Trieste lockwood column virginia makes steps toward cleaner air, economic growth their opinion richmond.com gas ark

Gov. Terry McAuliffe deserves a lot of credit for getting us to this place. Over the past four years, his administration has prioritized addressing climate change and growing clean energy. McAuliffe’s Executive Directive 11 was issued in May and led to the current draft rule, which came only after months of stakeholder input and comment.

We are pleased that this rule is now in the hands of Gov.-elect Ralph Northam, who made climate change and clean energy priorities during his campaign and has pledged to see this process through. Finalizing this rule would add to his already impressive record on climate change, which began in the state Senate where Northam worked to address sea level rise in a bipartisan way.

As proposed, this rule would take effect in 2020 and ratchet down carbon emissions by 30 percent over the following decade, a goal that coincides with RGGI’s target for the same time period, reductions that even without Virginia’s contribution are equivalent to taking 28 million cars off the road for a whole year.

The way it works is pretty simple, really. Under this rule, future and existing fossil fuel-fired power plants that produce at least 25 megawatts of electricity will be assigned carbon allowances for every ton of carbon dioxide they emit. If a power plant exceeds its emissions standard, the operator will have to buy further carbon allowances in the RGGI consignment auction, creating a financial incentive to cut emissions.

In a recent report that looked at the public health impacts of RGGI, Abt Associates estimated the economic value of cutting air pollution in the RGGI states at $5.7 billion in health and productivity benefits alone. In more human terms, this means up to 830 lives saved, more than 8,200 asthma attacks avoided, and nearly 40,000 lost workdays averted because of cleaner air.

At the same time RGGI has achieved these public health benefits, electricity prices in RGGI states fell by 6.4 percent while prices rose by a similar margin of 6.2 percent in the rest of the country, and the economies in the RGGI states outpaced every other state in the country other than California by more than 4 percent, according to a recent Acadia Center report.

Contributing to these economic gains is the sale of carbon allowances in the RGGI marketplace. Revenues from these auctions have helped support energy efficiency programs and expansions of clean energy deployment. According to Acadia’s findings, close to 60 percent of program revenue from 2012 to 2014 went directly to energy efficiency programs that cut ratepayers’ bills and lowered electricity demand.

The report also points to a study by Analysis Group, which found that programs supported with revenue raised over RGGI’s first six years will generate $1.6 billion in energy bill savings, which translates to $2.8 billion of net economic gains.

With ongoing threats to the environment on the federal level, it’s clear that with Northam’s leadership, Virginia will continue to take the right steps to reduce carbon emissions, create clean energy jobs, address climate change, and protect clean air.