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Pollution Control Board votes to remove Virginia from RGGI

As haze settled over Washington, D.C. and much of the Northeastern United States, the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board voted to remove Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
AP Photo/Julio Cortez
As haze settled over Washington, D.C. and much of the Northeastern United States, the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board voted to remove Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

More than 30 people addressed the Air Pollution Control Board, and thousands had written to ask that Virginia stay in RGGI. Membership means utilities in the state have to pay if they exceed a cap on greenhouse gases, and that cost is passed along to consumers. The amount for an average bill -- $2.39 a month.

“If the increases in typical consumer bills does not bother you, the industrial customer bill was, on average, raised by over $1,500 per month.”

That’s Travis Voyles, head of the Department of Natural and Historic Resources. He knows RGGI has sent Virginia more than half a billion dollars in proceeds from polluters – money the legislature earmarked to help communities prevent floods and to assist low-income residents who want to improve the energy efficiency of their homes. He and Governor Glenn Youngkin argue that’s a sneaky way to fund those improvements.

“If we believe that, in fact, funding is a good thing in order to promote resiliency in response to floods, then we should fund it directly, and oh by the way I believe that, and so what people will see is me advocating for that kind of funding directly, transparently – not hidden in a tax buried in your utility bill.”

 Protesters gather outside a meeting of the Virginia Air Pollution
The Sierra Club
Protesters gather outside a meeting of the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board

But Sierra Club, spokesman Tim Cerwynski says Dominion and other utilities add a whole lot more to your bill for the fossil fuels they buy.

“The fuel charge alone for the fuels that power natural gas plants are $35.38 a month. Now the whole cornerstone of what we’ve heard today and what the administration has been saying is that the RGGI fee is a regressive, direct tax on Virginians. I think it would be prudent for this board to explain to why these other line items related to fossil fuels are not a direct tax on Virginians.”

Keith Martin, with the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, joined representatives from the state’s poultry association and Columbia Gas in arguing RGGI membership hurts business.

“Virginia is in a battle with a lot of other states for jobs and to attract businesses. Our biggest competitor states are North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas, and they’re not part of RGGI. It looks like they don’t have any interest in being part of RGGI.”

The board members said little. Hope Cupit expressed concern about where the money would come from to save Virginia from the ravages of climate change were we to reject RGGI’s millions.

“If we have to depend on the General Assembly to award those moneys, it seems a lot less likely. It’s not a guarantee.”

As a haze settled outside the building where officials met, speakers Glen Besa, Lee Williams and Walton Shepherd reminded the Air Pollution Control Board that we have to do something about climate change.

“Did you notice the air pollution today? You know where it’s coming from? It’s coming from Canada – more than 400 fires from Nova Scotia to British Columbia. I can’t imagine green, wet Nova Scotia on fire! We all have to do our part. RGGI is a part of that.”

“We are lucky enough to be indoors with a functioning air conditioning system, and we’re comfortable, but my daughter does landscaping, and she’s out there working today, and she has asthma. Please, please, for my grandson, for my daughter who’s working outside today, defend RGGI.”

“If you want to do something about the smoke outside, rather than lie down and die, vote no.”

And retired diplomat Randy Fleetman warned we would set a terrible example for the world if this state were to leave RGGI.

“I spent 33 years in the State Department representing you on environmental issues. I helped negotiate the first environmental chapters in our trade agreements to try to protect our environment and our producers, and I have to say I am ashamed and embarrassed that this question has even come before you today. Please, please, keep us in RGGI Don’t bring shame upon us in the world.”

Delegate Rip Sullivan and candidate Richard Walker argued the board – part of the executive branch of government – did not have the legal authority to make this decision.

“In 2020 the General Assembly passed and the governor signed the Clean Energy and Community Preparedness Act. From our perspective Mr. Chairman, Virginia’s participation in RGGI was not merely a suggestion. It is mandated by law. Thus, only a new law can remove Virginia from RGGI”

“You know we are not in Russia. We have a democracy. Individuals have the right to have this. They put this in law. You’re not intimidated by the governor, are you? This is legislation. So this is your opportunity to tell the governor this is legislation. He has no rights.”

Two delegates agreed and decided to abstain from a vote, while a third wanted to stay in RGGI. Four others – all appointed by Glenn Youngkin – passed the resolution to leave. Now, environmentalists are planning to challenge that vote in court.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief