Virginia Air Board approves Youngkin’s plan to withdraw state from RGGI

Virginia Air Board approves Youngkin's plan to withdraw state from RGGI

Regulators in RICHMOND, Va., Voted Wednesday to withdraw the state from an auction-based carbon emission reduction program along with 10 other East Coast states.

During Wednesday’s meeting of the Air Pollution Control Board, Virginia Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources Travis Voyles introduced the finalized repeal of the regulation the state uses to participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

The board passed it 4 to 3. It will go to the Virginia executive branch and Governor Glenn Youngkin for their approval. If they sign, it will be posted on the Virginia Register, and 30 days later, it will go into effect.

The RGGI program sets caps on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants that will become stricter over time in 11 states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia.

Electric companies must acquire shares for every short ton of carbon dioxide they emit, which are distributed in quarterly shares. Proceeds go to energy efficiency programs for low-income Virginians and the Community Flood Preparedness Fund.

Youngkin has strongly criticized the program, arguing that it doesn’t actually incentivize electric companies to reduce emissions and serves as a tax on Virginians. He also stressed his belief that his administration could withdraw through regulatory action rather than new legislation.

READ MORE | Youngkin says he can withdraw Virginia from RGGI under current law

The lengthy regulatory process began when the Youngkin administration submitted a Notice of Intended Regulatory Action (NOIRA) to the Air Pollution Control Board in September 2022, followed by a 30-day public comment period.

Months after that period ended, the administration filed an effective repeal of the RGGI regulation, which was followed by another public comment period, this time for 60 days, which ended on March 31.

Throughout the process, Democratic lawmakers and environmental groups have opposed the administration’s move, saying the Clean Energy and Community Flood Preparedness Act enacted in 2022 requires the state to be a part of RGGI.

Youngkin praised the board’s decision in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

Today’s common-sense decision by the Air Board to repeal RGGI protects Virginians from the failed program that is not only a regressive tax on households and businesses across the Commonwealth but does nothing to reduce pollution, Youngkin wrote in a press release

Attorney Nate Benforado of the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), a group long opposed to Youngkin’s efforts on RGGI, said it was “a disappointing day.”

“With this action, the administration decided it would rather circumvent the law than listen to the General Assembly and the clear voice of Virginians who know RGGI is working,” Benforado wrote.

The Virginia League of Conservation Voters (LCV) also called voting “illegal”.

“Today’s rigged Air Board vote by Governor Youngkin is a blatant endgame around the Legislature and a handout to big polluters at the expense of Virginia communities that are now on their own to fight dangerous floods,” the executive director wrote. Virginia LCV Michael Town in a press release.

Jay Ford, Virginia counsel for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, shared a statement saying the repeal of the RGGI “will delay efforts to protect Virginia homes and businesses from flooding” and slow work to restore rivers and torrents.

“Participation in RGGI is more important than ever as climate change adds new challenges to the restoration of Chesapeake Bay,” Ford wrote. “About one-third of the nitrogen pollution in the Chesapeake Bay comes from air pollution that eventually lands on land or water.”

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