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The debate over Virginia's place in RGGI could end in court

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in a market-based partnership of 11 states determined to cut carbon emissions.

Virginia is currently part of a cap and trade program to reduce carbon emissions. But the governor and new members of the Air Board are hoping to get Virginia out of the initiative.

Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin and new members of the Air Pollution Control Board are hoping for Virginia to leave the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. That's an interstate compact of states that distributes money from power producers based on carbon emissions.

Tim Cywinski at the Sierra Club says leaving RGGI would leave hundreds of millions of dollars on the table.

"That's hundreds of millions of dollars that go into projects that strengthen our communities that are facing climate change right now," Cywinski says. "Hundreds of millions of dollars that can lower our energy bills through energy efficiency costs, hundreds of millions of dollars that are responsible for funding a lot of these response plans in the face of flooding that the governor is using for southwest Virginia right now."

Stephen Haner at the Thomas Jefferson Institute says the initiative is a bad idea and that Virginia should exit as soon as possible.

"It's a tax. That's what people need to understand," Haner explains. "It's a tax, and the tax is being paid by every electricity customer in the state. And it was a tax that we didn't get a chance to discuss, and that's what the governor has noted, and that's why the governor is trying to get us out is that it's basically a carbon tax."

Advocates for the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative are pushing back against efforts from the governor and the air board to leave the multi-state compact without an act of the General Assembly, which means that this debate is probably headed to court.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria. He has reported for NPR, the New York Daily News and the Alexandria Gazette Packet. He has a master's degree in American Studies from Florida State University, and he is a former adjunct professor at Tallahassee Community College. He is the author of four books.