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Virginia Seeks to Limit Carbon Emissions, Following California and New England

Executive orders aren’t just for the president of the United States. They are also a vehicle used by the state governors, especially by Virginia’s Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe who issued such a declaration to work to discover new ways to limit carbon emissions from power plants.

A working group will deliver its recommendations to the governor by year-end and the goal is for the state to be ready to go once the blueprint is provided to “allow for the use of market-based mechanisms and the trading of carbon dioxide allowances through a multi-state trading program.”

A cap-and-trade system allows companies that are able to hit emissions targets to bank credits or sell those same credits to those unable to do so. As the ceilings are lowered, carbon emissions fall as well. The money raised is often used to help low income residents or is used to advance new technologies such as those associated with renewable energy or energy efficiency.

“The threat of climate change is real, and we have a shared responsibility to confront it,” McAuliffe said, in a statement“Once approved, this regulation will reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the commonwealth’s power plants and give rise to the next generation of energy jobs. As the federal government abdicates its role on this important issue, it is critical for states to fill the void.”

Placed in context, the move is juxtaposed next to the president’s position, which is that carbon regulations limit business opportunities. President Trump has thus written an executive order to cast aside the Clean Power Plan that seeks to cut carbon emissions by 32% by 2030. To that end, many conservative organizations say that such carbon-cutting measures are expensive and unless there is a firm global commitment, they will make domestic industries uncompetitive.

The Trump administration is now deciding how it will approach the matter in court — a case now before the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. If it says it will stop defending the regulations, states such as California and New York have said they will step up and defend it. Hence, the case will continue until it is ultimately settled by the US Supreme Court.

The reality is that carbon emissions in the United States have been falling for the last decade while economic productivity has been increasing for nearly as long. The main reason is that utilities are switching from coal to natural gas, as well as biomass, solar and wind. No utility has any plans to construct new coal plants.

Dominion Resources is based in Virginia and has said that it will plow ahead with natural gas and renewables and has vowed to reduce its carbon footprint.

“Dominion has been preparing for carbon regulation for some time now and appreciates being a part of the stakeholder engagement process,” spokesman David Botkins said, in the Virginia papers. 

Virginia is following the lead of California and the New England states. Meantime, the state of Oregon is also exploring ways to curb its carbon releases. As for California, its new strategy to reduce carbon emissions by 40% by 2030 from 1990 levels.

California has long been on the cutting edge of environmental initiatives, having first enacted a law to cut carbon in 2006 — a ruling that has required it to review and reset its progress every five years. In the early years, the goal was to cut heat-trapping emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Ten year later, the aim is now even more ambitious. By 2050, California hopes to have cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 80%, which would make it a paragon of hope not just for other states to follow but also for other countries. 

For the last decade, California has enacted a number of measures — everything from a cap-and-trade program to renewable portfolio standards to more fuel efficient vehicles. It’s also heavily involved in water conversation, battery storage and energy efficiency.

“The plan will help us meet both our climate and our clean air goals in the coming decades and provide billions of dollars in investments to cut greenhouse gases …,” California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols said in a statement. “It is also designed … (to generate) good new jobs in the growing clean technology sector.”

Oregon’s state legislature has also directed its environmental agency there to examine the implementation of a market-based system to reduce the level of carbon emissions in the state. And the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has concluded in a report that it could be done through cap-and-trade program — without hurting businesses there.

At present, only California and the Northeastern states have cap-and-trade programs in place in the United States. Quebec in Canada also has one while Europe does as well. In all cases, there are mandatory carbon cuts in place set up in part to stimulate investment in new technologies.

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