Virginia would regulate carbon emissions from power plants and become the first Southern state, its officials say, with a carbon cap-and-trade program under a proposal that won preliminary approval from state regulators Thursday.
It’s the most recent example of a state taking steps to address climate change as President Donald Trump’s administration rolls back his predecessor’s efforts to do so. Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe directed his administration in May to develop the regulation, saying Virginia “cannot afford to sit idly by.”
“Virginia is uniquely vulnerable to the threat of climate change and many of our residents are already experiencing its impacts,” McAuliffe said in a statement Thursday. “We do not have the luxury of waiting for Washington to wake up to this threat – we must act now.”
The proposal approved unanimously by the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board would cap emissions from most power plants starting in 2020 and then require a 30 percent reduction over a decade. Eligible carbon emitters would have to participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade program among nine Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states, said Michael Dowd, director of the air and renewable energy division of the Department of Environmental Quality.
California also has a cap-and-trade program but no other Southern state does, Dowd said. In a statement after the plan was unveiled last week, Southern Environmental Law Center attorney Will Cleveland said the proposal “makes Virginia the first Southern state to tackle climate change head-on.”
Neighboring Maryland, which is below the Mason-Dixon line, also participates in RGGI. So does Delaware.
Dowd told the board Thursday that the proposal would cover about 33 electric generating plants across Virginia.
The majority belong to Dominion Energy. Spokesman David Botkins said the company hasn’t yet fully evaluated the proposal but expects “to fully meet whatever regulatory requirements that result.”
At Appalachian Power, the state’s other large regulated monopoly, spokesman John Shepelwich said the company is still reviewing the proposal and will be participating in the public comment process.
Environmental groups hailed the board’s vote.
“The Air Board chose to protect Virginia’s families and most vulnerable communities, to advance a thriving clean energy economy and to elevate Virginia as a national and global leader,” Kristie Smith, policy and campaigns manager of the Virginia Conservation Network, said in a statement.