Despite the season, it has been a balmy fifty degrees most days here in Richmond. The usually sagging coat racks have remained empty, Capitol Square has been bustling with government employees and medical professionals from the nearby VCU Hospital enjoying their lunch breaks, and the usually high-in-demand cold-weather shuttle to parking decks has been shirked by legislators in favor of pleasant strolls to their rental units. While this unseasonable warm snap is not, in and of itself, proof of a changing climate, it is an indicator of a well accepted scientific fact: our earth is warming, altering, due to human activity.
Unfortunately, neither the gentle reminder brought on by the warmer days or the rather stark realities of our rapidly declining environment have convinced our current gubernatorial administration or my Republican colleagues that we must take meaningful action to transition to a renewable energy future. In fact, GOP legislators have introduced a wide swath of bills to roll back our progress on clean energy and climate action laws.
The three central tenets of Virginia’s clean energy transition — Virginia’s Clean Car standards, our participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), and the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) – face legislative challenges in both chambers and, in RGGI’s case, through the regulatory process. If repealed, the brighter future created by the past administrations will grow dim, and our existing investment and progress would be wasted.
RGGI is a regional cap and trade program which provides hundreds of millions of dollars in flood mitigation and energy efficiency investments for low income Virginians. The state’s participation in the program currently faces multiple obstacles. Despite GOP talking points, the facts are clear: RGGI is an effective program to help individual states and our nation transition away from carbon polluting energy.
RGGI states had far surpassed Virginia with emissions reductions before we entered the compact in 2021. From 2005 to 2020, RGGI states saw their emissions drop by twice as much as Virginia—59-percent in RGGI states compared to 30-percent in Virginia. In RGGI’s first year alone in Virginia (2021), our statewide pollution decreased by 13 percent.
My 21 Democratic senate colleagues and I are prepared to defeat any legislation attempting to withdraw us from the compact. We are equally prepared to combat current attempts by Governor Glenn Youngkin to withdraw Virginia from RGGI through the administrative rule making process. Former Attorney General Mark Herring ruled this kind of act would be unlawful. Without statutory authority, it is likely the Governor’s ploy to remove us from RGGI will soon be tied up in litigation, further delaying clean energy goals and wasting your tax dollars.
House and Senate Republicans have also attempted to repeal our adoption of the 15-state Clean Car standards, which set stricter vehicle emissions limits than the federal government imposes and gradually increase the availability of EVs on car lots across the Commonwealth, in line with automakers’ own goals of going all-electric. Federal law prohibits Virginia from enacting our own regulations on tailpipe emissions. Under the federal Clean Air Act, we are required to adopt emissions standards set by either the EPA or the Clean Cars standard. The GOP proposals would kneecap our ability to reduce personal vehicle emissions, which make up 70% of all carbon pollution in our largest pollution source: transportation. I am glad to report that the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee defeated these proposals.
It is critical to play effective defense on our environmental goals, at least long enough to provide time for Virginia’s utilities to make long term investment in renewables. This strategy is already succeeding – earlier this month Dominion Energy, Virginia’s largest regulated utility, announced a slate of projects in their Climate Report 2022 which will make solar energy our main power generator by 2040, phasing out coal by 2030, and steadily reducing the use of fracked gas over a 20-year period. These projects go a long way towards combating global warming and increasing air and water quality across our state.
I’ll continue fighting to defend that progress in Richmond and will fight to make even more in the years ahead.