Tommy Wright: RGGI no good for Virginia

Published 12:00 pm Friday, June 16, 2023

Tommy WrightThe Virginia Air Pollution Control Board voted June 7 to remove Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, better known as RGGI.

In 2020, then-Governor Ralph Northam collaborated with Democrats in the General Assembly to bring Virginia into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a regional cap-and-trade program that, on paper, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants by capping emissions and selling emission credits to utilities.

Predictably, the scheme failed to fulfill its key goals, and Republicans led by Governor Youngkin instructed the Air Board to end our state’s participation.

The bill that allowed Virginia to enter RGGI did so on a voluntary basis, by “authorizing” the Department of Environmental Quality to participate. Supporters argue that the language is mandatory, but the dictionary says otherwise.

Virginia has great reason to leave the cap-and-trade scheme: it costs taxpayers millions, and it’s not accomplishing what it set out to do.

Unlike other states who entered RGGI, Virginia didn’t use the money from auctions to offset the costs to consumers. Instead, the Commonwealth routed the money to flood mitigation and ‘resilience’ efforts.

That turned what was supposed to be a consumer-friendly program into a back-door carbon tax that makes electricity more expensive for everyone in Virginia — $590 million more expensive as of March.

Worse, RGGI doesn’t do what it set out to do. According to a Congressional Research Service report, RGGI’s impact on greenhouse gas emissions is “negligible.”

Supporters are quick to point out that the program has reduced carbon emissions inside Virginia, which is true, but that’s only because Virginia’s electricity imports from places that aren’t a part of RGGI increased.

The net result is that the carbon emitted by Virginia electricity usage increased by 3.7 million tons, a process called “leakage” – that was correctly predicted by opponents of RGGI.

Non-RGGI power is cheaper than RGGI power, and grid operators use the lowest-cost sources to keep the regional grid operating. The result is that cheaper, coal- and gas-fired plants out of state now provide a significant portion of the Commonwealth’s power.

Prior to RGGI, electricity generation increased while CO2 per MWh was almost cut in half in Virginia over the last 10 years.

Virginia elected commonsense conservatism and that’s what Virginia Republicans will continue to deliver.

Lastly, on June 14, we recognize our United States Army’s Birthday. Happy Birthday, U.S. Army!

Del. Tommy Wright can be reached via email at DelTWright@House.Virginia.gov or (804) 698-1061.