Outgoing Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has released an opinion asserting that Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin does not have the authority to remove Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative through executive action.
The program, designed to reduce emissions from power plants, was approved by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly in 2020 and signed by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam.
Energy producers in states that participate in RGGI trade emission reductions for credits, or buy credits to emit carbon dioxide past a cap. The revenue the state gets from the program is directed to programs that help low-income people reduce energy usage — thereby lowering their cost of electricity — and for programs combating sea level rise in coastal areas.
“Climate change remains an urgent and ever-growing threat to Virginians, their safety, their health, and their communities,” said Herring, a Democrat who leaves office on Saturday, when Attorney General-elect Jason Miyares, the Republican who beat him in November, is sworn in.
Herring, who produced the opinion at the request of outgoing House Majority Leader Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, and Del. Rip Sullivan, D-Fairfax, said Virginia’s participation in the regional initiative, known as RGGI, is critical to reducing the state’s carbon pollution, while investing hundreds of millions of dollars in mitigation and resilience efforts.
“The Virginia Constitution is clear: the Governor does not have the authority to single-handedly repeal or eliminate a law or regulation that has been passed by the General Assembly. It is time we all work together to fight climate change and leave a better, healthier planet for future generations.”
Youngkin said last month that he will use executive power to withdraw Virginia from the program, which he said is essentially a tax on electricity ratepayers and a bad deal for them and for businesses.
“Just this week Dominion Energy announced that they will seek to double the carbon surcharge that is being applied to ratepayers under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative,” Youngkin said in Virginia Beach at the annual meeting of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce.
“RGGI will cost ratepayers over the next four years an estimated $1 billion to $1.2 billion. RGGI describes itself as a regional market for carbon, but it is really a carbon tax that is fully passed on to ratepayers. It’s a bad deal for Virginians. It’s a bad deal for Virginia businesses.”
Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia collaborate in the RGGI program.
The RGGI program has increased the monthly electric bill of a typical Dominion Energy residential customer in Virginia by $2.39. To cover costs of the program, Dominion has asked the State Corporation Commission for approval to raise that impact to about $4.37 a month for the typical residential customer.
But in part because of Youngkin’s announcement and “uncertainty,” Dominion made a filing with the SCC on Monday asking to withdraw the request that would raise customer bills by $4.37.
Dominion intends to file an update to an application “to recover its actual and projected RGGI compliance costs informed by these developments at the appropriate time,” an attorney for the company wrote in the filing.
State Sen. Lynwood Lewis, D-Accomack, said that even while there are significant doubts about Youngkin’s ability to pull Virginia from RGGI himself, it’s a bad policy move because the program is yielding revenue for communities in Hampton Roads to plan for flooding.
“This is not necessarily a great foot to start on,” Lewis said. “I’m hoping he’ll rethink that.”