Virginia Set to Embrace Carbon-Free Energy, Join RGGI After Democrats Win Legislative Majority
Virginia is on track to accelerate its drive for carbon-free energy and join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) in the northeastern United States, after Democrats took control of the state legislature in off-year elections last week.
“Both the Virginia House and Senate flipped from Republican control to Democrat,” InsideClimate News reports. “That new Democratic legislature will now be pressed to back an aggressive carbon reduction goal—100% carbon-free electricity by 2050—and environmental advocates said they expect the new majority might be willing to go along.”
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“The legislature now has a mandate to act on climate change and clean energy,” said Lee Francis, deputy director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, which according to InsideClimate spent US$1.5 million on political advertising and front-line organizing during the campaign.
While campaign watchers had several other campaigns in their sights, including the races for Kentucky governor and Knoxville, Tennessee mayor and a utility regulator’s seat in Mississippi, “it was Virginia—a state already struggling with sea level rise and vulnerable to flooding and hurricanes—where the voters spoke the loudest,” InsideClimate adds. “Once considered solidly Republican, Virginia has now voted for Democratic presidential candidates in three straight election cycles,” and “the implications are sizeable.”
“The political calculus has shifted so much,” said Tim Cywinski, communications coordinator for the U.S. Sierra Club’s Virginia chapter. “A lot of things we have been pressing for, for a long time, can actually cross the finish line.”
That renewed push will begin in January, with environmentalists “calling on lawmakers to lift the budget roadblock to the state’s participation in RGGI and then go farther,” InsideClimate writes. “They also expect new legislation to direct tens of millions of dollars a year in carbon auction payments the state anticipates receiving through RGGI toward energy efficiency programs and coastal climate resilience.”
The election result could also deliver “the legislative punch to begin to carry out [Governor Ralph] Northam’s longer-term goal of carbon-free electricity by 2050,” writes reporter James Bruggers, citing Cywinski. “Northam in September signed an executive order putting the state on the path to having all its electricity powered by carbon-free sources, such as wind, solar, and nuclear, by mid-century, on par with what scientists say is necessary to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.”
Last week, Northam said the election result shows that voters “want us to invest in clean energy and take bold action to combat climate change.”