Youngkin Administration Will Repeal RGGI Involvement by the End of 2023

Acting Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources Travis Voyles said the Youngkin administration is planning a complete repeal of Virginia’s involvement in a greenhouse gas regulatory program by the end of 2023.

“The administration will put forth in the coming weeks a notice of intended regulatory action, or NOIRA, which will repeal the trading rule and end Virginia’s participation in RGGI [Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative]. This NOIRA will set the stage for a full administrative process act, or APA, regulatory action,” Voyles said at a Wednesday meeting of the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board.

RGGI is a cap-and-trade partnership with several other states requiring utilities to bid on and buy carbon allowances. In Virginia, proceeds go to a fund to assist localities and residents experiencing flooding, low-income energy efficiency programs, and a small portion goes to administrative costs related to the program.

Voyles called the program a “regressive tax” and warned that energy utilities would just pass the costs on to consumers, who don’t have the ability to shop for cheaper energy providers.

He said the administration’s timeline would allow “complete repeal” by the end of 2023, coinciding with the end of Virginia’s current contract with RGGI.

Under Democratic control, the general assembly passed laws requiring Virginia to participate in RGGI. Withdrawing from RGGI is a key Republican goal that has been slowed by Democratic control of the Virginia Senate. Democrats and environmental groups say legislation is required to withdraw from the program.

One of Governor Glenn Youngkin’s first actions in office ordered a report from the Department of Environmental Quality on RGGI and for the development of emergency repeal regulations that can be presented to the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board.

“This report reveals that RGGI is in reality a carbon tax passed on to families, individuals and businesses throughout the Commonwealth – it’s a bad deal for Virginians,” Youngkin said in March.

Some of the shifts needed to give Youngkin control of regulation are already occurring: Wednesday’s air board meeting was the first to be held for the seven-member board with a majority of Youngkin-appointed members, and the four new members elected two Youngkin appointees as chair and vice-chair.

The board didn’t take any action on RGGI on Wednesday, but the three Northam-appointed board members pressed back on Voyles’ summary of problems with RGGI and the administration’s plans to withdraw.

Member Hope Cupit asked about funding sources for the flooding relief and efficiency programs currently funded by RGGI, and asked Voyles how the administration could end participation in RGGI despite the law passed by the general assembly.

She said, “Do you see any issue, or constitutional issue, or even law and order with even the department looking to overturn or just disregard this RGGI law?”

“I can tell you,” Voyles said in response, “that we are in discussions with our partners down the hill in the legislature on what Virginia’s energy path looks like going forward, and that is separate and related to resiliency as well.” Voyles went on to highlight other potential funding for the relief and efficiency programs.

Public speakers spoke in defense of and opposition to RGGI on Wednesday, and environmental advocates hosted demonstrations across Virginia. Appalachian Voices posted video of a demonstration outside the meeting featuring oversized costumes portraying Youngkin as a puppet controlled by former Trump EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, currently a Youngkin advisor.

“Gov. Youngkin wants to move us backwards on climate at a time when we’ve been dealing with real emergencies in central Appalachia, like the catastrophic floods in southwest Virginia we’ve experienced this summer,” Appalachian Voices Virginia Energy Democracy Field Coordinator Emily Piontek said in a press release Tuesday.

“By participating in RGGI, Virginia received critical funding to proactively respond to extreme weather events, and people all the way from southwest Virginia to the eastern shore showed up today because they understand that we can’t afford not to take climate action seriously,” she said.

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network.  Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Glenn Youngkin” by Glenn Youngkin. Background Photo “Virginia Capitol” by Martin Kraft. CC BY-SA 3.0.

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