Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
Department of Environmental Quality
Air Pollution Control Board
Regulation for Emissions Trading [9 VAC 5 ‑ 140]
Action Repeal CO 2 Budget Trading Program as required by Executive Order 9 (Revision A22)
Stage Proposed
Comment Period Ended on 3/31/2023
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3/31/23  10:49 am
Commenter: Chris Leyen

Virginia League of Conservation Voters Official Comment RE: Air Pollution Control Board Proposed Rev

On behalf of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters (VaLCV), I am writing to oppose the recent efforts to remove Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

The Virginia League of Conservation Voters advocates for the protection of resources important to all Virginians–clean air and water, thriving communities, and rural landscapes–and the establishment of a clean, healthy, just and equitable environment for all Virginians. The health and preservation of these resources is directly linked to the maintenance of clean air and a stable climate. For these reasons, we support Virginia’s continued participation in RGGI.

Virginia’s participation in RGGI prevents pollution that has increased asthma rates among children, contributed to increased flooding from our mountains to our coasts, more frequent severe storms, rising energy costs, and deadly heat waves. At the same time, investments made from RGGI proceeds collected from pollution-emitting power plants return hundreds of millions of dollars to our commonwealth every year. These proceeds provide a market-based incentive to transition energy generation to cleaner sources while helping lower energy costs for Virginians in need and assist vulnerable localities in adapting to and mitigating flooding and sea level rise in their communities.

Participation in RGGI is required by law and consistent with the official Commonwealth Clean Energy Policy (§ 45.2-1706.1) which aims to produce 30 percent of Virginia's electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030 and 100 percent of Virginia's electricity from carbon-free sources by 2040.

RGGI has a proven track record of success, helping cut pollution at its source and reducing energy cost and volatility–driving our clean energy transition in Virginia.

The data affirming RGGI’s pollution-reduction success is clear, as the March 11 report issued by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) states: “RGGI “has a long track record of emission reductions since the beginning of the program.”

Comparing EPA data from 2020 to 2021, Virginia’s Virginia's RGGI program slashed energy sector air pollution by 14% in its first year alone. What’s more, while Virginia is a relative newcomer to RGGI, in the decade-plus the program has been in operation, RGGI states have reduced climate-warming emissions reduced power plant carbon emissions by 50 percent, 90% faster than the rest of the country - while seeing 31% faster economic growth than non-RGGI states.

RGGI is a core driver of the domestic clean energy economy, currently bringing good-paying jobs to Virginia.

These jobs can benefit from emerging workforce development initiatives that transition those who were left behind or intentionally excluded from previous economic booms into meaningful, good-paying careers. RGGI directly incentivizes zero-carbon producers who benefit doubly from being able to sell electricity in the generation market at a more competitive price than carbon-emitting sources, and from selling their excess carbon allowances to polluters. This has led to a rapid expansion of clean energy jobs, as well as jobs in energy efficiency.

According to the 2022 U.S. Energy and Employment Report (USEER) shows the energy sector experienced positive job growth, increasing 4.0% from 2020 to 2021, outpacing overall U.S. employment. In Virginia, energy jobs increased by 8,330 jobs (4.9%), with 73,119 Virginians employed in energy efficiency. Of the 16,321 Virginians employed in power generation, over 60% (10,001) are employed by zero-carbon facilities.

RGGI improves public health. 

Decreased air pollution results in fewer asthma attacks, premature births, and missed days of school and work. In just 10 years, participating states realized $5.7 billion in public health benefits thanks to RGGI. These harmful pollutants are often concentrated in low-wealth and marginalized communities located more closely to emission sources–causing these communities to experience higher rates of heart attacks, strokes, and asthma.

RGGI is helping the Virginians who most need it right now.

In addition to preventing the root cause of climate change at its source, Virginia uses RGGI proceeds to actively mitigate the impact of climate change for those most exposed to its effects, be it through flooding in the mountains, sea level rise along the coast, or rising energy costs during extreme heat events. These funds are designed to be disbursed equitably with an estimated 60 percent of total proceeds dedicated to helping either low-income individuals directly, or low-income communities.

Since its first auction in March of 2021, RGGI has generated approximately $452 million in cumulative proceeds.

Half of these funds–paid for by polluters for each ton of carbon dioxide their facilities emit–help provide safe, affordable and energy-efficient homes to low-income families in ways that were never possible before RGGI. Thanks to the energy efficiency investments made to date, including $196 million in 2020 alone, consumers are on track to save $15 billion on their electric bills.

Virginians also save money over the long term by reducing our reliance on costly fossil fuels. Just this summer, Virginians' monthly electric bills increased by $17-$25 just to pay for the rising fuel cost associated with coal and methane gas. The RGGI-induced shift from high-cost fuels to zero-carbon sources of electricity with no fuel cost is part of the reason electricity prices have declined in RGGI states while increasing in the rest of the country. Reliance on zero-fuel-cost sources also reduces price volatility, making energy bills more predictable, in addition to more affordable.

Forty-five percent of these proceeds provide flexible statewide funding dedicated to localities to plan for and prevent recurrent flooding through the Community Flood Preparedness Fund (CFPF). RGGI is the sole source of revenue for the statewide CFPF, which is the only dedicated state funding source for critical flood resilience planning and project implementation for localities, tribes, and soil and water conservation districts across Virginia. Of the $203.5 million RGGI has generated for the CFPF, nearly $46 million has been awarded to more than 40 localities, from Buchanan County in Southwest Virginia to Petersburg, Alexandria, and the Eastern Shore.

There is a massive need for this funding. If left unchecked, flooding damages are projected to cost the state $79.1 billion.

The CFPF funds capacity-building initiatives that most federal grant programs do not, providing critical planning resources that allow localities to pursue larger project implementation requests.

The CFPF can also be used as a local match for federal grant programs, making Virginia applicants more competitive for national programs. Without a reliable, adequate, and long-term funding source like RGGI to keep money flowing in the CFPF, localities will be unable to complete necessary flood resilience planning, studies, and implementation they need to address current and future flood risk.

Notably, 25% of CFPF monies are set aside for low-income geographies and the CFPF prioritizes implementation of nature-based solutions. Small and rural communities already experiencing increasing flood risk can’t afford to leave this money on the table.

The final five percent is dedicated to administering the program, an essential step in making sure that the revenue reaches its intended beneficiaries in a timely manner.

Participation in RGGI is the product of a legislative mandate and the culmination of years of research and review.

Starting in 2016, a workgroup with extensive stakeholder engagement produced recommendations for reducing carbon emissions from electric power facilities, concluding in its final report that it is “important and necessary that Virginia work through a regional model, like the established and successful RGGI, in order to both achieve lower compliance costs and address the interstate nature of the electric grid.”

DEQ then engaged in a multi-year process of developing regulations to regulate carbon emissions from power plants through market-based means, trading allowances through a multi-state program. The original rulemaking began in 2018 and in 2020, the General Assembly passed a law requiring Virginia’s participation in RGGI. Following these new requirements, the revised final regulation took effect July 2020.

Governor Youngkin lacks the authority to take us out of RGGI through the regulatory process.

In addition to being the culmination of a multi-year regulatory endeavor supported by a data- and stakeholder-driven report, our participation in RGGI is mandated by policies the General Assembly passed in 2020. According to an official advisory opinion from the Office of the Attorney General released January 11, 2022: “The Virginia Constitution is clear: the Governor does not have the authority to single-handedly repeal or eliminate a law or regulation that has been passed by the General Assembly."

RGGI is consistent with official commonwealth policy and has clear benefits to the environment, public health, and state economy.  We must not seek to take away the best and only tool Virginia has to simultaneously address climate change-inducing pollution at its source, while helping Virginians deal with effects of climate change on their communities.

With this, we reaffirm our position that the Virginia League of Conservation Voters opposes the removal of Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

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