Forward Motion on Climate Change & Clean Energy in Virginia

Data source: Energy Information Administration. Solar generation only represents utility-scale projects.

As seas continue to rise on Virginia’s coast, so too does action continue to stem this most visible impact of our changing climate. Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s top environmental official, Secretary Molly Ward, just penned an op-ed cataloging the positive past steps the governor has taken to help curb climate change and grow clean energy in Virginia.

That’s good for Virginians’ jobs, health and economy.

But action on climate doesn’t stop with McAuliffe’s past actions: long overdue action on climate change also moved forward in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit court last week, and on a separate front will continue moving forward this week in Richmond.

Last week, the forward movement was on the Clean Power Plan, the EPA’s landmark limits on harmful carbon pollution from our nation’s fossil-fuel burning power plants, which finally got its day in court.

And this week in Richmond, it’s Governor McAuliffe’s “Virginia clean power plan” that will move forward. His Clean Energy for the New Virginia Economy Workgroup will meet to determine how to reduce Virginia’s carbon pollution by growing the state’s nascent clean energy economy. That way, even in the unlikely event the Clean Power Plan is slowed down by the courts, Virginia will continue to move ahead with a state plan to tackle climate change.

Indications from oral arguments before a 10-judge panel suggest that the Clean Power Plan had a good day in court. Let’s hope that when the court issues its ruling, likely this winter, it will uphold EPA’s plan to reduce the most devastating effects of climate change. Throughout the argument, the judges and advocates spent a good deal of time on the fact that the Clean Power Plan builds on the clean energy trends that are already occurring nationwide, due in part to the increasing competitiveness of renewable energy. 

For one illustration of this trend, see the graphic below, which depicts why the Clean Power Plan is a sensible way to continue making climate progress through expanding clean energy:




Governor McAuliffe, however, is certainly aware that despite the national stride above toward clean energy, Virginia doesn’t even make it onto the map.  So there is an urgency for the governor to combat climate change by accelerating clean energy, which his Clean Energy Workgroup will tackle in Richmond this week.

For a governor so focused on the state economy and creating durable jobs, this makes great sense. Virginia is on the front lines of climate change impacts, but it is also missing out on one of the best ways to address climate change—clean energy and the jobs it creates.

Now, it’s just a matter of the governor seizing a great opportunity to demonstrate leadership AND improve Virginia’s economy and future. He can redouble his work to catch Virginia up on the clean energy economy, so that the Commonwealth can then get ahead on climate change. As Secretary Molly Ward says, the governor sees this as a way to help the new Virginia economy reach its full potential, and it’s motivating him to work harder for the state. Let’s encourage him to keep delivering on those promises.