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Virginia Makes Exit From Regional Emissions Program Official, Drawing Appeal

A coalition of environmental groups have appealed Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s (R) move to withdraw the state from an interstate carbon-capping program, after the state government made the pullout official Monday.

Shortly after winning the 2021 gubernatorial election, Youngkin announced his intention to pull out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a program that establishes emissions caps from power plants in participating states. Plants in RGGI states are issued tradeable allowances for carbon emissions.

Proponents of RGGI membership have pointed to lower emissions and stronger economic growth in participating states, while Youngkin and other supporters of withdrawal have called it a carbon tax that state utilities pass onto customers. 

Youngkin’s announcement drew pushback from environmentalist groups and Democrats in the state Legislature, who noted that the state entered the RGGI through legislation and said another bill was necessary to leave it. Multiple withdrawal bills failed in the majority-Democratic state Senate in the 2023 legislative session, but earlier this summer, the state Air Pollution Control Board — a seven-person panel with four Youngkin appointees — voted to withdraw.

On Monday, the withdrawal was officially published in the Virginia Register, the state equivalent of the Federal Register, with a goal of a full exit by the end of the year. In response, the Southern Environmental Law Center filed an appeal on behalf of a coalition that includes Appalachian Voices, the Association of Energy Conservation Professionals, Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions, and Virginia Interfaith Power and Light.

“Members of the Air Pollution Control Board were repeatedly informed that they did not have the authority to reverse a legislative mandate for Virginia to participate in RGGI — only the General Assembly has that authority,” Peter Anderson, Director of State Energy Policy for Appalachian Voices, said in a statement. “They acted anyway, ignoring the law and all of the benefits that Virginia has gained from RGGI.”

“Our State Air Pollution Control Board has acted and believes that Virginia is not required to be in RGGI and that the citizens of Virginia should not be subjected to this unnecessary tax,” Virginia Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources Travis Voyles said in a statement to The Hill. “The Office of the Attorney General confirmed the State Air Pollution Control Board has the legal authority to take action on the regulatory proposal using the full regulatory process—and the Board voted to do just that—furthering Virginians access to a reliable, affordable, clean, and growing supply of power.”

“Virginians will see a lower energy bill in due time because we are withdrawing from RGGI through a regulatory process,” Voyles added.

Source : The Hill