RGGI Pays Climate Costs, but Youngkin Sticks It to Taxpayers

Virginia's RGGI law just made polluters cough up $78 million, in Q4 alone, to pay down climate costs, while Governor Youngkin's budget would make taxpayers pay instead.



Virginia’s biggest air polluters just sent the Commonwealth another $71 million dollars to help pay down the Commonwealth’s exorbitant climate costs and spiking energy bills. Perversely, the very same week, Governor Youngkin proposed Virginia taxpayers instead shoulder the burden of paying for climate damage to our coastal real estate and inland communities.

The governor should heed real world events: under the latest quarterly auction this month, under the successful, decade and a half-running RGGI program (which stands for "Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative"), Virginia's own landmark RGGI law continues to ensure that polluters of our state finally pay up for dirtying our air and water, and disrupting our climate.

As just one example of how well the RGGI law works for everyday Virginians, take Virginia polluter LS Power Group, and their large methane gas power plant (Doswell), just north of here in Richmond. The smokestacks at LS Power's Doswell plant used to pump into our air, for free, hundreds of millions of climate-wrecking carbon emissions, plus other pollutants, like sulfur dioxide (lung damage, acid rain) and nitrogen oxide (smog, asthma). Now, however, in just this December's latest quarterly RGGI auction alone, LS Power likely paid somewhere around $8 million, to recompense Virginians by "internalizing" LS Power's own climate costs, rather than externalizing those harms and costs wholly onto us with their dirtier air.

Just as important as providing just compensation for their formerly unchecked pollution, Virginia's RGGI law also ensures Virginia's biggest polluters ratchet down their pollution over time, as cleaner resources, like more efficient buildings and battery storage, replace those outdated plants. And the RGGI law has performed beyond expectations: just last year in Virginia, RGGI not only delivered hundreds of millions in in-state investment underwritten by big polluters (rather than taxpayers), it helped slash carbon pollution from our air by a whopping 13%.

Governor Youngkin's Strange Bid to Make Virginia Taxpayers Foot the Bill for Big Polluters

Bizarrely, despite Virginia's pollution and investment progress under its RGGI law, Governor Youngkin has just proposed that, rather than having polluting corporations like LS Power pay for their exorbitant climate costs, that Virginia taxpayers pay up instead: the governor's recent budget would have everyday taxpayers pony up at least $200 million, for a poorly-defined, dormant loan program.

Yet Youngkin's bid to grab taxpayer dollars won't come close to covering the multi-billion dollar climate damage to coastal real estate and inland communities. But pesky reality-based details like that don't matter: the governor's budget charade is merely a clumsy, hypocritical gambit to attempt to erase the destructiveness of Youngkin’s crusade to undo Virginia's potent RGGI law.

That destructive, extra-legal effort is founded on magical thinking, and as such is destined for failure under the harsh glare of the courts of law. Indeed, members of his own administration’s Air Board recently abstained from even voting on Youngkin's RGGI attack bid, due to its patent legal dubiousness (with Virginia's Joint Commission on Administrative Rules recently agreeing with that damning assessment as well).

Those open rebukes, among others from an Attorney General and a panoply of state lawmakers, will inevitably be confirmed in the form of a judge's order. And that's no surprise to anyone: Youngkin’s belabored legal justification for how an executive can unceremoniously erase a law he dislikes rests solely on plucking a single word (“authorizes”) out of the context of a multi-part RGGI law. It doesn’t take a lawyer or judge to see that the multitude of unambiguous “shalls” in Virginia’s RGGI law (see mandatory "shalls" on lines 115, 117, 121, 126, 129, and 132 of the RGGI law) simply cannot be wished away by an out-of-control executive with no constitutional principles. 

It's unclear what an inevitable courtroom loss for the governor will win him. One can only assume an ideologue consultant, deep in the bowels of the Youngkin-for-president apparatus, has divined a cynical donor-class play, or a presidential primary bankshot, in this reckless, Trump-esque assault on the rule of law. Whatever the tawdry political calculation, Youngkin's constitutional flippancy is an affront to democratic norms and a disservice to Virginians, who grapple with increasingly flooded real estate, freakish weather, and exorbitant energy bills.

But while Youngkin may grandstand with his RGGI attack, to cynically generate partisan fumes for a short-lived political high, a bedrock fundamental remains intact: RGGI is working, just as lawmakers intended. And not just as a pollution solution, but also as an investment engine to pay down climate costs, and lower electric bills.

RGGI's effectiveness is something Youngkin-for-president should take note of, for whenever the time might come, for him to be Youngkin-for-Virginians instead.


Follow us on social: @WaltonShepherd

Related Blogs