Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin pledged in early December to take Virginia out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).
While it is not yet clear that he has the authority under the Virginia Constitution to actually do this, it is clear that he will try.
Between inflation and the potential rate increases caused by this program, I understand Youngkin’s desire to use his powers to make electricity as affordable as possible.
However, as it stands, RGGI addresses complex problems in Virginia, and Virginians must fully understand those problems and what a repeal would mean for our commonwealth.
RGGI works to address three problems for Virginians — reducing greenhouse gas emissions, providing monetary support against climate related threats, like flooding and sea level rise, and improving energy efficiency.
By setting up a market for fossil fuels, RGGI incentivizes electricity plants within its 11-state region to shift to cleaner burning fuel sources. It brings in money when electric companies buy credits that allow them to use fossil fuels.
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In Virginia, this money generated from RGGI is spent in two ways. 45% of RGGI revenue goes in the new Community Flood Preparedness Fund, which localities can use to fund public projects to improve infrastructure resilience and build local capacity for handling increased or recurring flooding exacerbated by climate change.
This year, funding from RGGI has been awarded to Christiansburg, Roanoke and Charlottesville for resilience planning, as well as to many other communities. Resilience planning helps communities plan for flood mitigation projects. According to the town of Christiansburg “the recurrence of higher intensity storms in recent years has stressed the storm drainage conveyance systems in the town resulting in local urbanized flooding that is detrimental both the residents and critical infrastructure.”
Meanwhile, sea level rise is beginning to threaten the long term survival of many parts of the Hampton Roads community, and the price tag of resilience efforts there is in the billions of dollars. These funds serve as the state’s only dedicated funding for flood resilience.
The rest is spent to help low income families improve the energy efficiency of their homes with better insulation and air leak sealing. Currently, many low income families waste much of their utility payments on heating and cooling the sky rather than themselves.
Though electricity prices under RGGI will increase, in the long run these funds should help residents use less, while making their residence more comfortable in the process.
Both of these funding streams address glaring problems that have lingered for decades in Virginia.
Though RGGI incentivizes the use of cleaner fuels, it will not solve the global climate change threat. Carbon emissions have declined in the RGGI region, but most of those reductions are because of power plants switching from coal to cheaper natural gas, a transition that most of them would have done without RGGI.
RGGI’s costs to utilities are not high enough to drive them to abandon fossil fuels. A market based carbon pricing system would be far more effective done nationally, with a price on carbon adequate to motivate businesses and consumers to shift to renewable energy, and with the money refunded to families. But the funding that RGGI delivers to energy efficiency and flood resilience efforts would be missed desperately if it dries up. Any effort to replace RGGI will need to address the funding stream that it provides, from some other source.
It is important for all Virginians to understand that they have a stake in both parts of the RGGI mission: to reduce carbon emissions and to strengthen communities against climate threats. Energy efficiency needs to improve across the entire state. Coastal resilience is clearly vital to that region — but our part of Virginia is threatened by the growing incidence of extreme rain events, which can be even more deadly.
If the incoming governor does not want to fund these needs through a carbon market, then he will need to suggest other funding sources. Climate change is a challenge to all Virginians, and Youngkin must represent all Virginians by engaging on climate solutions.
As climate change is not a partisan topic, our efforts in response must focus not on partisan advantage, but rather on achieving results. Our best approach is solidarity, rather than division.
Coppa is a volunteer co-leader of the New River Valley chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.