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Virginia attorney general: Governor-elect can't pull out of carbon-reduction initiative through executive order

Outgoing AG Mark Herring says Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin cannot unilaterally suspend laws, citing the Constitution of Virginia and its separation of powers doctrine.

RICHMOND, Va. — Four days before he will be replaced as the attorney general of Virginia, Mark Herring issued an official advisory opinion, arguing that Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin cannot pull out of an environmental initiative using an executive order, as Youngkin has pledged to do.

In a speech to the Hampton Roads Chamber on Dec. 8, Youngkin said he would use his executive powers to withdraw Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cooperative between Virginia and 10 other states aiming to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. The Commonwealth joined RGGI in 2020 when the General Assembly passed the Clean Energy and Community Flood Preparedness Act.

"RGGI describes itself as a regional market for carbon," Youngkin said during a speech in December. "But it is really a carbon tax that is fully passed on to ratepayers. It's a bad deal for Virginians. It's a bad deal for Virginia businesses."

RELATED: Youngkin wants Virginia out of carbon-reduction initiative

However, Herring says that Youngkin cannot unilaterally suspend laws, citing the Constitution of Virginia and its separation of powers doctrine.

“The Virginia Constitution is clear: the Governor does not have the authority to single-handedly repeal or eliminate a law or regulation that has been passed by the General Assembly," Herring said via press release. "It is time we all work together to fight climate change and leave a better, healthier planet for future generations.”

According to Herring, who has been a strong supporter of Virginia's participation in RGGI, the initiative has generated $220 million allocated toward climate change mitigation projects in the state. The attorney general consistently has fought for environmental causes during his term, including suing the EPA in 2020 for its alleged failure to protect the Chesapeake Bay and challenging the Trump administration when it attempted to replace the Clean Power Plan. 

WATCH: Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin's victory speech. 

Herring was defeated in the 2021 attorney general race by Republican Jason Miyares, who has served in the Virginia House of Delegates since 2016. Miyares will take over as the 48th attorney general of Virginia on Jan. 15. 

Youngkin also recently ruffled conservationists' feathers by nominating former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler for secretary of Natural Resources. Wheeler served as the administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during the Trump administration. In 2020, he claimed water and air quality were at the "cleanest levels since modern measurement began" thanks to the former president.

RELATED: Conservationists slam Va. Gov.-elect's nominee for top environmental job

RELATED: Youngkin announces more cabinet members, staff picks

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