Gov. Youngkin executive order seeks to remove Virginia from Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

Glenn Youngkin, Jason Miyares, Winsome Sears
Posted at 12:34 PM, Jan 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-20 17:21:28-05

NORFOLK, Va. - Gov. Glenn Youngkin's ninth executive order seeks to remove Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

RGGI is a multi-state program meant to address pollution and help states fund programs to fight it.

Virginia officially joined the program in 2021, following the General Assembly passing a law dealing with fighting pollution.

The way it works is there's a limit on the amount of carbon emissions power plants can emit. To offset pollution entering the atmosphere, power companies have to buy credits. If they can reduce the amount of carbon emission, the fewer credits they have to buy, saving them money while reducing pollution.

Money from the programs goes to the state to help lower-income households become more energy-efficient and to fight flooding.

Youngkin says power companies can pass the cost of these credits onto customers. His order says the average Dominion Energy customer is paying an extra $2.39 per month because of RGGI.

"Simply stated, the benefits of RGGI have not materialized, while the costs have skyrocketed," the order says.

Jacob Fish, the deputy state director of Americans for Prosperity-Virginia, says any increase matters these days.

"Especially at a time when we know that inflation is going to continue to be at record highs and it's even more and more difficult to live within one's means, having these top down programs like RGGI make it harder for Virginians to provide for themselves and their families," said Fish.

Youngkin's order directs his administration to develop a regulation to remove Virginia from RGGI.

"To take Virginia out of RGGI would be shortsighted," said Jay Ford, Virginia Policy and Grassroots Adviser with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Wetlands Watch, another group whose aim is to preserve Virginia's wetlands, says proceeds from RGGI have already made their way to Hampton Roads and are funding several projects to fight flooding.

The group estimates the price tag to fix the flooding problem in Hampton Roads is around $40 billion. "I don't see a solution to this very large, expensive program without the state finding money somewhere," said Skip Stiles, the group's executive director.

There are also questions over whether Youngkin has the authority to remove Virginia from the initiative without the legislature getting involved.

"The General Assembly gets to decide the laws in Virginia, and the Executive Order—which asks state officials to develop an illegal repeal—is a dead end," Southern Environmental Law Center Senior Attorney Nate Benforado said.

In response to a question about whether Youngkin has the authority, a spokesperson just said he was following through on a promise he made after he was elected. For now, his executive order remains in place with supporters of the action hoping for a long term solution.

"We definitely support the idea of pulling out of RGGI. We think the executive order is a great first step, but we'd love that to actually be a legislative solution," said Fish.

While the legal aspects are being hashed out, environmental groups continue to watch the debate closely. "I think in many ways RGGI and the debate about it comes down to a kitchen table issue. Is our region ready to deal with all these rising waters?" said Ford.