Skip to comments.Virginia Governor Set to Bypass Legislature to Join State-Based Climate Agreement
Posted on 09/21/2018 7:17:21 AM PDT by Tolerance Sucks Rocks
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is poised to implement a new regulation without legislative approval to join 10 other states in a climate change agreement based on restricting carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants.
But lawmakers, policy analysts, and tea party activists in Virginia who oppose what they consider costly regulations of industry are raising questions about the economic and scientific arguments underpinning the proposed rule.
They say the Virginia General Assembly should have a straight up-or-down vote on Northams plan, in part to ensure that any revenue the governor raises from carbon trading is collected and dispersed in a manner consistent with the state Constitution.
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, is a multistate agreement that currently includes Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. In addition to Virginia, New Jersey may rejoin the pact.
The public comment period for a draft version of Northams proposed regulation ended in April. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality is expected to introduce a final version in November.
The seven-member Air Pollution Control Board then will be responsible for making a decision. Board members, appointed by the governor, operate independently from the Department of Environmental Quality.
Northam, a Democrat who previously was a state senator and lieutenant governor, took office in January after being elected governor last November.
Michael Dowd, director of the environmental agencys Air and Renewable Energy Division, told The Daily Signal in a phone interview that the Air Pollution Control Board has a lot of authority with respect to promulgating regulations.
A board majority may reject, accept, or modify the proposed rule as it sees fit, Dowd said.
If the board decides in favor of the regulation, he said, it could go into effect by December.
The Virginia General Assembly does not go back into session until January, however. With Democrat gains in the states November 2017 elections, Republicans have a 51-49 edge in the House of Delegates and a 21-19 margin in the state Senate.
Officials of states that entered the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative argue that greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide are responsible for dangerous levels of climate change, also known as global warming. These gases enter the atmosphere during the industrial burning of fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas, and oil.
However, a growing number of scientists question theories that link human activity to significant climate change, and instead point to natural forces.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, signed an executive order earlier this year directing his agencies to re-enter RGGI. Murphys Republican predecessor, Chris Christie, had withdrawn from the climate change agreement.
Participating states are required to impose a cap and trade arrangement. Government officials set an upper limit on carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel plants. But allowances may be traded back and forth among the companies subjected to the caps.
Joining RGGI now is like joining a football team thats trailing 40-3 in the 4th quarter, Nick Loris, an energy policy analyst with The Heritage Foundation, said in an email to The Daily Signal. ‘Theres no real upside. No impact on climate. Higher electricity bills for families. Lost business opportunities.”
Questioning the Governors Plan
The problem with the development in Virginia is that unelected regulators have been granted too much authority over major policy decisions that will have significant statewide impact, Craig Rucker, executive director and co-founder of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, told The Daily Signal.
The RGGI system has been very damaging to those states that are participating, Rucker said in a phone interview. You see much higher electricity rates on average in those areas where RGGI is in effect, and you also see those states losing ground economically in comparison to other states that are not part of this agreement. And it should be noted that the RGGI states are not achieving anything in terms of lower global temperatures.
The Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, known as CFACT, is a Washington-based group that supports free market solutions in energy policy.
Virginia lawmakers should have the opportunity to weigh in on a regulatory change that could have long-term ramifications, Rucker said, adding:
Because the effects of these regulations are not always immediately evident and often materialize over time, I dont think its healthy for our democracy to have this change implemented administratively by individuals who do not have to stand before the voters. We are talking about rising energy costs that will impact future generations and impact Virginias ability to compete economically with other states.
But Dowd, the state Department of Environmental Quality official, said the Northam administration disagrees with critics who say the governor is making an end-run around the General Assembly to join the multistate climate change pact.
Weve heard that argument and we disagree with it, Dowd said in the interview with The Daily Signal. Our position is, and it always has been, that the state air pollution law vests the state air board with broad authority to control air pollution, and that linking to RGGI in a carbon trade or carbon cap-and-trade program is well within the statutory, regulatory authority of the air board.
While there will be some expense to energy consumers, the proposal has been carefully crafted to limit the impact, Dowd told The Daily Signal:
We have heard the concerns about [rising energy] costs and our response is that we have taken this into consideration in the economic modeling we have done, and the modeling indicates that the impact to ratepayers is relatively minimal. In fact, the impact to ratepayers should be a little over 1 percent between now and 2030. We think we have constructed a rule with the right approach and that this is the most cost-effective way to control carbon in Virginia.
In April, Northam vetoed a bill from Delegate Charles Poindexter, a Republican, that would have prohibited the governor or any state agency, including the Air Pollution Control Board, from entering into RGGI or creating any other cap-and-trade program without legislative approval.
In a press statement, Northam explained why he vetoed Poindexters bill.
Climate change affects all citizens and business entities in the Commonwealth, especially those located in coastal regions, the governor said, adding:
The Commonwealth must have all the tools available to combat climate change and protect its residents. These tools include the ability to adopt regulations, and rules and guidance that mitigate the impacts of climate change by reducing carbon pollution in the Commonwealth. The governor and state agencies should not be limited in their ability to protect the environment and in turn, the citizens of the Commonwealth.
Tea Party Activists Challenge Green Regulations
Virginia residents who oppose Northams plan to enter the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative were expected to show up in force Saturday for the Virginia Tea Partys Fall Summit Meeting in Richmond.
Randy Randol, who analyzes energy and environmental issues for the Virginia Tea Party, said in a phone interview that the governor already has tacitly acknowledged limits to his authority over finances, and that these limits could affect implementation of RGGI.
As predicted, Northam has requested that he be allowed to spend permit fee collections, confirming that he lacks authority to fully implement the program, Randol said.
Virginia Natural Resources Secretary Matthew Strickler informed a legislative commission earlier this month that Northam would ask the General Assembly to keep and spend the proceeds of a new electricity carbon tax, rather than find a way to return it to ratepayers, according to news reports.
Strickler estimates that under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, Virginia utilities would have to purchase carbon credits that would generate $200 million in revenue.
Under the cap-and-trade plan, companies buy carbon credits from state governments, typically during carbon auctions consistent with RGGI regulations. State governments collect revenue as a result.
How this money is collected, distributed, and appropriated remains an open question and a major sticking point.
The carbon credits that energy companies would be required to purchase under such a plan would generate between $175 million and $208 million for Virginia government, according to a fiscal note attached to legislation from Democratic lawmakers to authorize a cap-and-trade plan. Lawmakers defeated that plan in a party-line vote.
The Department of Environmental Quality originally sold RGGI as a recycling program to get the money back to the consumer, Randol said. The RGGI fee will be a direct pass-through to every class of electricity consumerresidential, business, and industry.
The tea party activist added:
Utilities are immune because they will pass the tax along to the consumers. What the governor is calling a fee is really tax, and there are reasons why he doesnt want to call it tax.
The Virginia Tea Party has opposed every ration and tax and cap-and-tax scheme that has been proposed. There was, for example, a proposal to tax power plant emissions to fund flood mitigation that we strongly opposed.
This proposal to move us into RGGI would impact the poorest residents of Virginia the most.
‘Where the Money Goes’
Poindexter, the state delegate who pushed the bill requiring the General Assembly to approve any move into RGGI, told The Daily Signal in a phone interview that he opposes the governors plan both legally and substantively.
Although the Virginia Constitution may give the governor latitude to join RGGI, it doesnt provide him with the authority to control the appropriation and spending of funds derived from the multistate agreement, Poindexter said.
Where the money goes and who controls how its spent is still up in the air, and therein lies the problem with the governor doing this on his own, Poindexter said. Under the Virginia Constitution and state law, money cannot be spent without appropriation from the General Assembly. Whats happening now is an attempt to work around constitutional requirements and the requirements of state law, to allow the governor to have control of the estimated $200 million in revenue from the sale of these carbon credits.
Poindexter, who represents Patrick County and parts of Franklin and Henry counties, also is a member of the state Commission on Energy and Environment.
As a matter of policy, Poindexter said, he views the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative as detrimental to Virginias best interests. He anticipates that it will discourage energy production from inside the state and undermine future job opportunities.
Virginia would not be putting itself in good company by joining RGGI, the lawmaker said. When you look at where the electricity rates are in those states that are now in RGGI versus what we have now in Virginia, my concern is that entering into this agreement would lead to electricity rates rising to some level that is equivalent or even higher than they are in those other RGGI states.
Also, Poindexter said, my understanding is that in RGGI states, electricity generation typically moves out of those states and the power is then imported. That would not be a healthy development for our state, should we start to lose those jobs related to energy generation.
Rucker and others at the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow also challenged the scientific premise underpinning RGGI and similar state-level agreements. They point to updated research that shows natural forces, as opposed to human activity, are primarily responsible for climate change.
EPAs Proposed Rule
In the run-up to Saturdays Virginia Tea Party Summit, another question was on the mind of participants.
Since the Environmental Protection Agency under the Trump administration has proposed a rule replacing the Obama administrations Clean Power Plan with guidelines giving states more flexibility to determine how to address greenhouse gas emissions, isnt RGGI now superfluous?
Why not just embrace the EPAs proposed Affordable Clean Energy Rule?
Related: EPA Moves to Scrap Obama Mandates for Power Plant Emissions
Our concern with what the EPA has proposed is that it is not very stringent and that its really not going to move the ball forward in terms of regulating carbon emissions, Dowd of the state Department of Environmental Quality said. “RGGI represents a far more stringent and more realistic approach, and I dont think the ACE rule as proposed is strong enough to control carbon.
But Heritage’s Loris said he views the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative as a losing proposition for Virginia.
“Interestingly, the United States isnt leading the developed world in greenhouse gas reduction because of a regional cap-and-trade program,” Loris said. “The private sectors investment in cheap, abundant, and affordable natural gas is the reason.”
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What’s the point of elections when NGOs and crooked politicians can just make an end run?
Throw the bum out
Whats the point of elections when NGOs and crooked politicians can just make an end run?
I was going to post the same question.
We live in a Republic which means the elective representatives make law, the executive branch executes the law.
When I see something like this I figure the people do not want it, and the legislature knows this, so they allow the Governor to go around them and do what they want to do but don’t have the balls to vote for.
Go for it, Virginia. See ya.’
A coal powered plant takes approx. 900 people to run it. A natural gas co generation plant only takes a hand full. It is a matter of economics.
In this case, the electric company could suggest that it’ll stop producing within the state, and do a shut-down. So then the plant in the next state over will say fine....we will sell you the power you desire...at 15-percent above the normal rate...returning the profit to it’s shareholders. After the Virginia folks generally accept the rise in rates....you raise again in 18 months another 15-percent. You repeat this again in 18 months.
Just about all of this nonsense would stop if everyone would adopt the use of Thorium energy.
The only complaints would come from the NeoCon nutjobs in the Pentagon since it will not produce weapons-grade plutonium.
Nothing against hydrocarbons, but Thorium is quite abundant, clean, safe (lstr), extremely inexpensive, and will surely improve the living standards of the world. Even in now s***hole countries who cannot now afford traditional energy.
Governor Brown, Governor Murphy, Governor Northam should all man up and face facts, and do the right thing for a change.
Can’t the General Assembly sue to stop him?
Carbon dioxide is not a dangerous pollutant.
It is an essential part of life on earth.
We could solve this problem overnight if everyone who believes CO2 is a dangerous pollutant stops exhaling it.
Start proceedings to remove the governor
Post-Representative government bump for later....
The Old Dominion is apparently now a one-man dictatorship.
The Old Dominion is now solidly Bolshevik territory.
Tell the gov we’ll see you in court. Remember what they did to gov #71? Let’s see how gov #73 like court.
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