Opinion: Youngkin’s withdrawal from a regional climate agreement would cost Virginians
Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin’s recent announcement to undo Virginia’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative law via executive action is an opportunity: Richmond’s policymakers can now look with fresh eyes at that program’s major investments all across the commonwealth.
Youngkin’s stated reason to remove Virginia from the long-standing program (RGGI, pronounced “Reggie”) is to protect Virginia ratepayers from cost-of-living expenses. Focusing on pocketbook issues is always a laudable goal. And ratepayer cost concerns are real: Virginia has high electric rates that burden not just families but also our regional competitiveness. Our state’s rates are higher than not just every single one of our four regulated neighbors, but federal data shows Virginia rates are higher than nearly every single Southern state. As a result of these high rates, Virginians pay among the highest monthly electric bills in the nation. That cost will shoot up even further this winter when fossil fuel prices skyrocket.
But to protect Virginians from cost increases, Youngkin (R) should consider that RGGI does precisely that, by design: It both reduces the cost of living for our lower-income residents and funds mitigation of far costlier sea-level rise. Indeed, many of Youngkin’s own goals — to address sea-level rise, reduce emissions and lower the cost of living — are all advanced by the RGGI program. Its proven record of delivering value is why RGGI was hailed as a “real bipartisan, common-sense solution” by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R).
Here are the facts: RGGI is the multistate, market-based “cap-and-invest” program to lower carbon emissions, the main driver of costly climate change and sea-level rise across Hampton Roads. RGGI lowers emissions by holding power plants accountable for paying for their smokestack pollution, which RGGI also requires must decline over time; states invest those proceeds in common-sense, cost-lowering infrastructure improvements across their economies, such as boosting energy efficiency to lower electric bills.
Virginia joined RGGI precisely because of the program’s proven record of decreasing energy costs and slashing air pollution: RGGI-state emissions are just half of what they were at the program’s start more than a decade ago. As for costs, RGGI-state electricity prices have fallen over time, and RGGI-funded efficiency investments lower monthly bills, delivering $1.2 billion in bill savings thus far, with $13 billion more expected. It’s not surprising, then, that RGGI-state economies have grown faster than the rest of the country.
Here in Virginia, large polluters have already paid more than $200 million in RGGI proceeds for two crucial investments. First, RGGI investment in Virginia’s Community Flood Preparedness Fund goes to tackle the worsening sea-level rise across Hampton Roads and flooding statewide. RGGI already funded Virginia Beach with $3 million to mitigate the much higher costs of sea-level rise. Del. Will Morefield (R-Tazewell) also proposed using RGGI investments to help Virginians hit by extreme-weather flooding in far Southwest Virginia. Second, RGGI investment goes to bill-lowering energy efficiency improvements for the hard-working Virginia families that need them most. In the Albemarle County region alone, RGGI investments will slash the energy costs for more than 350 extremely low-income families, with relief to hundreds more families to come. Leaving RGGI would defund these very real investments in Virginia and Virginians.
More important, doing so would overlook the ripe opportunities right at hand to deliver progress and lower the electric bills of Virginia ratepayers.
Youngkin can lead in Richmond with real, bipartisan solutions here. He could provide relief from Virginia’s high electric rates if he worked with both legislative chambers on common-sense energy measures. To name just two major cost-of-living reforms: Youngkin and the legislature can first boost our economy’s lagging energy efficiency performance by ensuring state-regulated monopolies fully unlock those proven but still-latent Virginia resources. That reform will lower bills and the need to pay for costlier new electricity generation. And they could work together to rid Virginia’s code of the slew of monopoly-friendly “rate adjustment” accounting gimmicks that raise ratepayer costs by artificially inflating, month after month, Virginia electric bills. Virginia law has so many of those “rate adjustment” gimmicks, in fact, that there is even one in Virginia’s RGGI law (the only RGGI state to include one), unnecessarily padding electric utility profits on the backs of Virginia families.
So if Youngkin strikes anything from law, it should be those kinds of unnecessary cost burdens on Virginia ratepayers. Because one thing is certain: If Youngkin works on real solutions to lower both the cost of living and emissions, his first year in office will set a problem-solving leadership example to the nation, by delivering bipartisan progress in a narrowly divided state, that further strengthens Virginia’s economic resilience.
Read the full article at The Washington Post here.