Green Guide

Virginia AG: pollution board can regulate carbon emissions

Posted May 12

— A Virginia regulatory board has the power to set a statewide carbon emissions cap on new and existing power plants, state Attorney General Mark Herring said Friday.

The legal opinion was hailed by Democrats and environmentalists as a way for the state to limit carbon pollution at a time when President Donald Trump is vowing to roll back federal regulations aimed at reducing harmful emissions.

Herring said current law already grants the Air Pollution Control Board, which is made up of volunteers appointed by the governor, the power to treat carbon dioxide as air pollution and regulate it.

State House Minority Leader David Toscano, who asked for the opinion, said it opens the door for the board to take more aggressive steps to curb emissions. He said the board currently focuses on whether to permit new fossil-fuel powered plants, and is not actively regulating emissions of existing ones.

"It's very significant and much different than the air control board has approached this issue in the past," Toscano said.

Trump signed an executive order earlier this year seeking to undo the Clean Power Plan, a centerpiece of President Barack Obama's efforts to reduce emissions from existing power plants. Trump has called climate change a hoax, disputing the overwhelming consensus of scientists that the world is warming and that man-made carbon emissions are primarily to blame.

Toscano said Herring's ruling "suggests we might not need the Clean Power Plan in the same way we thought about it in the past."

Kate Addleson, director of the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter, cheered the opinion.

"This is an important foundation to build on as Virginia works to address climate change," she said.

The state's largest power company, Dominion Energy, has "always assumed the state would move towards regulating carbon in some form or fashion," said spokesman David Botkins. He added that the company already has strict carbon dioxide limits at its power stations.

Dominion was one a few power companies to file a legal brief in support of the Clean Power Plan. It has said the uncertainty over emission regulations justifies keeping a 2015 law it helped pass that effectively froze a large portion of its rates, which many critics say are too high.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order last year establishing a work group to recommend ways to reduce power plant carbon emissions. His office says the governor will make a "significant" announcement related to that work group on Tuesday.

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