RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s plan to withdraw Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multistate effort aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions, will be challenged in court.
The Southern Environmental Law Center announced that it filed a notice Monday on behalf of four environmental groups indicating that they plan to sue over Gov. Youngkin’s proposed push to take Virginia out of RGGI by the end of the year.
The climate initiative requires power plants that want to release carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas — into the atmosphere to buy allowances for every ton they emit at quarterly auctions.
Youngkin (R) has continued to push for Virginia to leave the regional program since before he was sworn into office, calling it “bad for Virginians” and a tax because utilities can pass RGGI fees onto ratepayers.
“Throughout this process, the administration has brushed aside serious questions concerning their lack of authority to take this action, and ignored the thousands of Virginians who have steadfastly opposed this misguided process,” SELC senior attorney Nate Benforado said in a statement.
Advocates and supporters of RGGI say the carbon cap-and-trade program — with its limited supply of allowances — has helped reduce the emission of greenhouse gases in the region and gives a way to address climate change.
After seeking other methods to leave the compact, Youngkin’s administration took a regulatory route, leading to the state’s Air Pollution Control Board voting in June to repeal Virginia’s participation in RGGI.
The notice for the impending legal challenge came on the same day the final regulatory action for the state to leave RGGI at the end of 2023 was published. The public comment period ends Aug. 30.
Virginia Democrats and environmental groups have said that Youngkin and his administration have bypassed the proper withdrawal process, arguing that the General Assembly only has the authority to do so after voting in 2020 to enter RGGI.
Under RGGI, the ratepayer charge for Dominion Energy customers increased typical residential customer bills by $2.39 per month, according to state documents. Estimates from the State Corporation Commission found that Dominion customers’ typical monthly bills could rise by $2 to $2.50 from 2027 to 2030 with RGGI in place.
Since Virginia has participated in RGGI, the program has brought in more than $657 million. State law stipulates that most of the revenue goes towards efforts to address recurrent flooding, flooding from severe weather, sea level rise and back energy efficiency programs to help low-income Virginians.
“RGGI remains a regressive tax which does not do anything to incentivize the reduction of emissions in Virginia,” Virginia Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources Travis Voyles said in a statement. “Our State Air Pollution Control Board has acted and believes that Virginia is not required to be in RGGI and that the citizens of Virginia should not be subjected to this unnecessary tax.”
Voyles added that Attorney General Jason Miyares’ office found the state pollution board had the authority to move forward with the Youngkin administration’s proposed regulation to leave RGGI.
“Virginians will see a lower energy bill in due time because we are withdrawing from RGGI through a regulatory process,” he said.
The notice – filed on behalf of Appalachian Voices, the Association of Energy Conservation Professionals, Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions, and Virginia Interfaith Power and Light – gives the groups 30 days to file a legal challenge in Fairfax County Circuit Court.
“We are disappointed it has come to this but look forward to presenting our arguments to the court,” Benforado added.