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Northam vetoes two bills he says would restrict his options on climate change
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Northam vetoes two bills he says would restrict his options on climate change

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Gov. Ralph Northam on Thursday vetoed two measures that he said would hamstring the state’s plans for curbing carbon emissions from power plants and vehicles.

The proposals, both introduced by Del. Charles Poindexter, R-Franklin County, would have barred the state from entering two regional programs aimed at reducing carbon dioxide air pollution.

State environmental officials have already kick-started the process to join the regional programs. New state regulation to curb carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and some industrial facilities that burn fossil fuels is in its final stages.

Once finalized, the rule would enable Virginia to participate in a new emissions trading system with nine nearby states called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, where energy producers can trade emission reductions for cashable credits.

House Bill 2611 would have barred Virginia from entering the regional program without approval by a supermajority of two-thirds of the General Assembly.

Northam said in a statement that climate change, extreme weather and sea level rise are threats to public safety, the economy and the environment.

“To address these challenges and protect the people of Virginia, the commonwealth must be able to use all available tools to combat climate change.”

As with similar measures related to climate change, the proposals proved divisive in the General Assembly, nixing the potential for an override of Northam’s veto.

Both bills passed along party lines in the legislature, where Republicans hold power by just a handful of seats. Legislators would need a two-thirds vote in each chamber to override a veto.

“We’re disappointed but not surprised,” Parker Slaybaugh, a spokesman for Speaker of the House Kirk Cox, said in a statement about Northam’s vetoes. “He is apparently as beholden to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her ‘green new deal’ as the rest of the Democratic Party,” Slaybaugh said, referring to the congresswoman from New York.

Dominion Energy has also opposed the RGGI regulation, telling state environmental officials last week that the initial cap of 28 million tons per year is too high.

“We remain concerned that the commonwealth’s linkage to the RGGI program through the Virginia carbon proposal with its now significantly lower proposed starting emissions cap would disadvantage Virginia generation ... and result in an undue burden on its customer,” the company’s statement reads.

Dominion has also said that should the rule go into effect, it would be forced to halt coal-burning at its Chesterfield Power Station.

Environmental groups celebrated Northam’s veto on the bill related to that regulation.

“It just seemed silly that after a year, thousands of public comments, that Republicans would think it’s a good idea to message this as the governor having too much power,” said Harrison Wallace, Virginia director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

Nate Benforado, of the Southern Environmental Law Center, said: “This is a smart veto and keeps Virginia on the forefront of combating climate change — which is critical in the absence of any federal leadership on the issue.”

House Bill 2269, which Northam also vetoed, would have barred the state from curbing carbon emissions from vehicles through a regional program similar to RGGI.

“Like other air pollutants, the emissions that cause climate change do not respect state lines, district lines, or other political boundaries,” Northam said in a written statement. “In the absence of a federal plan, Virginia is obligated to join other states and face this threat to our collective public safety and economic health.”

Virginia moved to enter that program, called the Transportation and Climate Initiative, in September 2018. A policy proposal on exactly how the state would seek to limit carbon emissions from vehicles is expected in late 2019.

mleonor@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6254

Twitter: @MelLeonor_

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