As part of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s misguided insistence that Virginia withdraw from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the Air Pollution Control Board has since January accepted input from the public on the proposed action.
That comment period concluded last week and the regulatory town hall website now includes more than 6,000 messages from across the commonwealth, the vast majority of which plead with the governor and state officials to remain a part of the multistate partnership. (They are available to read at townhall.virginia.gov/L/Comments.cfm?stageid=9879)
Will it matter? It certainly should.
It’s important to note straight away that the governor doesn’t have the unilateral authority to exit RGGI. Virginia’s membership was secured through the General Assembly’s passage of the Clean Energy and Community Fund Preparedness Act in 2020, not through an executive action. Only a repeal can undo that — unless Virginia is suddenly in the business of allowing its executive to nullify acts of the legislature.
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That’s not just the view of Democrats in the legislature, who desire continued participation in the market-based cap-and-trade program, but also reportedly the position of the attorney general’s office. Last year, Air Pollution Control Board member Hope Cupit said she had a letter from the AG’s office confirming as such, though the attorney general successfully fought a request under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act to release a copy of that opinion.
Of course, the Youngkin administration sees constitutional order and the separation of powers as little more than inconveniences, obstacles to overcome as it rushes to end a program that has poured hundreds of millions into Virginia coffers for flood mitigation projects and energy efficiency programs.
The commonwealth has received nearly $590 million from the auction of carbon credits since 2021. That includes $71 million from the quarterly auction in December and $66 million from the auction on March 8.
State law — that’s something the legislature has passed and no governor can simply ignore — divides RGGI proceeds between the state’s Community Flood Preparedness Fund and the Housing Innovation Energy Efficiency fund.
The first has paid for a host of projects, including many in Hampton Roads, to hold back the ever-encroaching waters as seas rise as a result of climate change; the second helps pay to improve the efficiency of housing for low-income residents.
Were the governor to remove Virginia from RGGI — which, again, he cannot unilaterally do — there is no plan to replenish those revenue streams. In his budget proposal, Youngkin proposed allotting $200 million for flood-related projects, but that would be a one-time payment — far less than what RGGI now provides. It is not a long-term funding substitute for projects that will keep at-risk communities such as those in Hampton Roads above water. The governor did nothing to offset the loss of funding for low-income residents, who were apparently forgotten when the administration was drafting its budget plan.
Youngkin, of course, grew up in this region, a point he emphasized during his campaign. Surely he knows the very real danger of recurrent flooding here and how our communities have an estimated $40 billion in resilience needs in order to protect lives and property here.
Or maybe he doesn’t. During the campaign, he said he wasn’t smart enough to know whether human activity contributes to global warming, despite mountains of evidence produced by thousands of scientists confirming that very fact.
But the people of Virginia know. They know that climate change is a serious threat to the commonwealth. They know that Virginia cannot turn its back on a program that is working to reduce carbon emissions, that is investing in resilience and efficiency, and that provides some hope that we can halt the worst-case scenarios projected should we do nothing.
That’s why, when given the opportunity, they said so loudly and clearly. It’s all there in the comments. This administration and its appointees to the Air Pollution Control Board would do well to read them — and to honor them.