Ah, summer! 2023: the season of Barbie, farm-stand tomatoes, supermoons, and the Apocalypse. Raging floods, searing heat, torrential rains, scalding oceans, tornadoes, hurricanes — good god, what’s next, boils and frogs?
It would seem an opportune moment to combat — or, at the very least, not exacerbate — climate change. Virginia has been doing just that since 2021, when, as part of a larger environmental state-legislative push, it became the southernmost state to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). (Not-at-all-coincidentally, 2020 marked the first Democratic trifecta in the state after years of a regressive, GOP-controlled state legislature. Next General Assembly elections: November 2023. Just sayin’.)
Established in 2005, RGGI (pronounced “Reggie”) is a consortium of eastern states dedicated to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, fostering investment in green projects, and other such woke climate nonsense. As the first market-based, cap-and-invest regional initiative in the US, it’s not perfect — participation is voluntary, for example, meaning so far, only 12 states have signed on — but let’s not allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good, which in this case is pretty damn good.
How Does RGGI Work?
Briefly, participating states establish a regional, progressively tighter cap on electric power plants’ CO2 emissions. As the cap decreases over time, so do emissions. Power plants over a certain capacity must purchase allowances, equal to their CO2 emissions, which are auctioned off in quarterly regional, uniform-price “allowance auctions”; states can then reinvest the proceeds in local, energy-efficient initiatives.
Since RGGI’s inception, participating states have reduced total emissions by 50 percent — twice as fast as states in the rest of the country — and have raised nearly $6 billion to invest into local communities.
How’s Virginia Doing?
Virginia is killing it. In the past two years, power plant emissions in the state have fallen by 16.8% statewide, according to the EPA. And the state has invested $650m+ in green community projects, particularly in lower-income areas that have traditionally borne the brunt of climate change. In 2021 alone, according to a recent RGGI report, the state invested $75.5m of allowance-auction proceeds in community initiatives, the bulk of which were Housing Innovations in Energy Efficiency (HIEE) programs.
This meant that in 2021, residents of 194 low-income Virginia housing units were able to repair electrical/plumbing/HVAC systems, remediate mold and asbestos, and install energy-efficient and/or safety measures (insulation, carbon-monoxide detectors, etc.). An additional 1,984 housing units were developed or renovated.
Virginia’s remaining 2021 auction proceeds went to the state’s Community Flood Preparedness Fund, which uses data-based science to establish a statewide coastal resilience strategy. The Environmental Defense Fund estimates that by 2080, “nearly 1 million Virginians will be living in homes exposed to major coastal flooding and flood damages across the state are estimated to skyrocket to $5.1 billion annually.” The CFPF identifies economically and ecologically vulnerable communities and bolsters flood preparedness and resilience across the state.
At this rate, according to the Virginia Conservation Network, the state could achieve its goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
And who wouldn’t want that?
Republicans, That’s Who.
After regaining control of the Governorship and the House in 2021, Virginia’s GOP got straight to work pushing an abortion ban, sponsoring bills to make voting harder, and, yes, implementing measures to trash the environment. Case in point: seven GOP state-legislative bills introduced in 2022, intended either to hobble or completely repeal Virginia’s participation in RGGI.
[We interrupt our programming for a public service announcement: the one and only reason none of these proposed abominations have become law is the narrowly Democratic State Senate, which has defeated all such proposals on party lines. Of the above anti-RGGI bills, one was defeated in the House, the other six in the Senate. The chamber is, literally, the last bulwark against MAGA madness in Virginia. We must preserve — expand! — our narrow blue VA Senate majority this November.]
So why does the “pro-life” GOP oppose a lifesaving initiative like RGGI? We know they’re a death cult, but what’s their stated reason? Unsurprisingly, it comes down to lies and money. GOP Governor Glenn Youngkin has decried RGGI as a “failed program that… does nothing to reduce pollution,” and, even worse, foists an insidious “hidden tax” on residents’ electric bills. To be clear, this “tax” peaks at around $2.39/month for the average residential customer, versus the estimated $15/month hike that’s forecast over the next three years due to rising natural gas prices — both numbers courtesy of Dominion Virginia Power, the primary electricity provider in the state.
Stymied by the workings of democracy, Youngkin has weaseled his way toward a less-than-legal solution: he’s repealed Virginia’s RGGI participation via regulatory means. This past June, despite a huge public outcry, Virginia’s Air Pollution Control Board (whose members are appointed by the Governor) met to approve a final regulation ending the state’s participation in RGGI, state legislation and democracy be damned.
The Lawyers Are Coming.
Environmental attorneys have filed notice that they intend to mount a legal challenge against the Governor’s blatant power-grab. Per the Virginia Conservation Network: “At the end of the day, RGGI cannot be repealed through executive action or regulation. Virginia’s participation in RGGI is required by law — passed in the 2021 General Assembly session and re-confirmed this session with the defeat of many RGGI-repeal bills.”
We’ll see whether Virginia’s courts still stand for something. And while Youngkin isn’t termed out of office until 2026, we’ve got those State House & Senate elections coming up in November. See you at the polls.
– Juliet Eastland
Sister District Project MA&RI gives the lowdown on why state-level races are so vital to the nation’s health. SDP helps top-notch Democratic candidates win strategically important state elections across the country, and works to expand civic engagement. Originally published here.