Opinion | Virginia’s clean-energy future is in peril


Alfonso H. Lopez, a Democrat, represents parts of Arlington and Fairfax counties in the Virginia House of Delegates and is the founder of the Virginia Environment and Renewable Energy Caucus. Michael Town is executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters.

On June 30, the Supreme Court dealt a major blow to our nation’s ability to combat the climate crisis when it sided with coal companies and their political allies in a ruling that significantly limits the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate carbon pollution from power plants.

This ruling is a setback in many ways, but it made several points painfully clear. First, with action at the administrative level now called into question, Congress must act to address climate change in a meaningful way. Second, state action on climate change and clean energy just got even more important. Sadly, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) is letting Virginians down at a time when addressing climate change has never been more urgent.

In the past several years, Virginia has passed some of our nation’s most ambitious laws to cut carbon pollution and accelerate the transition to clean energy — laws that are returning dividends to Virginians by growing our economy, cleaning our air and making Virginia a safer, healthier place to call home.

These policies are supported by two-thirds of Virginians, people who recognize the threat of climate change and want to see their elected leaders take action. If you were wondering whether Youngkin actually wanted to be a governor for all Virginians, you don’t have to look much further than his track record on the environment, which has earned him an F in the Virginia League of Conservation Voters’ first-ever gubernatorial rankings.

Youngkin began working to roll back climate safeguards before he was even inaugurated, telling a room of business leaders in Hampton Roads — our state’s most flood-prone region — that he would work to take Virginia out of the multistate Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) , which is cutting pollution while returning hundreds of millions of dollars to our state every year to protect communities from flooding, save low-income Virginians money on their energy bills and position the commonwealth to respond to climate change.

Youngkin issued an executive order directing agencies to immediately begin the process of removing Virginia from the RGGI, despite the fact that the General Assembly passed a statute in 2020 mandating participation. He forgot that only the branch can lawfully pull Virginia out of the initiative.

His attacks haven’t stopped there. After the legislature rejected his choice for the post of secretary of natural and historic resources, Youngkin kept on Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist and a Trump administration EPA administrator who has built a career around attacking environmental protections that safeguarded our air and water. Youngkin paid Wheeler $185,000 as a senior adviser before creating for Wheeler, through Executive Order 19, his own office in charge of cutting regulations in Virginia by an arbitrary 25 percent. If Wheeler’s track record of effectively dismantling environmental safeguards is any indication, it’s clear what comes next: a Virginia where polluters benefit and Virginians’ health and environment suffer.

Our economy is also in jeopardy because of the Youngkin administration’s extreme actions. In June, the Biden administration announced a wind power coalition between the federal government and 11 East Coast states from Maine to North Carolina. Noticeably absent: Virginia, a state that has been working to drive offshore wind development in recent years. In 2021, Siemens Gamesa announced its plans to build the United States’ first offshore wind turbine blade facility at the Portsmouth Marine Terminal, a major economic investment in the commonwealth and one that only came because of our commitment to a clean-energy future.

Youngkin’s actions are undermining this future. The fact that this administration is turning a cold shoulder into fellow East Coast states — including three with Republican administrations — in what is already a major economic driver in Virginia shows just how willing Youngkin is to put his extreme definition over what’s best for Virginians. It might grab news headlines or garner praise in conservative circles as Youngkin works to elevate his national profile, but it hurts the state he was elected to lead.

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