Virginia Launches Plan to Join East Coast Carbon Market, Cut Emissions 30%

Virginia has taken a first step toward joining the East Coast’s regional carbon-trading market, a move that would drive down the state’s greenhouse gas emissions and help reshape the power sector in the traditional coal state.

Regulators on Thursday will seek approval of a draft proposed rule that would cap emissions from Virginia’s electricity sector beginning in 2020 and reduce them by 30 percent over a decade. Under the proposal, Virginia would join nine other states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the nation’s longest-running mandatory carbon market.

“It’s a legitimate and meaningful reduction in carbon pollution,” said Walton Shepherd, a staff attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council and a member of an advisory group that helped shape the regulation.

As the Trump administration moves to roll back federal climate policies, some states have reacted by enacting their own.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe was defiant when he issued an executive order in May directing regulators to create a market-based trading program to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. “The threat of climate change is real, and we have a shared responsibility to confront it,” the Democratic governor said then. “As the federal government abdicates its role on this important issue, it is critical for states to fill the void.”

The draft proposed rule was released on election night last week, after Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam defeated Republican Ed Gillespie to succeed McAuliffe. Gillespie had promised to repeal the order. Northam has said he will build on McAuliffe’s efforts. The plan would cut the state’s emissions similar to what’s required under the Clean Power Plan, President Barack Obama’s signature effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Virginia’s Republican-led legislature has defeated attempts to join the regional carbon market in the past. The new rule was crafted in a way to avoid needing legislative approval. Its supporters, however, say cutting emissions is no longer controversial in the state.

“We have not gotten a lot of pushback,” said Michael Dowd, director of the state Department of Environmental Quality’s air division, which wrote the regulation.

Pam Faggert, chief environmental officer for Dominion Energy, the state’s largest utility, said in a statement that, “while we haven’t yet had a chance to fully study the state’s draft proposal, we expect to fully meet whatever regulatory requirements that result.” Another utility, Appalachian Power…

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