The Virginia House of Delegates blocked an attempt by Gov. Ralph Northam to grant himself the ability to opt into a cap-and-trade environmental regulation plan without legislative approval. A line-item veto may still be possible.
To prevent Northam from having this power, the Republican-led state House and Senate included language in the budget that would require the consent of the legislature for the state to opt into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI. Northam proposed an amendment that removed this language, but failed to receive a majority vote in the House, which killed the effort in the General Assembly.
The initiative is a multi-state effort among several northeastern states to establish cap-and-trade regulations on power companies aimed at reducing carbon emissions with the intent of establishing a cleaner environment.
Cap-and-trade policies put a limit to how much carbon an entity can emit, but allows it to purchase a greater capacity for carbon emissions from companies that are below the limit. This limits the total amount of carbon while allowing businesses to make deals on who emits the carbon.
Although Republicans didn’t explicitly condemn the idea of cap and trade, they rejected the attempt to remove this decision from the legislature.
“Major policy changes that can impact the lives of millions of Virginians shouldn’t be done unilaterally,” Parker Slaybaugh, a spokesperson for the House Republicans, said in an email. “Setting aside any debate over the wisdom of joining RGGI, committing Virginia to a cap and trade scheme should be done by the people’s elected representatives through legislation, not through executive fiat."
Steve Haner, a senior fellow for state and local tax policy at the Virginia-based, free-market Thomas Jefferson Institute, said in a phone interview that advocates of cap and trade have good intentions, which is to have a cleaner environment, but he said that it would increase electric rates throughout the commonwealth.
The State Corporation Commission, which regulates public utilities in Virginia, including power companies, estimated that implementing RGGI regulations would cost Dominion Energy alone between $3.3 billion and $5.9 billion dollars to comply. This would raise rates for consumers between $7 and $12 every month - or between $84 and $144 annually.
According to Haner, this increase would mostly be caused by Dominion being forced to shut down some coal plants that would not be able to comply with the standards. Because Dominon is a publicly protected monopoly, the cost will go to the consumers, he said. Additionally, he said that Dominon makes money by selling excess power to other states, but that would be hampered by the increasing cost of the power.
Although coal plants will have to close down eventually due to market forces, he said that speeding up the process would disrupt the market and cause problems for rate payers.