NORFOLK, Va. — Author's note: The video above is Gov. Youngkin explaining why he opposes RGGI and his plans to withdraw.
Virginians can weigh in on a plan to withdraw the state from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a program aiming to reduce emissions in 11 East Coast states.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, is trying to withdraw Virginia from the program by repealing a regulation, a move Democrats and other groups say goes against the state law and circumvents the General Assembly.
In early September, his administration submitted a Notice of Intended Regulatory Action (NOIRA), a public notification that a regulatory change is being considered, to the Air Pollution Control Board.
It was published in the Virginia Register of Regulations on Sept. 26, kicking off a public comment period that closes Wednesday, Oct. 26 at 11:59 p.m.
The notice and public comment period are the first part of a long process to enact or, in this case, repeal a regulation. Here are four things to know about what Gov. Youngkin is trying to do:
Virginia joined RGGI in 2021
11 states participate in RGGI: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia.
The program puts a regional cap on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants that will get stricter over time.
Power companies have to acquire allowances for every short ton of carbon dioxide they emit, which are distributed at quarterly actions. The proceeds go to energy-efficiency programs for low-income Virginians and the Community Flood Preparedness Fund.
The legislation inciting Virginia's entry into RGGI, the Clean Energy and Community Flood Preparedness Act, became law in 2020 and the state participated in its first auction in March 2021.
Youngkin has criticized the program, claiming power companies aren't actually incentivized to reduce emissions since they can pass the cost of allowances onto customers.
As an example, he recently described the now-suspended Dominion Energy Rider RGGI, a fee that the company charges customers to recover costs related to the program, as "simply a tax on energy usage."
After taking office, one of Youngkin's first executive actions was to begin the process of withdrawing Virginia from the program.
Youngkin believes he has authority to leave RGGI without a new law
Youngkin has argued that he has the authority to withdraw from RGGI without the 2020 law being repealed.
"From the authority of the governor in order to do this, the legislation that was passed authorized but did not mandate the Commonwealth of Virginia to be in a program like RGGI," Youngkin recently told 13News Now. "And the words are very clear: it authorized but did not mandate. In fact, it was a regulatory process that led us to RGGI."
In late August, Travis Voyles, the acting Virginia secretary of natural and historic resources, presented the Youngkin administration's plan to the Air Pollution Control Board, kickstarting the regulatory process.
He explained the proposed regulation would allow the state to leave by the end of 2023, a timeline that would provide regulatory certainty for businesses.
Democrats and environmental groups disagree
After Voyles' presentation, Democratic state lawmakers wrote a letter to the Air Pollution Control Board explaining their disagreement.
The lawmakers wrote that only a change in the 2020 law that "passes both chambers of the General Assembly and is signed by the Governor" can end the state's involvement in RGGI.
"No proposed regulation, emergency regulation, regulatory act, or any subsequent administrative process can remove Virginia from RGGI because our membership in RGGI is mandated by that law," they said in the letter.
The lawmakers also outlined the benefits of Virginia's participation in the program, including money raised for energy-efficiency programs and flood resilience, and a drop in emissions and electricity prices across RGGI states.
Public comment is now open. Here's what happens next.
A public comment forum is open on the Virginia Regulatory Town Hall, an online portal where Virginians can share their thoughts, until Oct. 26 at 11:59 p.m.
You'll be asked for your name or organization, the state you're located in, email address, a comment/subject title and your actual comments on the Youngkin administration's NOIRA.
The next step in the typical regulatory process is that the proposed regulation's full text goes public, followed by at least 60 days of public comment. During this time, the proposal could change as people share their thoughts.
The last step is the final text of the proposed regulation going public, which comes with an explanation of any changes from the original proposal. The final adoption period lasts 30 days.
To read the NOIRA, it's available on the Virginia Register of Regulations, and to comment on it, visit the Virginia Regulatory Town Hall's website.