by Glen Besa
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is only a first step
The world’s top climate scientists have alerted us that we have under 12 years to dramatically reduce carbon emissions to avoid serious disruption to the economic and ecological systems that support human society. Yet in December, a few world leaders including Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman collaborated to undermine the United Nations Climate Talks in Madrid, which had been intended to address the growing climate emergency.
In polite climate negotiators’ jargon, the outcome of those talks lacked “ambition.” In normal language, the talks failed to yield measurable commitments that would begin to reduce carbon pollution at a pace that begins to address the climate warming humankind has baked into the atmosphere of our planet. In fact, carbon pollution is increasing, not decreasing, across the planet, including here in the United States.
In Virginia, our Democratic political leaders – Governor Northam, Majority Leader Senator Saslaw and Speaker Filler-Corn – don’t appear that ambitious about tackling climate change either. For months now, Virginia’s single largest climate polluter, Dominion Energy, has been running full-page ads, falsely telling Virginians that it is cutting carbon pollution when, in fact, it is doing just the opposite. With the start of the General Assembly, Dominion Energy continues its misinformation campaign, sending in its army of lobbyists – led by Katharine Bond and Bill Murray – to spread confusion on energy and climate policy.
Far too many of our legislators may be willing to believe the misrepresentations of Dominion Energy’s lobbyists that it is taking serious action to address climate change. As the 2020 General Assembly session progresses, we’ll soon find out if Dominion’s multi-million-dollar greenwashing and disinformation efforts are working.
There are a number of bills, like the Clean Economy Act and the Green New Deal, that would boost renewable energy and efficiency and even impose a moratorium on new fossil fuel infrastructure. But so far, the only commitment we’ve seen from our Democratic leaders is support for the passage of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). RGGI is carbon pollution credit trading system for the electric sector. It would be an important step forward, except that RGGI-driven reductions in carbon pollution will be dwarfed by the new fracked-gas pipelines and gas-fired power plants recently permitted or in the permitting process in Virginia.
The RGGI program would place a cap on carbon pollution from fossil-fueled power plants, and reduce that cap by 3% per year. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) projects that by 2030, RGGI would be reducing carbon pollution by 8.6 million tons per year. The problem is that Dominion Energy is pushing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which the US EPA projects will emit 29.9 million tons of carbon pollution per year. Although not a Dominion Energy project, the Mountain Valley Pipeline would emit another 40 million tons of greenhouse gas pollution per year.
Meanwhile, the administration is cheerfully working on permitting two large, unneeded gas-fired power plants proposed by independent power producers. And Dominion’s latest long-range plan (Dominion’s current Integrated Resource Plan, or IRP) includes another 16 gas combustion turbines.
With the passage of RGGI, Northam, Saslaw and Filler-Corn will want to claim credit for cutting 8.6 million tons of carbon pollution per year. But the two massive, fracked-gas pipelines the state has authorized and continues to defend would, if completed, generate 70 million tons of additional carbon pollution per year. And in spite of all the happy talk about renewable energy, Virginia continues to fall behind other states in investments in solar, wind and efficiency, largely because of laws on the books that were crafted by Dominion Energy to protect its monopoly on dirty power.
The Green New Deal, the Clean Economy Act and several other bills would begin to move us in the right direction. But it remains to be seen if Virginia political leaders are finally ready to stand up to Dominion Energy and advance ambitious legislation commensurate with the climate emergency we are now experiencing. If Governor Northam and legislators are disturbed this session by climate protesters, including young people with the Sunrise Movement and other Virginia citizens, they’ll only have themselves to blame.
Note: The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author, and are not intended to reflect the opinion or the positions of any organizations with which he may be associated.