VICTORY! In March 2020, the Virginia General Assembly passed the Clean Energy and Community Flood Preparedness Act. The bill will join the Commonwealth to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, to access millions of dollars to save our coasts and lower electricity bills for everyone.
Senator Lynwood Lewis of Accomack County and House Majority Leader Charniele Herring have been tireless advocates of RGGI and climate justice.
The climate crisis is at our doorstep, and fossil fuel pollution is to blame. Virginians know flooding has become one of the most challenging policy issues facing our state, especially on the coast. The rising of ocean waters due to climate change, combined with the area’s sinking land, will cause as much as 7.5 feet of sea level rise by century’s end, according to the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences.[i] Bigger, climate-fueled, storms also will prove to be a huge burden for local communities across Virginia.
Meanwhile, fossil fuels are harming public health right now, causing air pollution in our communities. At the same time, thanks to unfair and corrupt practices by utility monopolies like Dominion Energy, Virginians have the 10th highest electric bills in the nation and a higher electricity burden than the national average. We need energy solutions and energy justice now.
But while the impacts of climate change are at our doorstep, so are the solutions. CCAN is working to join Virginia to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, help adapt our coast to rising tides, reduce carbon emissions at the root of the problem, and access funds to lower the energy burden for everyone.
Watch the video:
A Win-Win Solution: The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative
In November 2017, the State Air Pollution Control Board approved draft regulations to cap carbon emissions by linking with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). This was a great first step towards climate action in Virginia. However, this move was blocked in a partisan attack on climate action through budget amendments. Further, without legislative action, the Commonwealth would not be able to utilize the hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue raised from the carbon market or guarantee a cap past the year 2030.
Virginia needs a massive, coordinated investment in new and resilient infrastructure, living shorelines, emergency planning, and strategic retreat from vulnerable areas to keep people safe and dry. And we need money to pay for it—likely upwards of $1 billion for Norfolk alone.
Formally joining RGGI would unlock crucial funds for adaptation measures throughout Virginia while guaranteeing long-term reductions in carbon emissions in a way that is proven cost-effective. Virginia can generate hundreds of millions of dollars through this program, providing valuable funding to help the Commonwealth move to a 100% clean energy economy. This is a solution that can benefit every Virginian family — no exceptions.
How RGGI Works
RGGI is a cooperative effort, currently comprised of nine East Coast states from Maine to Maryland, that caps and reduces carbon emissions from power plants. Under RGGI, power plants in participating states purchase allowances for every ton of carbon pollution that they emit. RGGI states agree amongst themselves how many pollution allowances to offer for sale each year, thus setting a cap on emissions, and they gradually lower the cap each year. It’s a flexible, market-based system. Participating states set the carbon cap and then power plants decide how to stay below it. Revenue from the auction of pollution allowances goes back to the states to fund carbon reduction programs and other initiatives decided by each state.
Virginia’s participation in RGGI is projected to raise more than a billion dollars through 2030 in auction allowances.
Have any more questions about how RGGI works? Read the “Frequently Asked Questions.”
What We Should Do With The Revenue
Reduce Harmful Fossil Fuel Emissions
By putting a price on carbon pollution, polluters are incentivized to reduce emissions. Since RGGI’s inception in 2009, emissions in RGGI states fell at a rate 2x greater than non-RGGI states even as the GDP in RGGI states grew 3% more than non-RGGI states.[iv] By joining RGGI, Virginia can cost-effectively cut our carbon emissions by 30% by the year 2031.[v]
Lower Electricity Bills
Virginia residents suffer from a higher than average “energy burden,” which means the proportion of income spent on energy bills. Virginia has the 10th highest average residential electricity bills in the country, and the energy burden is even greater in Virginia’s low-income communities. By joining RGGI, we can access more than $40 million each year to invest in energy efficiency programs like weatherizing and upgrades to buildings, which in turn helps Virginians use less energy and pay less on their energy bills. Other RGGI states have $49.7 million in annual bill savings through efficiency investments.
Invest in Clean Energy Jobs
Virginia lags far behind neighboring states in solar energy development and does not have a single utility-scale wind farm. Virginia also has an enormous amount of untapped potential in energy efficiency, which is a big job creator — Virginia already has more than 79,000 consistent jobs as of 2019. Joining RGGI and investing in efficiency will make clean energy more cost-effective and create new jobs.
Protect Public Health
Fossil fuels are causing a crisis in public health, particularly for Virginia’s 700,000 asthmatics. In fact, Richmond has been labeled as the Asthma Capital of America several times within the last five years by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Air pollution in RGGI states between 2009-2014 produced a total of $5.7 billion in public health co-benefits across the region, including 300-830 fewer premature deaths, 420-510 fewer cases of acute bronchitis, and 8,200-9,900 fewer asthma attacks.6
Fund Flooding Solutions in Virginia
Anyone who lives in Hampton Roads knows that flooding has become one of the most challenging public policy issues facing coastal Virginia. The rising of ocean waters due to climate change, combined with the area’s sinking land, will cause as much as 7.5 feet of sea level rise by century’s end, according to the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences. The Dutch engineering firm Fugro estimates that Norfolk needs at least $1 billion to adapt to the flooding threat posed by climate change.[ii] The billion dollar price tag equals Norfolk’s entire annual operating budget.[iii] Other coastal cities face similar threats. Funding from RGGI is one way to solve this growing problem.
Why We Need Solutions Now: Hampton Roads is Ground Zero for the Climate Crisis in Virginia
Communities Are Flooding. Southwest Virginia is struggling. It’s Getting Worse. We Need Solutions Now.
Locally, the impacts of climate change include:
- Sea-level rise: The rate of sea-level rise on Virginia’s coast is close to the fastest in the nation. The Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) projects that Virginia’s coast will see 3-7 more feet of sea level rise by 2100.
- Heavier precipitation: As the atmosphere warms, it holds more moisture, leading to more extreme precipitation from storms.
- Super-charged hurricanes: Sea level rise makes storm surges from hurricanes more damaging. When Hurricane Isabel hit in 2003, it caused more damage than a bigger hurricane that hit in 1933. VIMS researchers believe Isabel was more destructive because the storm rode atop seas that were 14 inches higher.
Every time coastal residents must change their route to work or school to avoid flooded roads or vacuum out water-logged basements, they are confronting the local impacts of global climate change, driven by the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas.
What’s at Risk?
The stakes for our communities and economy are high:
- Hampton Roads is home to about 1.7 million people, yet the region has no strong plan for evacuation and shelter in case of a weather disaster.
- The Tidewater region is critical to our national security, possessing the world’s largest naval base, and extensive military and federal infrastructure. Climate change poses a threat to these installations and our military readiness.
- Prominent historical sites like Jamestown Island and Colonial Williamsburg are at risk of disappearing due to sea level rise and stronger storms.
- A thriving beach industry which generated $1.28 billion in 2012 alone.
- Extensive import and export infrastructure, which supports the local economy and provides jobs. Port activity impacts the Hampton Roads economy substantially, generating $12.3 billion in local output.
In the U.S., the Hampton Roads region is second only to New Orleans as home to the most people at greatest risk from flooding caused by rising sea levels. Residents are already seeing the consequences – living on the front lines of climate impacts driven by fossil fuel industry pollution. Chronic flooding is forcing the raising of homes, roadways and naval infrastructure, and it’s only getting worse. Scientists predict that sea levels could rise by as much as seven feet within this century. In the event of a major storm, there is no effective plan to evacuate and shelter residents, even as warming ocean temperatures and longer hurricane seasons increase the risk of superstorms like Sandy.
To highlight the stories of Virginia’s coastal families living on the front lines of climate change we, along with our partners at Virginia Organizing and the Virginia Sierra Club, created Flood of Voices, a website dedicated to the stories of those being affected by rising tides and flooding, especially those whose voices are not normally heard. Click here to hear stories from Flood of Voices.
It’s Time to Make Virginia a Ground Zero for Solutions
While adapting to the sea level rise we’re locked into, we must invest in Virginia clean energy to reduce the pollution at the root of the problem.
If we’re going to protect Hampton Roads from the worst climate impacts, we need to build a climate movement that matches the scale of the problem. The energy choices our lawmakers make today will affect the height of the seas our children and grandchildren will have to contend with. Our politicians are tempted to not look past the length of their own term in office, so we have to push them to stop new investments in fossil fuels and build a clean energy economy.
To get involved, email Harrison Wallace, Virginia Director, at Harrison@chesapeakeclimate.org.
- “RGGI provides a path to protect kids’ health” Virginia-Pilot, 3/17/20
- “Virginia General Assembly Passes Legislation to Join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.” Blue Virginia, 2/26/20
- “House puts carbon cap-and-trade gears in motion with RGGI bill vote.” Virginia Mercury, 1/31/20
- “General Assembly can move past partisan paralysis on climate change and deliver a clean economy.” Richmond Times-Dispatch, 12/15/19.
- “Northam proposes $733 million for environmental quality, renewable energy.” Richmond Times-Dispatch, 12/11/19.
- “Virginia lawmakers have a conservation mandate in 2020.” Washington Post, 12/6/19.
- “Virginia needs to take action on climate change – before it’s too late.” Washington Post, 5/17/19
- “COMMENTARY: Why Northam Folded.” Style Weekly, 5/7/19
- “Northam fails to act on his own carbon-reduction plan.” Virginian-Pilot, 5/3/19
- “Northam won’t veto GOP budget language that could cripple carbon-capping plan.” Virginia Mercury, 5/2/19
- “Northam retains GOP language in budget to keep Va. out of carbon-reduction plan.” Washington Post, 5/2/19
- “Northam proposes coal ash disposal, coastal protection bills.” Associated Press, 1/3/19
- “‘RGGI works’: Virginia advocate on what state stands to gain from carbon cap.” Southeast Energy News, 12/17/18
- “Pipeline activists promote alternatives at Staunton town hall.” Augusta Free Press, 12/11/18
- “CCAN’s Harrison Wallace Declares, It’s Time We “Grab the Wheel from Dominion and Put Them in the Backseat for Good.” Blue Virginia, 12/6/18
- “Andria McClellan: A missed chance to help our state.” Virginian-Pilot, 4/21/18
- “Gov.-Elect Northam Announces Historic Legislation to Formally Join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and Use the Proceeds for Public Benefit.” Blue Virginia, 1/9/18
- “Public Comment Winds Up for Virginia Proposal to Join Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.” Richmond NPR, 4/5/18
- “Virginia Launches Plan to Join East Coast Carbon Market, Cut Emissions 30%.” InsideClimate News, 11/16/17
- “Water’s Edge: The Crisis of Sea Level Rise.” Reuters, 9/17/14
- “Will Norfolk be the next New Orleans?” Virginian-Pilot, 6/2/14
- Sea-level rise in Norfolk.” PBS Need to Know, 4/27/12
- “Climate Change at the Doorstep.” PBS Need to Know, 6/24/11
- “Virginia must lead in fighting sea level rise.” Virginian-Pilot, 6/12/13
- “State shelters couldn’t hold half of expected evacuees.” Virginian-Pilot, 1/9/13
- Factsheet: The Clean Energy and Community Flood Preparedness Act
- Factsheet: Virginia and The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative
- Factsheet: Energy Justice in Virginia
- Factsheet: The Virginia Coastal Protection Act
- Factsheet: How Executive Directive 11 Needs RGGI
- Factsheet: RGGI: Addressing Virginia’s Moral Responsibility
- Governor Northam Background on VCPA
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ): Every Question you Have about the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, Answered
- Virginia wants more action on climate change. Here’s where residents stand on policies.
- Video: Supporting Virginia Farmers with Agricultural BMPs
- Talking Points: What to Say when Testifying on Virginia’s Carbon Rule
- Text of Virginia Alternative Energy & Coastal Protection Act – House Version HB 2018 (2018)
- Text of Virginia Alternative Energy & Coastal Protection Act – Senate Version SB 1471 (2018)
- RGGI City Endorsements
- Editorial Boards Have Spoken: Virginia Should Join RGGI
- Read more about Flood of Voices, and submit your own story
- Union of Concerned Scientists Fact Sheet: Hurricanes in a Warmer World
- Infographic: The Power of Coastal Protection
- Analysis Group Fact Sheet: RGGI as a Blueprint for Clean Power Plan Success
- Virginia Editorial Boards support RGGI as a climate solution
- Fact Sheet: Climate Change in Coastal Virginia: The Impacts Are Here Now, But So Are The Solutions
- Report: Safe Coast Virginia: Climate Change Threats and Practical Solutions for Coastal Virginia.
- White paper: Why RGGI would incentivize carbon-free energy — not new natural gas — in Virginia.
- Virginia Coastal Policy Center’s report: “The Cost of Doing Nothing: A Sea Level Rise Synopsis for the Hampton Roads Region”
- Presentation: The effect of accelerated sea level rise on the Norfolk Naval Station by Joe Bouchard, Ph.D