Dear Valley Legislators …

Daily News-Record, March 25, 2022
Open Forum: Jo Anne St. Clair

An open letter to Valley legislators from Climate Action Alliance of the Valley:

We are writing about the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and recent efforts of Gov. Glenn Youngkin to withdraw Virginia from RGGI. Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV), a grassroots coalition in the Shenandoah Valley, strongly supports Virginia’s continued participation in RGGI and asks you to vote against Item Number 4-5.12 #1g in Budget Amendments HB 29, SB 29, HB 30, and SB30. These amendments are emergency regulations that would initiate the process of withdrawal from RGGI.

Virginia’s entrance into RGGI in 2020 came after years of work, policy analysis and robust public engagement. The governor’s move to withdraw is a hasty decision that relies on questionable analysis and conclusions. Many Virginians struggle with high energy costs, but there are more effective ways to tackle those costs that don’t abandon our goals of decarbonization. In fact, because 50% of RGGI funds support low-income energy efficiency programs, RGGI already is a way to tackle high energy costs.

This decision to withdraw is not supported by an objective look at the public health and economic benefits of RGGI participation, particularly to low- and middle-income Virginians (to lower their energy burden) and to coastal Virginia communities (to help prepare for even more flooding than they now experience). Also, a decision to withdraw disregards the 73% of Virginians, who according to the Yale Program on Climate Change, support regulating CO2 as a pollutant.

Perhaps most importantly, the governor is ignoring the critical urgency we have to lower our emissions. Actual data demonstrates that, prior to Virginia’s participation, RGGI states significantly surpassed Virginia in this respect: Governor Youngkin’s own report shows that from 2005 to 2020, RGGI states saw their emissions drop by twice as much as Virginia — 59% in RGGI states compared to only 30% in Virginia.

Warming caused by global emissions will continue to have increasingly devastating impacts in Virginia and globally — sea level rise, drought, crop failures, heat waves, increased disease outbreak, and the economic fallout of this confluence of disasters. The most recent report from the IPCC, released just weeks ago, ends by saying, “The cumulative scientific evidence is unequivocal: Climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health. Any further delay … will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all.”

There is general consensus among economists that either a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system, such as RGGI, is the most effective way to decrease CO2 emissions. In fact, the Climate Leadership Council, which was formed by a group of prominent Republicans, calls a price on carbon the “bipartisan climate solution.”

Governor Youngkin’s main objection to RGGI participation seems to be that Dominion lacks a strong incentive to reduce its emissions because it is permitted to pass through RGGI compliance costs to customers. On the contrary, the more solar and wind generation is used on Virginia’s electric grid, the more RGGI will give those sources the advantage to be selected by the utilities over fossil-fueled sources.

The governor’s report states that RGGI was initially “designed to return the proceeds to the ratepayers in order to offset the costs of the program to the consumer, but this was not how Virginia implemented the program.” Other states do not put the cost burden on ratepayers, but return the cost of compliance to customers via rebates. However, instead of suggesting revisions to how RGGI participation is structured, Governor Youngkin would withdraw us entirely, removing this important mechanism of reducing CO2 emissions and forfeiting the only dedicated funding source Virginia has to build flood resilience. He has not explained what, if any, funding would replace the monies lost as a consequence of our state withdrawing from RGGI.

If the governor wants to prevent Dominion from passing the cost burden of RGGI to its customers, he should consider numerous reform options that exist, work with the General Assembly to deploy them, and ensure that the State Corporation Commission (SCC) has adequate tools to scrutinize Dominion’s proposals. Dominion overcharging customers is a long-standing problem that a RGGI repeal does not fix.

Participation in RGGI was an important step in Virginia’s transition to a clean energy future. We cannot afford this step backwards. Not only do we have a moral obligation to act with urgency to tackle the climate crisis, but it is in the interests of Virginians’ health and financial well-being to do so.

For these reasons, we urge you not to support the above budget provisions or any other effort that would undercut Virginia’s continued RGGI participation.

Jo Anne St. Clair, chair of Climate Action Alliance of the Valley, lives in Harrisonburg.