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Thousands call on Air Pollution Board to keep Virginia in RGGI

Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is widely supported by Virginians and law in the General Assembly – but Youngkin’s Air Board persists with its plan to pull out.

Richmond, VA – Thousands of Virginia residents have spoken up to keep Virginia in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), opposing Governor Glenn Youngkin’s efforts to remove Virginia from this highly popular and successful climate program. 

As of 9:08 AM on March 31, the final day for public comments on the Virginia Air Pollution Board’s proposal for withdrawal, more than 6,000 Virginians had submitted comments, with an overwhelming 87% majority in favor of RGGI. During the previous Notice of Intended Regulatory Action (NOIRA) public comment period, about 95% of comments – surpassing 750 in total – expressed opposition to the proposed repeal and in support of ongoing participation in RGGI. This shows that a consistently vast majority of Virginians have spoken out in favor of keeping the state in RGGI during each round of public comments.

Virginia joined RGGI by law through HB 981, the Clean Energy and Community Flood Preparedness Act, which requires Virginia to participate in the allowance auction process through RGGI. This year, 61 legislators affirmed that HB 981 requires Virginia to participate in RGGI, and that removal via the air board is “improper and illegal.”

Victoria Higgins, Virginia Director at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, stated: “The proposed action by the air board offends our democratic norms and the rule of law, bypassing the will of the people and their chosen representatives in the General Assembly. HB 981 is not a vague directive for state agencies to administer RGGI when and as they see fit. It is a mandate.” 

Students, elected officials, and citizen advocacy groups from all walks of life have spoken out in support of RGGI, a regional carbon market that sets a cap on overall carbon emissions from power plants and provides funding for climate-vulnerable neighborhoods. It sends money to coastal communities to protect themselves from floods and to low-income Virginians for energy efficiency upgrades to their homes. This program also helps clean up air pollution and drives economic growth, bringing more than half a billion dollars to the Commonwealth in its first year. 

“The importance of Virginia’s participation in RGGI cannot be overstated,” said Sen. Lynwood Lewis, D-Accomack, who carried the 2020 legislation allowing Virginia’s participation. “It is by and large the most consequential piece of legislation I sponsored during my two decades in the Virginia legislature… Not only is the legal authority of the Governor to remove Virginia from RGGI in question, but to do so would put the future of our flood-prone and environmentally vulnerable communities in serious jeopardy.”

Grace Holderman, student at Brown College, said in a public comment: “As a Virginia college student, RGGI impacts me personally because it helps protect the future of my generation and generations to come. RGGI has already reduced greenhouse gas emissions in Virginia and other states, so repealing it would put us back on track to endanger the health and future of all people, especially young people like me and those in vulnerable communities.”

Daniel Walden, medical student and representative of Virginia Clinicians for Climate Action, wrote in a comment: “Since Virginia joined RGGI in 2021, it has helped thousands of us avoid health problems. Data from other RGGI states indicate that, over five years, improved air quality saved residents of those states from over 6,000 asthma attacks, over 100 preterm births, and, potentially, over 500 deaths. Those same benefits now apply to Virginians. Those arguing against RGGI say it’s too expensive for taxpayers. But sickness costs taxpayers, too. The EPA has estimated that improving air quality results in public health benefits that exceed the costs by over 30 times. Put simply, for every dollar we put into RGGI and programs like it, we taxpayers save $30 down the line–and we are healthier for it, too.” 

There has been an immense outpouring of support for RGGI around the state. Concerned residents have marched, rallied, lobbied, and called their officials. A recent poll found that overwhelming, bipartisan majorities of Virginians—including a plurality of Republicans—want to stay in RGGI. Yet four appointees on the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board – all hand-picked by Gov. Youngkin – voted to remove the Commonwealth from RGGI. 

Already, RGGI has: 

  • Lowered emissions. Since RGGI was founded, emissions from power plants in RGGI states have dropped by 50%, double the amount that emissions have dropped in non-RGGI states.
  • Improved public health. Even just in its initial 5 years, over 8000 asthma attacks were avoided.
  • Provided money to Virginians:

    • Over $265 million to the Community Flood Preparedness Fund – VA’s only source of proactive flood prevention. 
    • Over $294 million to fund energy efficiency retrofits for low and moderate income homes and new, energy efficient affordable housing.

The Virginia legislature had the opportunity to change the law during the 2023 General Session, but one bill was introduced that would do so, which was swiftly voted down in committee. Despite this, the Board is expected to continue ignoring the will of the people and Virginia’s elected representatives and continue with this unpopular, unlawful move. 

“Members of the Air Board are not intended to be political pawns at the whim of the Governor,” Higgins continued. “This action is expressly political in nature, being carried out solely based on campaign promises made by the Governor. It violates the duties and distorts the character of the Air Board. It is a dangerous precedent to set that should alarm all parties invested in the existence of nonpartisan Citizen Boards which fairly administer the regulations of the Commonwealth.”

Learn more about RGGI and its importance to Virginia

 Virginians rally to support the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network is the oldest and largest grassroots organization dedicated exclusively to raising awareness about the impacts and solutions associated with global warming in the Chesapeake Bay region. For 20 years, CCAN has been at the center of the fight for clean energy and wise climate policy in Maryland, West Virginia,  Virginia, and Washington, DC. Learn more: