Va. is first Southern state to join Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative
RGGI combats climate change, reduce greenhouse gas emissions
Gov. Ralph Northam announced Wednesday that Virginia is the first Southern state to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a collaborative among Northeast and mid-Atlantic states intended to combat climate change and reduce power sector greenhouse gas emissions through a “cap-and-invest” program.
“As the southernmost state to join RGGI, Virginia is sending a powerful signal that our commonwealth is committed to fighting climate change and securing a clean energy future,” Northam said in a statement. “This initiative provides a unique opportunity to meet the urgency of the environmental threats facing our planet, while positioning Virginia as a center of economic activity in the transition to renewable energy.”
Despite opposition from the Republican Party, legislation passed this year in the new Democratic majority General Assembly paving the way for Virginia to join the climate-conscious group. Former House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, Cox, a past chair and member of the Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee had argued that joining the group would raise Virginians’ electric bills.
“A true fundamental difference between Republicans and Democrats … is that Republicans support policies that will make sure energy stays affordable, while Democrats support policies that will lead to higher power bills,” Cox said in a September 2019 statement. “The [State Corporation Commission] has stated that this energy tax scheme known as RGGI would raise electric bills for residential customers by up to $144 per year, or a 10% increase on the average bill.”
RGGI member states agree to cap carbon dioxide emissions — and electric power producers in those states must reduce pollution to meet the cap or buy allowances through an RGGI Inc. auction.
Legislation passed during this year’s General Assembly session allows Virginia to use auction proceeds toward community flood preparedness, coastal resilience and energy efficiency programs that benefit low-income communities. The Department of Housing and Community Development and the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy will administer approximately 45% of the proceeds to flood prevention and coastal resilience programs.
“Last April, after the culmination of a significant public process, Virginia finalized a regulation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said David Paylor, director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, in a statement. “The thorough public input process was essential in producing the carbon regulation the commonwealth recently enacted.”
Paylor signed the Virginia Carbon Rule on June 25, allowing Virginia to join RGGI. The state will become a full-fledged member on Jan. 1, 2021.
“RGGI provides a framework for meaningful action on climate change that begins to green the energy market and ensures that prices tell the truth about costs,” Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew J. Strickler said in a statement. “This collaboration with regional partners will help us capture the environmental, health and economic benefits from the clean economy for all Virginians.”
This year, the General Assembly also passed the Clean Economy Act, which commits Virginia to eliminate the use of fossil fuels for generating electricity within 25 years. It sets goals to develop more solar and wind capacity, incentivizes development of renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, and loosens restrictions on rooftop solar and other distributed generation projects.
“Our commonwealth is ready to lead the way in ensuring that the path to reducing carbon emissions is equitable and protects the health and safety of all Virginians,” Northam said in a statement.
RGGI members now include Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia.