Effort to Rely on States for Climate Action Scores Win in Virginia

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By Dean Scott

Climate action advocates who are looking to individual states for some good news given the Trump administration’s rollbacks of climate efforts scored a victory May 16 with the Virginia governor’s move to set carbon pollution limits for the power sector.

The executive order signed by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) directs the state’s Department of Environmental Quality to “abate, control, or limit carbon dioxide emissions” from coal-fired power plants and other electric power facilities. The limits aren’t expected to be in place at least until 2018: McAuliffe wants them drafted by Dec. 31, after which they’d be forwarded to the State Air Pollution Control Board for formal proposal and public comment.

Executive Directive 11 specifies that the rules be drafted as “trading ready”—meaning they should open the door for Virginia to join a nine-state pact that uses a cap-and-trade approach to cut power sector emissions. That Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative was launched in 2005 and relies on emissions trading—akin to the European Union’s approach, as well as some U.S. states including California—in which emitters must purchase allowances or permits for each ton of greenhouse gas they emit.

Virginia would be the 10th state to join the RGGI roster, which includes Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. New Jersey also was in the regional compact until 2011, when Gov. Chris Christie (R) withdrew from RGGI. But Christie is term-limited and will leave office in January 2018, opening the door to a successor to consider re-joining the effort.

States, Mayors More Vocal

Some states have become increasingly vocal on the need to take further climate action since Trump’s election. Governors from six states—California, Connecticut, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, and Washington—in March vowed to push for continued state progress on curbing emissions in the wake of Trump’s actions to rescind U.S. power plant carbon pollution limits. “As Washington, D.C. delays, the work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our cities and states continues,” they wrote in a March 28 statement.

“We will not waiver. And we will continue to enlist like-minded cities, states, regions and countries around the world to join this fight,” they wrote.

Other voices pressing for state and other local actions in the face of the Trump administration’s retreat on climate policies include mayors from dozens of cities including Los Angeles, Seattle, Atlanta, New York, Boston, Chicago and Houston. They vowed March 28 to take “every action possible” to support the 2015 Paris climate pact—which Trump vowed during the campaign to “cancel”—and to “engage states, businesses and other sectors to join us” in taking climate action.

Virginia ‘Filling the Void’

McAuliffe skirted any mention of the northeastern state’s regional compact in his statement announcing the action Virginia is taking. But he took aim at the Trump administration’s move to rescind myriad Obama administration climate policies, including the power plant limits.

“As the federal government abdicates its role on this important issue, it is critical for states to fill the void,” the Virginia governor said.

The move was hailed as a hopeful sign of state-by-state action on climate change by environmental groups, including the League of Conservation Voters, and public health groups such as the American Lung Association. But it also was lauded by some companies, including Mars, which is based in McLean, Va.

“At Mars, we believe climate change is real, and business and government need to work together to address it,” according to Kevin Rabinovitch, the company’s global director of sustainability. The governor’s move “is timely and critical to achieve a clean and efficient energy transition,” Rabinovitch said in a press statement.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at DScott@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Connolly at PConnolly@bna.com

For More Information

The executive order is at http://src.bna.com/oWz.

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