Column – Virginia should be part of the solution on climate change

Published 12:08 pm Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Mother Nature just keeps on telling us what we don’t want to hear: To get serious about global warming before we reach the point of no return.

Her latest message was delivered last week, ironically on the same day that the Youngkin appointee-dominated Air Pollution Control Board voted 4-3 to remove Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI. 

As the vote was taken in Richmond, Richmonders and most Eastern Virginians found themselves submerged in unhealthy air quality delivered to us by massive Canadian wildfires, which have been attributed to drought conditions associated with, yes, global warming.

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And global warming is largely the byproduct of greenhouse gas emissions, which the multistate RGGI program is attempting to address.

As he has done since beginning his successful campaign for governor, Glenn Youngkin has played what he believes to be the populist political card with the RGGI effort. It’s costing consumers money, ergo, it’s bad. It’s a shortsighted view of the world and a shallow view of Americans, and thus Virginians. It presumes that we are totally unwilling to pay to reverse global warming. That we are willing, on behalf of our short-term comfort, to forego any hope of reversing the catastrophe that is becoming more evident every day.

In this instance, as in others, however, the governor is either badly misreading public sentiment or choosing to ignore it — probably the latter. The Wasson Center at Christopher Newport, in its annual State of the Commonwealth poll, last year found that 67% of Virginians support RGGI, as well as the Virginia Clean Economy Act, which a Democrat-controlled General Assembly adopted in order to place Virginia in the program.

Virginians aren’t romanticizing the impact of RGGI. They simply know how to count. They understand that the state has, during the two years we have been in RGGI, realized nearly $600 million from the sale of carbon allowances required of utilities under the program. That money has been divided between vitally needed community flood prevention projects across the state and home improvement projects, enabling low-income Virginians to make their homes more energy-efficient.

All may not be lost and RGGI may not yet be dead. There is an Administrative Review Process that must follow the Air Board’s action before it is implemented, though it would be a safe bet that since Gov. Youngkin controls the administration, that review will recommend withdrawal. 

Far more critical to RGGI’s survival may be likely lawsuits challenging the administrative removal of Virginia from RGGI. Since the state joined the initiative as a result of legislative action, the argument is being made, and will likely be pursued, that General Assembly action is needed to remove the state from RGGI. Rest assured, however, that if the governor succeeds in giving Republicans control of the state Senate this year, RGGI will be dead.

Assuming Virginia will ultimately be forced to leave RGGI, if you believe the good governor’s logic, you might want to mark on your calendar the date that Virginia voted to leave the program. It was Wednesday, June 7, 2023. Then, you can count the days, months or years until Dominion Power announces a rate reduction associated with the withdrawal. 

Even if a rate reduction, as unlikely as it may be, were to be prompted by the action, it would still have been the wrong decision. 

RGGI has been a positive step in the right direction with respect to greenhouse gas release. In the absence of any national consensus on how to move forward, the RGGI program is a reasonable step taken collectively by states working together to achieve regional goals. 

Reversing global warming will take a far greater effort on the part of the entire nation, not just the 12 northeastern states that are currently participating in the greenhouse reduction project. And, of course, even a unified effort by the United States isn’t the solution. It will require worldwide cooperation. But we can, and should, lead that effort.

Given the nation’s current political division, however, a unified national position is all but impossible, and we are left with efforts by states that care and, sometimes, governors who don’t.


John Edwards is publisher emeritus of The Smithfield Times. His email address is