33-34 million short ton cap on carbon emissions, starting in 2020. Then, over the next ten years, the cap would drop 3 percent each year.

“This move makes Virginia the first Southern state to tackle climate change head-on,” said SELC attorney Will Cleveland. “The implications of that could be huge when you consider that, if all the states in our region were treated as one country, they’d have the 8th highest level of carbon pollution in the world.”

Another part of the plan to tackle that pollution includes caps on old and new power plants, an improvement over some past pollution regulations that grandfathered in older, existing plants, which are often the heaviest polluters. The plan would also set aside 5 percent of the allowances for state Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy to put toward energy efficiency programs aimed at lowering customers’ monthly bills.

State-level leadership has taken on increased importance since the Trump administration announced earlier this year it was walking away from the Paris Climate Accord agreement, which looks to address greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale. Syria, the only other country that hadn’t joined the agreement, said this week at international climate talks in Bonn, Germany that it is reversing its position and signing, leaving the United States as the only nation not participating. States, cities, and businesses have responded to the Trump administration’s backpedaling by increasing efforts to meet or exceed the Paris standards without federal support.

Virginia’s carbon cap-and-trade plan will be heard before the state Air Pollution Control Board on Nov. 16. If approved, there will be a public comment period, with implementation possible by late 2018.