RICHMOND — Dozens of clean air advocates gathered outside a state council meeting Wednesday and pleaded with its members to keep the state in a 12-state carbon emission reduction program.
“What do we want? Climate Justice! When do we want it? Now!” chanted the crowd on the lawn of Reynolds Community College in Richmond.
Their requests to remain in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, however, were ultimately denied.
After hearing comments from the public at Wednesday’s meeting and entering an executive session, the air pollution control board voted 4-3 to withdraw from the initiative. The proposed withdrawal will now go through an enforceable review period, after which it will likely be subject to a legal challenge.
RGGI aims to reduce the use of fossil fuels as an energy source and encourage the shift to renewable energy production by requiring energy producers to purchase allowances for every ton of carbon they produce. Manufacturers can only buy a limited number, which decreases over time.
The General Assembly passed a resolution to join RGGI in 2020. But Governor Glenn Youngkin has sought to pull the state out of the initiative, saying it forces electric companies to buy shares that will raise the cost of energy for consumers.
After the vote, Youngkin took to Twitter to praise the board. He said leaving RGGI was a “common sense” decision and called the initiative a “failed program” that did nothing to reduce pollution.
About two dozen speakers addressed the council ahead of Wednesday’s vote, including state senator Ghazala Hashmi, D-Richmond, and Del. Rip Sullivan, D-Fairfax County.
Hashmi said she was baffled that the matter was even under discussion.
“Our RGGI membership passed in 2020 and that law hasn’t changed,” he said. “Virginia simply cannot be removed from RGGI. If the governor wants to make the case for him, I ask him to do it through legislation and before our General Assembly ”.
Sullivan, who said he was speaking on behalf of the House Democratic Caucus, told the board that RGGI was working as planned.
“RGGI is already delivering great benefits to Virginia residents,” he said. “In the first two years of RGGI, for example, Virginia’s annual CO2 emissions decreased by 16.8 percent.”
While RGGI’s primary purpose is to create cleaner air, some who have approached the council have also touted its other benefits. The initiative has raised over $500 million for the Commonwealth. Half of the money she earns goes towards energy-saving projects for low-income households and the other half goes to helping localities with flood prevention or mitigation efforts.
Others warned the board that RGGI was bad for business.
Keith Martin of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce said RGGI membership puts Virginia at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting new “energy-intensive” businesses.
“Virginia is in battle with many other states for jobs and to attract businesses,” he said. “Our largest competing states are North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and Texas and they are not part of the RGGI.”
Hobey Bauhan, president of the Virginia Poultry Foundation, said he believed RGGI had a well-meaning goal of tackling climate change. But he said it was bad for those who make a living from poultry because the hatcheries, feed mills and processing plants are all energy intensive.
“There are better ways to address resilience and energy efficiency,” he said.
The withdrawal from the regional initiative, which includes 12 mid-Atlantic and northeastern states, is almost certain to face a legal challenge.
But in a statement released after Wednesday’s vote, Youngkin said the procedure used to withdraw from the initiative was legal.
The attorney general’s office confirmed that the state air pollution control board has the legal authority to act on the proposed regulation using the full regulatory process, and the board today voted to do just that by favoring access of Virginians to a reliable, affordable, clean and growing supply of energy, the governor said.
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