As the Trump administration continues its work to roll back important clean air safeguards at the federal level, to the detriment of public health and safety across the United States, Virginia is making incredible progress on its own.
The Northam administration has made moving forward with the “Clean Energy Virginia Initiative” a top priority. With roots in the McAuliffe administration, CEVI is the first-ever rule in Virginia to cap carbon emissions from power plants.
This important work will transition the commonwealth into a leader on clean, renewable energy while cutting carbon emissions from dirty power plants – pollution exacerbating the climate crisis that threatens our coastal communities, and puts all of Virginia in harm’s way.
Under the proposed rule, emissions will decline by 30 percent, or 3 percent per year, between 2020 and 2030. It would also allow Virginia to trade carbon allowances with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a coalition of eight mid-Atlantic and New England states, which has worked to cut emissions by 40 percent since 2008.
The states participating in RGGI have all seen incredible public health and economic gains since the program took effect. A recent report from Abt Associates concluded the reductions in air pollution achieved under RGGI have generated an estimated $5.7 billion in public health benefits.
At the same time, Acadia Center estimates electricity prices in RGGI states fell by 6.4 percent while prices rose by a similar margin elsewhere. Overall, energy efficiency programs supported by revenue raised under RGGI in just its first six years were estimated to yield $1.56 billion in energy bill savings.
On top of this, the RGGI states’ economies outpaced the rest of the nation. By 2016, emissions had dropped by 33 percent, while the RGGI states’ economy grew by 29.7 percent.
Less air pollution. More economic growth. Lower electricity prices. Increased clean energy.
Virginia will be in good company. But even though we will see the benefits of cleaner air, under the rule that’s moving forward we will not be a full-fledged “member” of RGGI. This requires General Assembly sign-off, and legislation put forward by the Northam administration seeking to make us a formal member of RGGI died on party-line votes in House and Senate committees this year.
The legislation would have steered revenue back to the commonwealth to help with coastal resiliency and adaptation efforts in Hampton Roads, economic development in Southwest Virginia, expanding renewable energy and energy efficiency, and investing in important conservation practices that help the Chesapeake Bay.
The climate crisis isn’t going away. It’s time for lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to be working toward solutions in Virginia that not only cut air pollution but also address the climate impacts caused by years of unabated carbon emissions… and move us toward a cleaner energy future.
But even without action by the General Assembly on RGGI, we’re still making progress. Under Governor Northam’s leadership, Virginia is taking an important – and huge – first step, by moving forward with a strong carbon cap. This, paired with the sweeping bill Northam’s already signed into law, which calls for 5000 megawatts of renewable energy and a whopping $1 billion investment in energy efficiency over the next decade, will truly propel Virginia into a leader, nationally, in addressing climate change and growing a clean energy economy.
The Trump administration will only continue its assault on the environment. With an Environmental Protection Agency led by Scott Pruitt, a fervent climate denier who previously sued EPA over the Clean Power Plan and other important environmental safeguards, it’s up to us here in Virginia to act.
Fortunately, just months into Northam’s term as Governor, we’re already on the right path ahead.