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by Brandon Jarvis

At a chamber event in Hampton Roads on Wednesday, Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin announced that he will be using executive action to remove Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

RGGI is a market-based cap-and-invest initiative. Within the 11 states participating in RGGI, regulated power plants must acquire one RGGI CO2 allowance for every short ton of CO2 they emit. The RGGI states distribute allowances at quarterly auctions, where they can be purchased by power plants and other entities.

After joining the initiative in 2020 with 10 other states, Virginia made more than $227 million during the first year. Last week, the latest quarterly numbers were released showing Virginia bringing in $85.6 million. The money is intended to be reinvested in toward low-income energy efficiency programs and a Community Flood Preparedness Fund.

Earlier this week, Youngkin aides told Virginia Scope that the gov.-elect was concerned with the cost of this program being passed onto Virginians through Dominion Energy rate increases. His comments on Wednesday confirmed that.

“Just this week, Dominion Energy announced that they will seek to double the carbon surcharge that is being applied to ratepayers under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative,” Youngkin told the crowd. “RGGI describes itself as a regional market for carbon, but it is really a carbon tax that is fully passed onto ratepayers. It is a bad deal for Virginians. It is a bad deal for Virginia businesses and as governor, I will withdraw us from RGGI by executive action.”

With a split government, executive action might end up being a popular tactic that Youngkin uses to try and achieve some of his campaign promises.

“Given the fact that Democrats control the Virginia Senate, Youngkin is likely to use executive action wherever possible to address topics that are controversial,” said Dr. Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor and director in the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington. “It would be a great challenge for him to get bipartisan buy-in on this policy initiative and that is why executive action is something that we are likely to see from Youngkin on this and other climate change issues.” 

House Republicans celebrated the announcement from Youngkin. “I applaud Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin for his pledge to remove Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative,” Speaker-designee Todd Gilbert said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “When a policy costs the public a significant amount of money for no tangible benefit, that policy should be examined carefully, and if practical, rolled back. Governor-elect Youngkin’s announcement is a perfect example of the common-sense decision making we’ve been missing for the past 8 years.”

The Virginia Mercury interviewed Cale Jaffe, director of the University of Virginia School of Law’s Environmental Law and Community Engagement Clinic, who said that Youngkin does not have the authority to do remove Virginia from RGGI.

“The (State Air Pollution Control) Board has promulgated regulation to join RGGI,” said Jaffe. “No governor can issue an executive order to just undo a duly promulgated regulation.” 

Republican sources also describe the legislation as permissive, not mandatory, giving Youngkin the wiggle room here that he needs.

Requests for comment from House Democrats were not immediately returned. This story will be updated as it is developing.

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By vascope