Gov McAuliffe Takes the Lead on Climate & Energy Leadership

President Trump’s agenda to put Virginians’ health and safety at risk was stopped at the banks of the Potomac today, where Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe delivered on his promise to tackle climate change and grow a clean energy economy in the Commonwealth.

McAuliffe announced that he is seizing Virginia’s best opportunity for meaningful progress on climate change and growing clean energy: by limiting and reducing dangerous power plant carbon pollution in Virginia, using the proven, market-based approach of allowance trading. That’s the same approach that successfully eliminated acid rain in America and now delivers major economic benefits in the many states that are well underway in cutting their own carbon pollution, while boosting their economic growth.

Specifically, McAuliffe today directed his Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to rein in carbon pollution from power plant smokestacks, one of our nation’s largest drivers of the climate change that is already swallowing much of Virginia’s shoreline. Importantly (and shrewdly), the DEQ’s carbon limit design must be compatible with the successful carbon pollution reduction programs already underway in 1 in 5 states across in the nation. This way, Virginia can eventually partner with those states and experience the same significant economic benefits of clean energy growth and energy efficiency. As one example of this, most of these carbon-cutting states have lower electric bills than Virginia, a testament to energy efficiency’s ability to not only slash pollution but also cut monthly power bills. McAuliffe’s leadership clears the way for the same economic benefits here in Virginia.

McAuliffe’s repudiation of Trump’s dangerous, climate-denying embrace of the outdated fossil fuel industry will be particularly good for Virginia. Why? First, because doing so is what Virginians want, and by wide margins. Virginians value protecting not just human health from climate impacts, but also Virginia’s seashore from rising sea levels, and her agriculture from the extreme weather and drought fueled by climate change.

And making those reductions in Virginia is no heavy lift, if the state taps the best and most commonsense ways to do so: renewables and energy efficiency. For example, simply by increasing the portion of the state’s electricity supply that comes from renewables like wind and solar to just 20%, and reducing electricity demand by making our homes and businesses 1.5% more energy efficient, Virginia can achieve a 30% pollution reduction by 2030.

Second, climate action from McAuliffe is a smart move not just to clean up the air, but also to grow a modern Virginia economy with clean energy. McAuliffe’s action will remove Virginia from the clean energy laggard category, and place it firmly instead in the leader category, alongside its neighbors North Carolina in solar, West Virginia in wind, and Maryland in energy efficiency. The “New Virginia Economy” McAuliffe has promoted can now tap the fast-growing jobs of the clean energy sector, which now has more jobs than the fossil fuel electricity sector.

Just as important, by being the first Governor to limit power plant carbon pollution since Trump was elected, McAuliffe boldly continues the commonsense state and local action across the country that is rapidly filling the leadership vacuum created by Trump’s backward embrace of  fossil fuel pollution.

That action includes leadership in Republican-led states, like Ohio, where Governor Kasich vetoed an attack on the state’s clean energy initiatives that have been an economic boon for the Buckeye State. Or down in Atlanta, one of many cities committed to a 100% renewable energy supply. Up in Illinois, there is their Future Energy Jobs Act, while Michigan has a bipartisan clean energy bill of its own. Out west in Colorado, they just passed a sweeping 10-year energy efficiency plan. And a number of states, according to the Washington Post, are defying Trump and trying to set their own taxes on carbon pollution, in order to rein in the key contributor to climate change. And all this is of course on top of the one in five states in the U.S. that are already limiting their carbon pollution and reaping serious economic benefits by doing so. 

That’s why McAuliffe is particularly shrewd in directing his DEQ to ensure Virginia’s carbon initiative is “trading ready,” so that Virginia can eventually partner with those other 10 carbon reducing states that are already enjoying cleaner air, cleaner power, and lower electricity bills.

So here’s to Governor McAuliffe for taking a huge step toward tackling climate change in Virginia.

Across the river in Washington, President Trump and his cabinet of climate deniers can try their very best to give away the store to the lobbyists of big polluters, while over in Virginia, Terry McAuliffe delivers the real goods: healthier air, good-paying clean energy jobs, savings for Virginians on their electric bills, and the launch of a New Virginia Economy for a sound and prosperous future in the Old Dominion. 

About the Authors

Walton Shepherd

Staff Attorney and Policy Advocate, Energy & Transportation program

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