Gov. Glenn Youngkin spent the first part of his term in office working to remove Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a multi-state coalition working to curb power plant emissions and reduce their harmful impacts on the environment via a “cooperative, market-based effort.” Now a lawsuit questions the governor’s authority to do so.
First, Youngkin attempted to remove Virginia from RGGI via executive order, even though he lacked the authority to do so.
Then, Senate Democrats blocked a Republican bill ordering the commonwealth to withdraw from the pact.
Finally, Youngkin pursued a different approach: regulatory withdrawal from RGGI.
After stacking the State Air Pollution Control Board with his own appointees, the board voted in June to remove Virginia from RGGI. Youngkin began the formal withdrawal process from the 12-state pact in July, and Virginia’s exit will be fully effective as of Dec. 31, 2023.
This week, the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) sued to stop Virginia’s withdrawal from RGGI, claiming that the Youngkin administration lacks the authority to remove the commonwealth from the pact.
“It is critical that we continue our participation in RGGI, a proven climate solution,” said SELC senior attorney Nate Benforado said in a press release announcing . “Virginians know that we need this program and that we have no time to waste. We will be doing everything we can — as quickly as we can — to enforce the law and maintain this successful program.”
The suit was filed on behalf of the Association of Energy Conservation Professionals, Virginia Interfaith Power & Light, Appalachian Voices, and Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions.
Since Democrats voted to bring Virginia into the agreement in 2020, the RGGI auctions have returned around $589 million to Virginia, which is used to mitigate the effects of flooding caused by climate change and to increase the energy efficiency of low-income homes.
According to the lawsuit, which was filed in Fairfax County Circuit Court, RGGI has already had a positive impact; carbon dioxide emissions from state power plants have decreased by nearly 17%, from about 32.8 million short tons in 2020 to about 27.3 million short tons in 2022.
The suit further contends that, if Virginia remains in RGGI at least through 2030 – as required by current law – energy-efficiency improvements for as many as 130,000 Virginia homes would be funded, saving each an average of $676 a year.
Via Virginia Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources Travis Voyles, the Youngkin administration responded to the lawsuit.
“RGGI remains a regressive tax which does not do anything to incentivize the reduction of emissions,” he said, adding that “the citizens of Virginia should not be subjected to this unnecessary tax.”