Virginia’s McAuliffe Orders State Plan to Curb Power Plants’ Emissions

Published July 12, 2017

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) has ordered the state’s air-quality regulators to draw up a comprehensive plan to limit carbon-dioxide emissions from Virginia’s power plants.

At a May 16 press conference in Alexandria, McAuliffe announced the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s Air Division would begin crafting rules to mandate limits on carbon-dioxide emissions from fossil-fuel-fired power plants. The regulations are to be presented to the state’s Air Pollution Control Board by the end of the year.

In the run-up to McAuliffe’s announcement, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) on May 12 said current law gives the board the authority to treat carbon dioxide as a pollutant and to regulate it. The entire process was set in motion in 2016, when McAuliffe issued an executive order establishing a working group to recommend ways to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants.

“The threat of climate change is real, and we have a shared responsibility to confront it,” McAuliffe said at the Alexandria press conference. “As the federal government abdicates its role on this important issue, it is critical for states to fill the void.”

Following Obama’s Playbook

With Republicans in control of both houses of the Virginia General Assembly, McAuliffe has been largely stymied from pursuing his policy agenda through legislation. In his final year in office, he has increasingly turned to executive action to achieve his political goals, including his climate agenda.

By claiming executive authority to create what is, in effect, a state Clean Power Plan (CPP), McAuliffe is borrowing a page from former President Barack Obama’s playbook. Unable to get Congress to approve his nationwide cap-and-trade-legislation, Obama instructed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to limit greenhouse-gas emissions through regulations, which ultimately resulted in the CPP.

Chris Horner, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, says McAuliffe is copying Obama’s methods.

“Gov. McAuliffe’s imposition of the ‘climate’ agenda on Virginians tracks President Obama’s own approach perfectly,” Horner said. “When the proper democratic process does not produce the desired results, declare existing laws are really global-warming laws and give yourself the desired authority to limit greenhouse-gas emissions on your own.

“McAuliffe even relies on the Obama EPA endangerment finding,” said Horner. “It reminds us of the importance of the Trump [administration’s] EPA revisiting that outcome-oriented weapon, which, until it is withdrawn, will serve as the supposed rationale for this campaign in every state where a progressive occupies the governor’s mansion.”

New York State of Mind

Craig Rucker, executive director of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, says Virginia should not follow the lead of states restricting their energy production.

“McAuliffe is pointing to a future Virginians should reject,” Rucker said. “New York, my home state, has abundant natural gas in its part of the energy-rich Marcellus Shale, but Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo, through his fracking ban, denies New Yorkers the benefits of the affordable and reliable energy that lies beneath their feet.”

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.