Virginia Pilot Op-Ed 09/29/2022

Opinion: RGGI is working in Virginia. No one should change that.

Virginia got a painful reminder this summer of how urgently our communities need flood resilience. Fortunately, no one was hurt when devastating floods struck Buchanan County, but rebuilding from the second flood to hit the area in as many years will be difficult.

Buchanan County is not alone. The human impact and economic cost of flooding has increased in my home city of Richmond, and especially in coastal regions of Virginia such as Hampton Roads. The cost of flood damages already costs Virginians $400 million per year, and is expected to increase by 980% over the next 50 years.

Our commonwealth is experiencing climate change in real time. That’s why I supported the 2020 legislation that enabled Virginia to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a bipartisan multi-state effort supported by Democratic and Republican governors alike.

RGGI is already hard at work for Virginians on the frontlines of climate change. It gets at the root cause of climate change, with utility companies paying for carbon dioxide pollution that comes out of their power plants. While utilities rein in their pollution over time, Virginia invests that money into flood preparedness, energy efficiency, and affordable housing.

So far, RGGI has brought in more than $378 million, including funding to Buchanan County and millions for flood preparedness in Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk and Virginia Beach. RGGI funds specifically support the Virginians who need them the most: those who are disproportionately burdened by flooding and substandard housing.

Yet despite the initiative’s already impressive track record, there are some in the commonwealth who have called for Virginia to pull out of RGGI. During the General Assembly this year, we saw failed attacks that included calls for legislators to hijack the budget process to derail RGGI.

My colleagues and I knew better than to pull Virginia out of an initiative that is already having such a positive impact on Virginians’ lives. The question now is whether the Youngkin administration can say the same.

In his first days in office, the governor issued an executive order seeking to end Virginia’s participation in RGGI. Now, his appointees on the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board appear poised to try to repeal the regulation implementing the law.

Let’s be clear: the air board doesn’t have that authority. In fact, a member of the board herself explained that she had “received an opinion from the attorney general’s office back in March that [repealing RGGI is] not the responsibility of the board, that it’s the responsibility of the General Assembly.”

That’s true. It is the responsibility of the General Assembly — and only the General Assembly — to determine Virginia’s participation in RGGI. And when it comes to RGGI, the General Assembly has already spoken.

The governor is bound by Virginia’s Constitution to enforce the laws established by the General Assembly. He cannot simply ignore the ones he doesn’t like. Because Virginia’s participation in RGGI is required by law, only the passage of new legislation could end the requirement that Virginia participate in RGGI.

RGGI is working well in tandem with other recently passed climate legislation. The Virginia Clean Economy Act, which I patroned in 2020, has led to thousands of jobs and a booming wind energy production and manufacturing hub in Hampton Roads. Our commonwealth is leading on cutting-edge jobs and clean energy and it’s not the time to turn back.

The 11 other states participating in RGGI have seen their fossil fuel emissions drop 90% faster than anywhere else in the country. Their customer costs have dropped with it, and public health has improved.

Virginia deserves to reap the same rewards. RGGI is delivering for Virginians. Regulators and the Youngkin administration have no right to change that — and they shouldn’t try.