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Virginia judge okay’s fight over RGGI withdrawal

Climate Central says Virginia ranks fifth among states for likely loss of property tax revenue as the sea claims land and buildings.
Lisa Grieco
Climate Central
Climate Central says Virginia ranks fifth among states for likely loss of property tax revenue as the sea claims land and buildings.

A judge in Floyd County Monday allowed a non-profit group’s suit against Governor Glenn Youngkin’s effort to pull Virginia out of a regional environmental partnership to continue. At least one state senator is welcoming the ruling.

Virginia Democrats used state law to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, in 2020. The effort has seen hundreds of millions of dollars flow into the state to help in flood-prone areas as well as to weatherize the homes of low-income Virginians. But the $2 monthly fee billed to Virginians in exchange was called a tax by Governor Glenn Youngkin on the campaign trail.

When he took office, he directed the state’s Air Board to remove Virginia from the multi-state agreement. That removal was finalized late last year.

But the Association of Energy Conservation Professionals, a trade group for weatherization nonprofits, argued in Floyd County Circuit Court that the 2020 law never gave the governor the authority to leave the agreement.

“If they want to remove us from RGGI, you’ve got to change the law,” said Nate Benforado, the Southern Environmental Law Center attorney who represents the trade group.

Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares argued in filings that the language within the law - specifically a line that quote “authorized [the air board] to establish, implement, and manage,” the program - allowed Youngkin to direct the agency to leave RGGI.

But the Floyd County judge sided with the trade group, at least in finding their loss of access to RGGI funds gave them standing to sue. Still, questions of gubernatorial authority haven’t been resolved.

In a statement, Miyares’ office said they do not comment on pending litigation. But outside the Senate chamber Fairfax-area Senator Scott Surovell, who advocated for the bill back in 2020, said the judge is on the road to getting things right.

“The legal decision is about whether the governor had the authority to take us out," Surovell said. "He never had authority to take us out so we’re trying to get him to follow the law.”

If the trade group is successful in Floyd County, it could open the door to new RGGI funds by late spring.

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

Updated: February 6, 2024 at 5:23 PM EST
Editor's Note: The Southern Environmental Law Center is a financial supporter of Radio IQ.
Brad Kutner is Radio IQ's reporter in Richmond.