Virginia regulators’ approval of a carbon cap and trade program has paved the way for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent.

On Thursday, Virginia’s Air Pollution Control Board voted unanimously to approve a carbon cap and trade program designed to put into place an emissions cap at the state’s power plants starting in 2020. Once implemented, the carbon program would require emissions to be reduced by 30 percent between 2020 and 2030. The proposal seeks to reduce carbon pollution by requiring carbon emitters to take part in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative cap and trade program, the longest-running mandatory carbon market of which nine other states are a part. [caption id="attachment_5056" align="aligncenter" width="400"]carbon courtesy of CORE[/caption] The Air Control Board’s vote has come under orders issued by Governor Terry McAuliffe in May in response to the Trump administration’s rollback of federal climate policies which are perceived by McAuliffe and politicians in many other states as opening the door to climate change. The approved plan’s requirements are like the requirements of Barack Obama’s Clean Power Act, which also is designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative’s current agreement, Virginia’s power companies would have to cap carbon dioxide emissions at 33 million tons in 2020 and reduce emissions by three percent every year until 2031. While the program was unanimously approved, the plan is now in a public comment period after which final regulation will be drafted and then eventually approved.  However, with another Democrat set to succeed McAuliffe next year -- as well as the fact that Democrats swept state elections earlier this month -- all signs point toward Virginia joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Whenever Virginia adopts the cap and trade program, 33 electricity generating plants will be affected, most of which are owned and operated by Dominion Energy. As for how utility customers’ rates would be affected by adopting the plan, Department of Environmental Quality director of the air and renewable division Michael Dowd said rates would only increase by two percent.

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