Virginia Air Pollution Control Board votes to leave Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

Published: Jun. 7, 2023 at 7:33 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WDBJ) - The Virginia Air Pollution Control Board has voted to remove Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas initiative.

Board members repealed state regulations during a meeting Wednesday afternoon, over the objections of environmental groups who argued only the General Assembly has the authority to withdraw from the multi-state agreement.

Virginia joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, also known as RGGI, in 2020 when Democrats controlled the General Assembly and the Governor’s office. But soon after Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin took office, he signed an executive order to end Virginia’s involvement.

“Let me be clear, RGGI is a bad deal for Virginia, said Virginia Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources Travis Voyles.

He represented the Youngkin administration as members of the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board took up the issue Wednesday morning.

He said RGGI amounts to a regressive tax on families and businesses that does nothing to reduce greenhouse gases.

“RGGI will cost taxpayers over a billion dollars over the next four years, over a billion dollars that should still be in the pockets of every day Virginians,” he said.

11 states currently participate in RGGI. Commonly known as a cap and trade program, it sets a limit on carbon dioxide emissions and requires power plants to acquire allowances for the CO2 they release.

Virginia has used the proceeds to improve flood resiliency and address other effects of climate change.

“Within just a couple of years RGGI has a track record of success in Virginia,” said Sen. Ghazala Hashmi (D-Richmond).

In a rally outside the meeting, and in public comments to the board, supporters of RGGI said the program is working and should remain in place.

“Right now, from Abingdon to Arlington, Virginia RGGI-funded projects are already providing real-world on-the-ground impact,” said another speaker. “Leaving RGGI when low-income families are just beginning to see the benefits of weatherization is a cruel tax on the poor.”

Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Youngkin praised the board’s vote, saying it will further Virginians access to a reliable, affordable, clean and growing supply of power.

The Virginia League of Conservation Voters described the repeal as a handout to big polluters at the expense of Virginia communities that are now on their own to combat dangerous flooding.

A key question is whether a state regulatory board has the authority to reverse legislation that was passed by the General Assembly and remains in effect.

The Governor and Attorney General Jason Miyares say the board acted within its legal authority, but this is an issue the courts will likely decide.