The state of Virginia could soon withdraw from a multistate carbon cap-and-trade program known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). On Wednesday, regulators are set to take a final vote on whether to advance Governor Glenn Youngkin’s plan. Virginia spent several years moving toward participation in the program, which requires power plants in 12 mid-Atlantic and Northeast states to buy allowances to emit carbon dioxide. The proceeds from the sale of these allowances are put into a state-administered account for energy efficiency programs for low-income individuals and for efforts to assist localities affected by recurrent flooding and sea-level rise.
Since his inauguration in January, Governor Youngkin, a Republican, has argued that the program functions as a regressive tax on electricity users and has proposed withdrawing from it. His proposal has the backing of the state Air Pollution Control Board, which is controlled by Youngkin appointees. Critics of the proposal argue that Virginia’s decision to join RGGI has led to a significant reduction in CO2 emissions from power plants, citing figures that show a “clear shift” in reductions in the years since the state joined the initiative.
The Youngkin administration has disputed this, claiming that the costs of allowances purchased through the program unfairly fall on electricity customers, including monopoly utilities Dominion Energy Virginia and Appalachian Power. Dominion, which has incurred approximately $490 million in compliance costs, is among those calling for a repeal of the program. Appalachian Power, which serves around a million Virginia customers, has incurred $742,000 in costs since 2021.
The governor’s proposal has proven contentious, with around 1,900 commenters opposing the move and approximately 600 in support. The way the Youngkin administration has sought to leave the program – through administrative action after legislative attempts were defeated – has also been challenged as potentially unlawful. Advocates of RGGI expect legal challenges to follow in the wake of any affirmative vote on the matter.