By SARAH RANKIN, Associated Press
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – Republican elected representative of Virginia Glenn Youngkin on Wednesday announced he would seek to use his executive powers to pull the Commonwealth out of a multi-state carbon cap-and-trade program he said , overburdened taxpayers and businesses.
Environmental lawyers and other conservationists were quick to retort that Virginia’s participation, approved by law last year, could not be overruled by the governor alone.
Youngkin’s remarks on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, an 11-state program in the central Atlantic and northeast designed to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, came during a speech he gave in front of the Hampton Roads Chamber.
Youngkin, who will take office in January, has pledged to remove Virginia from the initiative through “executive action.”
“RGGI describes itself as a regional carbon market. But it really is a carbon tax that is fully passed on to taxpayers. It’s a bad deal for Virginians. It’s a bad deal for businesses in Virginia, ”he said.
Virginia has spent years participating in RGGI (pronounced “Reggie”). The initiative forces power plants to buy an allowance to emit a certain amount of carbon, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, which scientists say is already accelerating sea level rise and making it worse. extremes such as heat waves, droughts, floods and storms.
Advocates say the RGGI pushes power plants to reduce their emissions while making emission-free power generators more competitive.
In 2020, with Democrats in full control of state government, lawmakers approved a measure that is now law making Virginia a full participant. The program recently grossed around $ 228 million in its first full year.
By law, the vast majority of this revenue is intended to help communities affected by recurrent flooding and sea level rise, and to a state-managed account to support energy efficiency programs. for low-income people.
“RGGI has grossed over $ 220 million this year alone – money is already being deployed across the Commonwealth to help communities cope with flooding and lower energy bills for Virginians who need it most. “, Nate Benforado, Senior Counsel at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “This was bipartisan legislation that went through a multi-year regulatory process to create a comprehensive program that cannot be undone with the stroke of a pen.”
Walton Shepherd, director of policy for Virginia and senior counsel for the Natural Resources Defense Council, called Youngkin’s remarks “a rhetorical and legal dead end – not to mention hyper-partisan -“.
A spokesperson for Youngkin declined to comment further on the thought of the governor-elect.
The RGGI law included language stating that the costs of allowances purchased under the initiative would be considered environmental compliance costs that could be recovered by Dominion Energy Virginia or Appalachian Power from taxpayers. Youngkin said in his speech that he expected Virginia’s stake to cost taxpayers $ 1 billion to $ 1.2 billion over the next four years.
Of the. Todd Gilbert, who is slated to become Speaker of the House after Republicans overturned control of that chamber last month, released a statement praising Youngkin’s remarks.
“Governor-elect Youngkin’s announcement is a perfect example of the sensible decision-making that we have missed over the past 8 years,” said Gilbert.
The Democratic Senate leadership, now the party’s sole hold over state government after last month’s electoral cycle, has defended its membership in the RGGI.
“Reversing this law would be incredibly damaging to the health of Virginians, the protection of our natural spaces and the preparation of a clean energy economy,” said Majority Leader Dick Saslaw and caucus chair. Mamie Locke in a joint press release.
Youngkin said in his speech that he would champion a comprehensive energy strategy, including support for “clean burning” fossil fuels. He specifically expressed support for a pipeline project in Southeast Virginia.
Many conservationists say the world needs to quickly switch from natural gas to renewable energy sources.
Youngkin is also committed to fighting sea level rise, which threatens coastal communities in Virginia.
“We have a challenge,” he said.
Youngkin will be sworn in on January 15.
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