Virginia regulators are expected to take a final vote Wednesday on whether to advance Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s plan to withdraw from a multistate carbon cap-and-trade program.
Virginia spent years under Democratic administrations moving toward participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which environmental advocates say is a proven tool to help reduce pollution and address climate change. But that has been thrown into reverse since Youngkin, a Republican who says the program has functioned as a regressive tax on electricity users, took office in January 2022.
A final decision to repeal by the state Air Pollution Control Board — which is controlled by Youngkin appointees and backed withdrawal in a previous vote by 4-1 with two abstentions — would clear one of the last remaining hurdles to the governor’s proposal, though it is ultimately expected to face a legal challenge.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks at the state Capitol building on Feb. 25, 2023. State regulators are expected to take a final vote Wednesday on whether to advance Youngkin’s plan to withdraw from a multistate climate program. (AP Photo/John C. Clark, File)
The law included language that said the costs of allowances purchased through the initiative would be deemed environmental compliance costs that may be recovered from ratepayers of monopoly utilities Dominion Energy Virginia and Appalachian Power.
“The imposition of the RGGI ‘carbon tax’ fails to offer any incentive to change behavior. Current law allows power generators, such Dominion Energy, to pass on all their costs, essentially bearing no cost for the carbon credits,” a 2022 administration report said.
Nate Benforado, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, pushed back on that argument, noting that independent power producers that are regulated differently and account for about 30% of Virginia’s power sector emissions also must comply.
Some RGGI critics question whether that’s due to participation in the program or other factors.
About 1,900 commenters weighed in through an online portal to oppose the governor’s proposal during the most recent period for public comment, compared with approximately 600 in favor.
Among those supporting a repeal was Dominion, which serves around 2.7 million customers in Virginia. The utility wrote that RGGI participation does not further the goal of carbon reduction but “instead imparts unnecessary additional costs on Virginia customers with no evidence of incremental benefits.”
“Compliance with RGGI adds to customer costs,” she said.
RGGI advocates have also argued that the way the Youngkin’s administration has sought to leave the program — through administrative action after legislative attempts were defeated — is unlawful.
“We fully expect robust and ultimately successful legal challenges to ensue by any number of parties who will be harmed by this action,” said Walton Shepherd, Virginia policy director and senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.