|By Alexander C. Kaufman, Huffington Post
May 16, 2017
At a press conference on Tuesday morning, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) ordered state air regulators to propose rules by the end of the year to scale back carbon dioxide emissions from the utility sector and increase renewable energy investments throughout the state.
“This should be done on the federal level,” McAuliffe told HuffPost by phone ahead of the announcement. “But obviously with the pronouncements now coming out of the Trump administration, we cannot rely on them to do it, so we will be taking it into our own hands on the state level.”
The move lays the groundwork for a cap-and-trade system, which would set a fixed limit on the state’s carbon dioxide emissions and allow companies to buy and sell the rights to pollute. Once in place, Virginia will be allowed to participate in the carbon permit trading programs such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which includes Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.
The executive directive announced Tuesday comes 11 months after the governor signed an executive order instructing the state Department of Environmental Quality to assemble policies to reduce carbon pollution, which traps heat in the atmosphere and inflames respiratory illnesses such as asthma. After soliciting opinions from more than 8,000 stakeholders, state officials recommended limiting emission from the utility sector.
Now, the State Air Pollution Control Board has until Dec. 31 to propose regulations aimed at taking the place of the Clean Power Plan, the sweeping Obama-era rule that restricted emissions from the utility sector nationwide. The regulation had yet to be implemented after being stayed last year by the Supreme Court. In March, Trump signed an executive order instructing Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt ― an unabashed fossil fuel ally who had sued to block the Clean Power Plan in his previous job as Oklahoma’s attorney general ― to rewrite the rule.
“It’s clear now that the EPA has Administrator Pruitt, we’ll have to take our action ourselves,” McAuliffe said.
Implementation of any proposed regulation will rest in the hands of whoever wins the Virginia governor’s mansion in November. McAuliffe’s term limit is up, and none of the three declared Republicans seeking to replace him are likely to support carbon regulations under a Republican White House bent on reviving coal production and increasing the use of fossil fuels.
Last week, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring issued a memo confirming that the governor has the authority to regulate carbon emissions through a statewide cap or “through other means.”
Still, Republicans are likely to sue to block any such regulation. So far, that’s been a winning strategy. Pruitt sued to block environmental regulations at least 13 times as Oklahoma’s top cop. Now he leads the agency he previously nettled with lawsuits.
The two Democrats competing in the June 13 primary told HuffPost they would enforce any carbon regulations that McAuliffe proposed.
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