Virginia air pollution regulators on Wednesday approved a Youngkin administration proposal to back out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, launching a process that could see the state leave the system by the end of next year.
The regulatory proposal they approved would repeal a series of state regulations that set terms for Virginia’s participation in RGGI, a market of energy firms that buy credits that let them emit carbon dioxide at a capped amount; the credits come from firms that emit less than their caps.
The Air Pollution Control Board approved the repeal on a 4-1 vote, with two members abstaining.
The approval sets off a process that will include a review by several of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s Cabinet members.
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If they approve, which is likely since the proposal was presented by acting Secretary of Natural Resources Travis A. Voyles and leaving RGGI is a key element of Youngkin’s energy plan, that would start a 60-day comment period.
Then, the Department of Environmental Quality would consider those comments and write a final regulatory proposal.
If that passes Cabinet review and the governor authorizes it, the repeal of the regulations ending Virginia’s participation in RGGI would take effect.
So far, heavily negative public comment hasn’t derailed the Youngkin administration push.
Comments after it published a notice that it was planning to write regulations to pull out of RGGI drew 730 comments in opposition to 51 in support.
Environmental groups and about a third of Virginia’s General Assembly have argued it’s up to the legislature to keep Virginia in RGGI or to remove it.
Virginia joined RGGI in 2021 after the state legislature passed a law in 2020.
“RGGI is a bad deal,” Voyles told the board, largely because Virginia’s participation differs from other states.
Any money that comes from the utilities’ participation in the market is passed on for flood control, efforts to cope with sea level and energy efficiency programs, but any costs that utilities incur are simply passed onto ratepayers, rather than coming out of utility profits and therefore creating a financial incentive to reduce CO2 emissions, he said.
He said he believed his comments about RGGI’s impact addressed public comments opposing the administration’s move.
“This is a backdoor tax that nobody voted for,” said air board member David Hudgins, who voted for the proposal echoing comments from the board majority.
Environmental groups say the market has been effective in reducing CO2 emissions.
Board member Hope Cupit said she wasn’t comfortable with the proposal because she wasn’t sure the board had the authority to pull Virginia out.
Walton Shepherd, Virginia policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Youngkin was riding roughshod over Virginia’s pollution law.
“Governors can’t imperiously shred standing law, and Virginians are tired of that kind of deliberate, Trump-style chaos in their government, especially when it’s aimed at a popular program like RGGI,” he said.
Shepherd said RGGI delivers crucial investments across the state and heads off climate change-caused damage on the coast.