Virginia Democrats Warn Yongkin Not To Violate Environmental Law

RICHMOND – Governor Glenn Yongkin (right) and Democrats in the General Assembly are locked in a power struggle over environmental policy, with both sides escalating over the past week toward a potential showdown in the upcoming legislative session.

Sixty-one Democratic lawmakers wrote Yongkin Thursday warning that his efforts to use regulations to remove Virginia from the Interstate Carbon Reduction and Trade Agreement is an inappropriate end to state law.

That’s because Virginia’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative — known as RGGI, or “reggie” — was mandated by a bill passed by the General Assembly in 2020 and signed into law by the then government. Ralph Northam (D).

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The letter sent and signed by state Senator Linwood W. Lewis Jr. (D-Accomack) said only a change in the law, which must be passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, could strip Virginia from its obligation. By most Democrats in the Senate and House of Delegates.

“No proposed regulation, emergency regulation, regulatory act, or any subsequent administrative process could do this,” the lawmakers wrote.

Yongkin’s office on Friday took note that not every Democrat had signed the letter — three senators and four unrepresented delegates. “What this message makes clear is that Democrats do not have unified support for RGGI,” Yongkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter said via text message. “Obviously they know the same thing we do – that RGGI is nothing more than a household energy use surcharge for Virginia families.”

Youngkin’s management revealed its latest plan to withdraw from RGGI on August 31, a follow-up to an executive order he issued shortly after taking office in January.

Youngkin and Republican leaders in the General Assembly also indicated that they intended to repeal another environmental measure passed by the legislature when Democrats were in charge: Virginia’s adherence to California’s auto emissions guidelines.

Their outcry was sparked after California adopted a standard late last month that requires it All new vehicles to be electric or hydrogen-powered by 2035.

“We find ourselves today with this funny law that says Virginia has to follow California laws, and so we’re going to go to work and stop this because Virginians have to make decisions for the sake of Virginians,” Youngkin Tucker Carlson said: August 30 on Fox News.

17 states have restricted themselves, to some extent, by California’s emissions standards, which federal law allows to be more stringent than federal government standards. The auto industry often responds to California standards rather than federal standards, because the state accounts for a large portion of the auto market.

Ford Motor Company, for example, is moving quickly away from gasoline-powered vehicles and expects that as much as half Of its global sales will be electric cars by 2030.

Virginia is due to implement California emissions standards in 2024, but the state is already participating in RGGI.

This market, which includes 11 states, allows power generators to buy and sell carbon emissions credits, with the goal of reducing the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere.

Advocates note that countries participating in the pact have seen a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions while other countries have either remained flat or seen an increase. According to an analysis of Federal Environmental Protection Agency numbers by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Virginia’s power plants emit 13 percent less carbon in 2021, Their first year as part of RGGI, compared to 2020.

At the same time, the market has returned nearly $400 million to Virginia for use in flood mitigation efforts and energy efficiency programs for low-income residents.

Yongkin has since argued before taking office, even though RGGI is a bad deal for the state because utilities are allowed to charge consumers for a share cost. Customers of the state’s largest utility, Dominion Energy, have paid an average of about $2.39 extra per month to cover the cost — although Dominion notified the state earlier this year that it would stop paying extra for RGGI and would instead include the cost in the price. primary clients.

During a meeting of the state’s Air Pollution Control Board on August 31, the Yongkin administration reiterated its opposition to the program and outlined a regulatory approach to withdrawal. Travis Foyles, acting secretary of Natural and Historical Resources, said the administration hopes to complete the administrative steps for withdrawal by the end of 2023, saying the system increases costs for consumers at a time when they are already struggling with inflation.

Walton Shepherd of the Virginia NRDC said the fact that the administration has opted for such a slow process suggests it knows it’s on a shaky legal basis.

“This seems to be more of a chest-hitting exercise than thinking they actually have a chance of long-term success,” Shepherd said. He said human rights defenders would be eager to go to court to challenge a “governor who is trying to overturn permanent law”.

He noted that Democrats who control the Senate by a margin of 21-19 would likely block any attempt to change the RGGI law or California’s emissions plan.

It remains unclear what state Attorney General Jason S. Miyares (right) on the legitimacy of RGGI’s efforts. Earlier this year, the Richmond Times-Dispatch published This has been reported A member of the air board said she had received an “opinion” from Mearis’ office saying the board could not overturn a General Assembly action, like RGGI.

Mayaris refused to publish any such opinion, and the Southern Environmental Law Center did. I filed a lawsuit On behalf of the Appalachian Voices advocacy group to obtain the document.

A spokeswoman for Miyares declined to comment on the matter on Friday.

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