Green New Deal Still Rules in Virginia

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The elections of a Republican Virginia governor and a new Republican majority in the House of Delegates have not changed Virginia’s status as one of the greenest of Green New Deal states in the country.  Every effort to reverse the course set during the previous period of Democratic hegemony has failed at the 2022 General Assembly.

The massive construction plans for ratepayer-funded solar, wind and battery facilities dictated by the 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act remain on track. A bill to repeal VCEA failed in the majority-Democratic Virginia Senate. So did a simpler bill that merely restored the ability of the State Corporation Commission to review those construction plans for prudence, reasonableness and cost.

If California moves to ban the sales of new internal combustion engine cars and other vehicles starting with the 2035 model year, as expected, Virginia is still positioned to automatically follow suit. Until then, a growing percentage of all new car sales must be electric starting in 2025. A bill to revisit that 2021 legislation, and do a proper regulatory adoption process, also died in the Senate.

Legislative efforts to remove Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative regional compact all failed. A regulatory reversal may still be possible without legislation, but in the meantime the carbon tax remains on every Dominion Energy Virginia bill and works its way into everything touched by electricity costs.

In these waning hours of the regular session, a bill to protect the use of natural gas from local restrictions or prohibitions is struggling in a conference committee. If it fails or passes without teeth, local governments that operate natural gas utilities (such as the City of Richmond) can proceed to close them or restrict new connections. Other localities can use building codes or other regulations to do the same to private natural gas suppliers. The state’s largest and one of its more Democratic localities, Fairfax County, has plans to discourage gas already adopted. It and Richmond won’t be alone.

Within the General Assembly, the partisan divide on this debate is nearly total. The bill to protect natural gas did receive two Democratic votes in the House. Some Senate Democrats voted to restore State Corporation Commission oversight on the reasonableness, prudence and cost of renewable energy generation that is expected to add hundreds if not thousands of dollars to annual electric bills.

But that bill, House Bill 73, did not even receive total Republican support. It failed in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee 9-5, with four Democrats and only one Republican voting to keep it alive. One Republican, Senator Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, voted to kill it. Senate Minority Leader Thomas Norment, R-James City County, failed to vote.

The same pair had weeks before voted to kill a similar effort at restoring SCC authority over these projects, that bill coming from one of their Senate Republican colleagues.

Through the session the steadfast position of the House Republicans with lukewarm support from key Senate colleagues has been joined by mostly silence from Governor Glenn Youngkin, who has only sought to repeal the RGGI carbon tax. The offshore wind and solar bonanza of VCEA, the demands to buy electric cars and covert our homes to all-electric, those will cost average Virginians far more than will RGGI.

Whether they know it or like it, Virginians remain firmly in the grip of those who think fossil fuels are dangerous and must be rapidly retired. We currently depend on those fuels heavily, they are abundant within U.S. borders and national waters, they have delivered reliable economic prosperity, yet they must disappear from Virginia’s future. Replacing them with intermittent and unreliable electricity will be expensive and risky.

Why do Democrats think Virginians want this? Three decades of a steady drumbeat of false or exaggerated narratives about claimed climate catastrophes has sunk in. In a recent poll conducted by Christopher Newport University, anticipating these issues before the 2022 General Assembly, respondents repeated the messages of looming disaster they have been told.

First the pollster asked about various claimed disastrous climate change impacts. More than 40% stated there already are major impacts on Virginia from rising sea levels, harm to wildlife, and more common storms and extreme heat. Another 30% or more claimed there are already minor impacts. Fewer than one-quarter saw no impacts.

There is minor sea level rise, having caused no damage, and the other three claimed extreme outcomes are total fiction. Virginia has experienced little to no change in its climate and certainly no ill effects. But more than half of voting Virginians believe it has, either major or minor.

With the pump fully primed by that first question (a lesson in polling bias), voters were then asked about the priority for state government of “addressing climate change.” About one third set it as a top priority and another third as a medium priority. Similar two-third majorities expressed support for the VCEA and membership in RGGI, including about 40% of Republican respondents.

Missing from some of those questions, of course, was any mention of the cost of converting to intermittent wind and solar electricity, costs which have been estimated and are available. The growing electric bill tax that is imposed by RGGI was never mentioned. Bring those into the poll question and suddenly voters respond very differently. Suddenly their doubts blossom, as a Thomas Jefferson Institute-sponsored poll showed. With the price tag attached, even Democrats disliked RGGI.

But the price tags remain unknown, sometimes hidden and buried, and will now be obscured by government-driven inflation and war-driven commodity price hikes. The mainstream media outlets filled with daily climate disaster claims are silent on the costs or risks of the energy conversions they tout. Abundant evidence that the climate catastrophe narrative is false on some points and debatable on others never makes the local paper or nightly news.

The physics behind our climate remains a controversial mystery. Inertia is something all can understand.

A version of this commentary originally appeared on March 10 in the online Bacon’s Rebellion blog.

Stephen D. Haner
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About Stephen D. Haner

Stephen D. Haner is Senior Fellow for State and Local Tax Policy at the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy. He may be reached at steve@thomasjeffersoninst.org.
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