Greens sue to keep Virginia in RGGI

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By Bonner Cohen, Ph. D. 

In a move that came as no surprise to anyone who has followed the knock-down, drag-out fight over Virginia’s participation in a controversial multistate carbon credit-trading scheme, environmental groups are suing to block the Old Dominion’s withdrawal from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

On August 21, the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), on behalf of several Virginia green groups, filed suit in Fairfax County Circuit Court to prevent Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) from having the state part company with RGGI. RIGGI is an 11-state compact of northeastern and mid-Atlantic states to cap and reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power plants. Its current members are Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia.

Virginia joined RGGI in 2021 after Democrats, who controlled the General Assembly and the governor’s mansion at the time, passed a sweeping energy/climate measure that called for the state to phase out carbon-based fuels. Youngkin, who was elected governor later that year, came into office vowing to take Virginia out of RGGI.

That has been easier said than done, in large part because Democrats remain in control of the state Senate, where they have killed Republican-backed legislation to exit the compact. Unable to do the deed legislatively or through an executive order, Youngkin pursued his goal through regulatory means. In June, the State Air Pollution Control Board – with a majority of member appointed by Youngkin – voted to begin the process of exiting RGGI. After a 30-day review period, the governor officially filed a notice of withdrawal at the end of July, with an effective date of Dec. 31.

“A Regressive Tax”

“RGGI remains a regressive tax that does not do anything to incentivize the reduction of emissions in Virginia,” Travis Voyles, state secretary of natural and historic resources, said in an Aug. 21 statement. He noted that the board “believes that Virginia is not required to be in RGGI” and that state Attorney General Jason S. Miyares (R) has issued an opinion that the board has the authority to act, The Washington Post (Aug. 23) reported.

The forthcoming legal battle will focus on what the Democrat-passed 2021 energy law said about Virginia joining RGGI. Environmental groups – as well as Democratic lawmakers – contend that the Youngkin administration exceeded its authority in overriding an act passed by the Assembly. But the Youngkin administration argues that the 2021 energy law “authorizes” Virginia to join RGGI, but does not compel it.

Youngkin’s claim that RGGI is a regressive tax was confirmed by Dominion Energy, the states largest utility, which said it added about $2.39 to the average customer’s monthly utility bill to cover the cost of complying with RGGI. “The State Corporation Commission suspended that surcharge last year in anticipation of Virginia withdrawing from RGGI and at Dominion’s request during a time when rising fuel charges were increasing customer costs,” the Post reported. “But Dominion succeeded in getting a slightly higher surcharge returned this summer, arguing that it has continued to accrue costs from RGGI even as fuel costs have come down.”

The lawsuit spearheaded by SELC was filed against the State Air Pollution Control Board, the Department of Environmental Quality, and the department’s director, Michael Rolband. It argues they lack authority to Remove Virginia from RGGI. A court ruling in the case is not expected for several months.


Bonner Cohen, Ph. D.

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D., is a senior policy analyst with CFACT, where he focuses on natural resources, energy, property rights, and geopolitical developments.

Articles by Dr. Cohen have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Investor’s Busines Daily, The New York Post, The Washington Examiner, The Washington Times, The Hill, The Epoch Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Miami Herald, and dozens of other newspapers around the country.

He has been interviewed on Fox News, Fox Business Network, CNN, NBC News, NPR, BBC, BBC Worldwide Television, N24 (German-language news network), and scores of radio stations in the U.S. and Canada.

He has testified before the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, and the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee. Dr. Cohen has addressed conferences in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and Bangladesh. He has a B.A. from the University of Georgia and a Ph. D. – summa cum laude – from the University of Munich.