augusta free press news

Northam inaction means Virginia carbon reduction plan could be on hold

virginia state capitol
Credit: traveler1116

Governor Ralph Northam has elected not to veto a provision in the budget bill aimed at preventing Virginia from participating in a regional, market-based program to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Although the State Air Pollution Control Board approved the regulation just a few weeks ago, there is now uncertainty about how the program can be implemented due to the funding restrictions.

“It is a disappointing decision by the Governor,” said Nate Benforado, attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Although members of the General Assembly should never have inserted this provision into the budget, the Governor had the opportunity to strike it and fight for this program, but opted not to. If we are ever going to make progress on climate change, we need to start now. Elected officials across Virginia must come together on climate solutions. The health of our citizens and the future of the next generation are not partisan issues.”

Northam, in a letter detailing his actions on the state budget released today, called the regional initiative a “critical avenue” for reducing carbon emissions and addressing the negative effects of climate change, “which is impacting the health and safety of people who live, work, and vacation in our great state.”

“The Department of Environmental Quality recently finalized a regulation to reduce carbon pollution from fossil fuel fired power plants by 30 percent over the next decade. While the General Assembly has restricted the Commonwealth from participating in RGGI, I am directing the Department of Environmental Quality to identify ways to implement the regulation and achieve our pollution reduction goals,” Northam wrote in the letter.

The carbon rule would have led to a 30 percent reduction in carbon emissions from Virginia’s largest power plants and established important environmental justice provisions to help protect communities on the front lines of climate change.

Statement from Harrison Wallace, Virginia Director of the CCAN Action Fund, on the action:

“We are extremely disappointed in Governor Northam for not using his constitutional authority to veto partisan budget language that blocks Virginia from instituting an historic cap on carbon. This would have been the most ambitious action any southern state has taken on climate.

“While we believe that the Governor had the authority to stop this attack on climate progress, CCAN Action Fund is most disappointed in Republicans across the Commonwealth who supported this budget and put partisan talking points over the health and safety of Virginia’s most vulnerable citizens. We know that climate denial is not the majority opinion of Virginians and we believe that climate will be on the ballot in November.

“Virginians are ready to say yes to RGGI. Over the course of this rulemaking process, more than 15,000 Virginians submitted comments in support of this rule. The rule enjoys such broad support because cutting carbon emissions is not just about combating climate change, it’s also an issue of public health. Current RGGI states have avoided negative health effects such as asthma attacks and premature adult deaths since joining the program.”

“The data is clear: T, the longer we wait to join RGGI, the more lives we put at risk — for future generations and right now in our most vulnerable communities. While this party-line move — and Northam’s failure to stop it — is certainly a big and unnecessary obstruction to climate progress, CCAN Action Fund will work harder than ever to ensure passage of equitable legislation to formally join RGGI in the 2020 legislative session.”