Virginia Gov. Youngkin Appoints Fossil Fuel Industry Stooges

Virginia’s first-term Governor Glenn Youngkin continues to plod ahead in his doomed attempt to illegally dismantle the popular Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative climate law (RGGI). Supported by two-thirds of Virginians, RGGI (pronounced “Reggie”) caps and cuts climate-altering carbon pollution from Virginia power plants, last year by a whopping 13%. The program also annually invests hundreds of millions of dollars in both coastal resilience against sea-level rise and in energy efficiency—thereby helping to lower Virginia’s skyrocketing energy costs (particularly for low-income residents).

This is What the State Board Charged with Protecting Virginians from Air Pollution Will Look Like, After Youngkin Appoints a Majority of 4 Polluter Interests to the 7-Member Board

(Source: iStock)

Despite the fact that Youngkin’s climate-denial crusade is doomed by the constitution itself (not to mention Virginia’s own state motto), this past week he threw a couple more shovels of dirt out of the anti-climate hole he has been digging all year: Youngkin announced his appointment of four polluting industry reps to the very board tasked with protecting Virginians from – well...pollution. No, you didn’t read that last sentence incorrectly. The Virginia Air Pollution Control Board (also known as simply the Air Board), designed to be run by governor-appointed citizens rather than elected officials, is specifically charged with overseeing - and reducing the dirty air impact of - the very polluters that Youngkin just tapped.  

From his failed attempt to install climate-denying Andrew Wheeler as Virginia’s top climate official, to these latest appointments, it’s been clear since Youngkin took office that he will try anything to reverse Virginia’s commonsense climate strides. And with Wheeler having insinuated himself into a "senior advisor" shadow-secretery position, these latest newest machinations have his sooty fingerprints all over them. 

Youngkin’s Polluter Peanut Gallery Lineup: Four Fossil Fuel Shills

Of the four appointees that Youngkin’s office announced last week, two have immediately joined the Air Board, followed by two more at the start of July. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the first two seated are the most ill-suited to serve. One was a lead attorney for polluters’ previous doomed attempt to destroy RGGI, in a flimsy lawsuit from climate polluter front group – the Virginia Manufacturing Association – that was summarily tossed out of circuit court. Youngkin’s appointment of a pro-pollution lawyer is perversely appropriate, as this gives that appointee a second attempt to attack bedrock Virginia air pollution law. 

The second now-seated appointee not only called for doing away with the pollution oversight of the very board on which he now serves. He has also served as senior counsel for the owner of one of Virginia’s largest and highest-polluting coal plants, and is the current spokesperson for a pro-polluter astro-turf group called "Virginia Energy Consumer Trust." That front group is affiliated with the very same climate polluter front group whose interests are already represented on the Air Board, the Virginia Manufacturing Association.

Rounding out this gallery of four Youngkin-Wheeler polluter allies are a longtime coal lobbyist and another regulated industry representative. Once those last two are seated, Youngkin will have the majority 4-3 vote he needs on the seven-member Air Board to move his marquee climate attack to its next pointlessly destructive phase. 

Youngkin's Climate Denier Playbook 

Youngkin has a very transparent two-part plan of attack to try to roll back Virginia’s recent progress on combatting sea-level rise and investing in energy efficiency.  

Step One: Stack the Air Board

As of July 1, Youngkin will have stacked four of the seven seats on the Air Board with pro-polluter interests (a feat itself made possible by the VA House of Delegates’ unprecedentedly hyperpartisan refusal to confirm two much more legitimate public servants to the Air Board that were appointed by the previous governor, Ralph Northam).  

Step Two: Attack RGGI

In July, Youngkin will present a sham “emergency” regulation to the newly-stacked Air Board that attempts to strike the lawful RGGI regulation from the books, under the flimsy (and false) claim that RGGI’s price on power plant carbon pollution and its popular investments comprise an unbearable burden on ratepayers. This straw man argument conveniently overlooks RGGI’s fundamental and already-proven function: lowering Virginians’ skyrocketing energy bills by making our homes more energy efficient, coupled with investments in protecting coastal real estate from the sky-high costs of sea level rise damage. Youngkin’s laughable claim of an “emergency” also overlooks that these investments are dwarfed by the state’s electric utilities’ ongoing boondoggle of various pollution costs, like the nearly $5/month charge per household to pay for an unused coal plant, or the proposed $25/month charge per household to pay for expensive fossil fuel use that also pollutes our air (more on the raft of excessive utility bill “riders” we all pay, here). 

This Youngkin two-step, like senior advisor Wheeler’s dismal "win" record at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, will meet a similarly grisly fate: judges do not look favorably upon unconstitutionally taking an ax to statute, under a thinly-veiled guise of declaring a false “emergency."

It’s difficult to discern whether Youngkin even has an endgame in carrying his climate-denier torch. His destructiveness is particularly perplexing, given that RGGI is in fact designed to meet Youngkin’s stated goal of lowering costs of living for Virginians, be it our high electric rates, or the real estate value loss of unmitigated sea level rise. 

Regardless of motive, it is now clear that Youngkin has wholly outsourced his leadership capacity to his shadow-secretary Wheeler, with both of them working at the same shovel, to dig their climate denial hole as deep as it can go.

About the Authors

Walton Shepherd

Virginia Policy Director, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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