McAuliffe Moves to Cap Utility Carbon Emissions

Governor Terry McAuliffe. Photo credit: Associated Press

Big news yesterday: Governor Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order to cap greenhouse gas emissions from Virginia power plants. Unfortunately, I’m out of town on personal business today, so I don’t have time for anything more than a cursory analysis.

Said McAuliffe in a press release: ““The threat of climate change is real, and we have a shared responsibility to confront it. 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. Beginning today, Virginia will lead the way to cut carbon and lean in on the clean energy future.”

McAuliffe’s press release cited the job-creation benefits that would come from a shift from fossil fuels to solar energy. Last year, as solar production took off in Virginia, the solar industry employed 3,236 workers — twice the number supported by coal. McAuliffe said also invoked sea level rise to justify his move:

Virginia is already experiencing the effects of climate change in its coastal regions due to rising sea levels. The threat from frequent storm surges and flooding could cost the Commonwealth close to $100 billion dollars for residential property alone. The impacts extend far beyond our coast, as half of Virginia’s counties face increased risk of water shortages by 2050 resulting from climate-related weather shifts.

The action now moves to the Department of Environmental Quality, which the governor ordered to write the regulations.

Bacon’s bottom line: McAuliffe’s move will generate headlines and plenty of political heat — Republicans have already announced their opposition to what they call the governor’s executive overreach — but it’s far from clear what practical impact the move will have. Acknowledging that the cost of solar energy has plummeted, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power already have forecast that they will move heavily toward renewable energy sources over the next 25 years.

The press release spoke of a “cap” on greenhouse gases and new regulations that will “reduce” carbon emissions — not merely reduce carbon intensity (carbon dioxide emitted per kilowatt of energy produced). It is possible to reduce the carbon intensity of the electric generating fleet while allowing total carbon emissions to increase, albeit it at a much slower rate, as the economy grows. If Virginia caps carbon emissions, Dominion and Apco might be required to close additional coal-fired power stations, and it is unlikely that Dominion would build a planned gas-fired power plant in the early 2020s. Cancellation of that facility could undermine the economics of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, construction of which McAuliffe has said he supports.

Expect trench warfare between utilities, environmentalists and consumer advocates in the DEQ hearings discussing how to implement the carbon caps. Also expect General Assembly Republicans to challenge McAuliffe’s legal authority to implement a cap.

Update: Apco spokesman John Shepelwich submits the following correction: “Appalachian Power no longer operates any coal-fueled power generation in Virginia and has not since 2015. Two of the three units of our Clinch River Plant in Russell County were converted from coal to natural gas; that plant is scheduled to be retired in 2026.”

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24 responses to “McAuliffe Moves to Cap Utility Carbon Emissions

  1. The problem is we are between a rock and a hard place. Virginia is historically a nuclear state. As our nuclear facilities age, we have limited options. If we put a ban on further natural gas, then that leaves North Anna 3 and new nuclear plants or very expensive off-shore wind. Of those options, I’d probably rather off-shore wind, but natural gas is preferable over both of those options to me at the current time, based on resources available to Virginia. It’s OK for for states with lots of wind resources to rely on that. But VA doesn’t have that wind resource on-shore where it is cost-effective. To some extent we have to play with the cards we are dealt, and natural gas is a card that Virginia was dealt, much to the chagrin of Virginia eco-groups.

  2. Jim – I think you grossly overstated what McAuliffe did. He didn’t issue an executive order capping carbon emissions. Rather, he directed state government to draft a proposed regulation to that effect that will be subject to the normal rulemaking process. Procedurally, I’m not troubled by what he is doing.

    Substantively, it’s another matter. I saw no reference to any sections of the Virginia Code that provides for the authority of DEQ to regulate carbon emissions. The law may allow for it. But the Governor needs to cite statutory authority or a court case. I want to see references to the laws that give DEQ authority to regulate carbon.

  3. I think McAuliffe finally figured out what Dominion’s “plan” is.. which basically is to build more gas plants to burn gas as base-load instead of using gas only as a backup fuel for solar… i.e. to use solar whenever we can and burn gas only when we have to.

    Now.. to find out that the ACP may not be financially viable unless more gas plants burning gas for baseload … is confirmation as to why Dominion is no fan of solar.. wants to restrict it in 3rd party and take it’s sweet time getting it built.

    I’d submit that’s not a good plan – irrespective of carbon.. it’s a dumb plan for ratepayers.. who are going to pay for gas much more often when they could be paying for solar.. when solar is available.

    If you bring in PGM as I’m sure Tom and Acbar will – what in the world is Dominion thinking ?? there using Virginia’s ratepayers to build gas plants and a pipeline so they can sell electricity to PJM at low bid?

    It’s pretty clear that McAuliffe is going to get rolled by Dominions buddies in the GA but give him credit for more spine than others

  4. Pingback: Va. Governor Executive Directive on Reducing Carbon Emissions from Power Plants; Issued May 16, 2017 | Virginia Water Central News Grouper

  5. yes.. apparently Dominion is projecting … INCREASED emissions – at the same time it wants to not install solar and instead burn gas for baseload.

    that’s totally not in the best interests of anyone except for Dominion’s revenues.

    that’s wholly unconscionable in an era where solar has arrived as a cheap and viable source of electricity… cheaper than gas and no carbon! why in the world would DOminion NOT take advantage of a lower cost, less polluting fuel to NOT increase carbon emissions?

    this is where regulations come from… when a company chooses what is best for itself – over the interests of the public… to the expense of the public – and the environment.

    • Customers need to file a complaint against Dominion and demonstrate that its proposed operations and pricing are not just and reasonable.

      And if McAuliffe can show a state statute that provides authority for DEQ to regulate carbon emissions, procedurally what he’s doing is OK. A governor can certainly direct a state agency to propose a new or amended rule. But the agency (and the Governor) must be able show that the General Assembly enacted a law giving DEQ authority to regulate and cap carbon emissions. I didn’t see that reference in McAuliffe’s directive and without it, the proposed rule cannot lawfully be enacted any more than VDOT can propose a rule that regulates whether I park on the street, my driveway or (somehow among my wife’s storage) in the garage.

      Funny how so many people complain that Trump acts without statutory authority, but want other elected officials to do the same. Like the little twerp of a lawyer from the ACLU who argued Trump cannot impose restrictions on immigration from certain middle eastern nations, but Hillary could.

  6. Regarding the governor’s authority to do this – here is an excerpt from a Richmond-Times Dispatch article on May 12:

    Virginia’s attorney general says the state’s Air Pollution Control Board can legally regulate greenhouse gas emissions, including setting a statewide cap “for all new and existing fossil fuel plants,” in response to a request by a state delegate for an advisory opinion.

    The three-page opinion by Attorney General Mark R. Herring was issued Friday in response to a request by Del. David J. Toscano, D-Charlottesville, and comes as a working group assembled by Gov. Terry McAuliffe prepares to deliver its recommendations on executive action to reduce carbon pollution from power plants.

    Herring’s opinion says the air pollution board is the entity legally authorized to regulate “all sources of air pollution in the commonwealth” and has regulated carbon emissions and greenhouse gases, which also include nitrous oxide, methane, hydrofluorocarbons and other emissions, since 2011.

    “The overwhelming body of scientific literature demonstrates a growing consensus among scientists studying carbon dioxide that it contributes to elevated global temperatures and may be harmful to the welfare of people, animals and property,” Herring wrote. “Thus I conclude that GHG (greenhouse gases), including carbon emissions, are air pollution by definition and can be regulated by the board.”

    “Its authority is not limited to establishing and maintaining only a permitting system,” wrote Herring, adding that the board has “broad statutory authority” to abate and control all sources of air pollution in Virginia. “Based on these authorities, I conclude that the board has the authority to establish a statewide cap on GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions for all new and existing fossil fuel electric generating plants as a means of abating and controlling such emissions.”

    We will have to wait and see if this will apply to GHGs or just carbon.

  7. I don’t buy the argument that carbon emissions are air pollution. They are not noxious and do not cause medical harm. There needs to be a new statute granting DEQ authority to regulate carbon emissions. If McAuliffe can twist the law expansively, the next or a future governor can twist it backwards. This is the reason we got a Donald Trump in the White House because of power-grabbing turds who cannot work compromise on legislation.

    Go to the General Assembly and put together a bill that will pass. Not one that will keep the Sierra Club happy, but one that will satisfy the Sierra Club and the Club for Growth.

    • Agreed that CO2 is not an air toxic.
      When I attended a DEQ-sponsored Clean Power Plan public meeting in Fairfax, there was a representative from (I believe Amer Lung Assoc) citing how many deaths per year EPA said CO2 emissions were causing. But these deaths have nothing to do with CO2. They were talking about EPA-estimates of U.S. deaths caused particulates coming from coal burning.

      So when I made my written comments to Virginia DEQ, I pointed out that the DEQ needs to correct the record and advise the public that CO2 itself is completely non-toxic.

  8. “Expect trench warfare between utilities, environmentalists and consumer advocates in the DEQ hearings discussing how to implement the carbon caps.”

    We don’t need to to have a fight between having enough energy and protecting ratepayers and the environment. The new energy technologies are the best answer to all of those issues. They are just not the best answer for our utilities at the moment.

    Dominion is hungry for revenues. That is what currently keeps the stock price up. More power plants and pipelines are revenue creators, even though they are not needed. If we could realign their incentives so they can also benefit from the solutions that are good for the ratepayers and the environment, much of this brouhaha would go away.

    Why should we waste so much time and energy arguing about a 20th century issue? Instead, let’s collaborate on innovative solutions that serve all of the interests. Virginia is already falling behind other states that are embarking on a 21st century energy system. Why should we put ourselves even farther behind and create even greater divisions between us? Let’s change the narrative and get moving forward not sideways.

    • So why aren’t we looking at pushing lower cost, as reliable, renewable sources of electricity, rather than engaging in a multi-year, bloody fight over carbon emission caps? Because carbon caps are all about political as opposed to electric power and trying to gouge more money from ordinary people for others to use at their whim.

      It’s like the BS we in McLean and Vienna heard about urban growth at Tysons. It was going to take cars off the road and reduce carbon emissions, along with air pollution. The result has been more traffic that exceeds the capacity of the American Legion Bridge and the Maryland Beltway to the I-270 spur. And the overflow traffic has been taking over local streets in neighborhoods to the point where many people cannot get out of their driveways much less their neighborhoods. Environmentalism was once again used as the means to transfer money from the public to a few landowners that has also diminished the quality of life for Tysons neighbors. State regulation of carbon emissions will also wind up screwing the public.

      What if McAuliffe had assembled a panel of competing stakeholders and told them he wanted consensus for a bill or he’d do nothing environmentally, but would seek to overturn the Dominion rate freeze? I bet we’d have a plan to increase the use of renewables and keep power flowing for economic growth and the quality of life.

  9. It don’t matter what McAuliffe legal authority is right now – as the GA is going to do whatever it can to neuter it later.

    re: ” Funny how so many people complain that Trump acts without statutory authority, but want other elected officials to do the same. ”

    well no… it seems like both sides want such acts done by the executve when the legislature won’t agree.. and the whole mess goes back and forth and to the courts… but TMT – don’t be claiming no special virtue for the guys you support…

    re: carbon pollution..

    so I guess you donj’t think CFCs should be regulated either?

    come on TMT – the definition of “pollution” has changed from an earlier understanding that lacked enough information to be able to classify things that CAN cause harm on a bigger scale even if not on a direct local scale.

    Do you “think” stormwater runoff is “pollution”.. Isn’t that how Fairfax evaded the law on a technicality… of whether the EPA could regulate THAT KIND of pollution? The SCOTUS, by the way, DID rule that CO2 IS a pollutant that CAN be regulated.

    so , you’d challenge the current regulations for CFCs as not legal because they don’t directly harm people?

  10. re: ” So why aren’t we looking at pushing lower cost, as reliable, renewable sources of electricity, rather than engaging in a multi-year, bloody fight over carbon emission caps? ”

    because DOminion has made it clear they have no interest in LOWERING emissions… by using less polluting fuels.. AND to prevent others , 3rd party from developing more solar.

    HOW do you convince Dominion to stop the path they are currently on which is to burn more gas … increase emissions … rather than use more solar and reduce emissions?

    • Larry – the push for Dominion to cooperate is the promise to work in the General Assembly to eliminate the current rate freeze that is allowing Dominion to keep extremely high profits. When everyone has something to lose and something to gain, they will come to the table. I also suspect the Governor’s office could file a complaint against Dominion before the VSCC and challenge its operations and pricing as unreasonable. Dominion doesn’t want that. Compromise is possible.

      The constant back and forth of unilateral action is tearing the United States apart. Ditto for Virginia. If one Governor or President can do something beyond the statute, the next one can undo it just as easily. Obama designated a large part of Utah as a wilderness area to foreclose exploration for oil, gas and minerals. There’s case law holding a president can remove lands from the designation. Tit for tat. The better course of action would be for Obama to have negotiated with the Utah delegation to come up with a compromise bill that could not be changed by executive fiat.

      Fairfax County was able to bring the landowners/developers and representatives of the neighboring communities to agree on a compromise plan for Tysons. There was no blood fight before the Planning Commission or the BoS. While there are tensions in implementation, both sides tend to defend the basic agreement reached in 2010. McAuliffe could try the same approach. He’s got the bully pulpit. He’s been able to work with the GA to come up with budgets with only a few scuffles. He could do the same on energy and in a manner that won’t provoke a successor to reverse his actions.

      • TMT – Obama has been gone for a while now… guy…

        and all this talk about compromise – where was it when Obama was advocating for it..on things like health care and immigration?

        Don’t blame Obama guy – the Republicans themselves cannot compromise even among themselves – that’s why you STILL have no compromise on health care nor immigration – and it’s because the GOP itself refuses to compromise.

        same deal with the GOP and McAuliffe… they threaten to stop him in full and he pushes back.. and I’m quite sure he would have done a compromise for MedicAid Expansion but no deal…

        you know it guy.. “compromise” is a different word to the GOP these days.. it’s means do it my way or we shut down.

        • Larry – Obamacare did not pass Congress until 2010. The bill wasn’t introduced until September 2009. So you seem to be holding the two parties to different time standards.

          Obama could have gotten an immigration bill passed even under GOP control of Congress if he had enforced the existing laws and just have controlled the borders. Arrests of illegals are up 38% since 2016. No one trusted Obama to enforce the law. Americans were generally open to merciful treatment of people already here without criminal records, but they didn’t like the open borders permitted by Obama. So why enact a new one that he wouldn’t enforce. How do you think Trump captured all those people who had previously voted for Obama in places like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin? They didn’t trust Obama on immigration anymore and Hillary promised to outdo Obama.

          Similarly had Obama admitted he could not implement the Paris Accord or the deal with Iran without consent of the Senate, he might have had a chance to work out deals. He was Mr. Unilateral and in areas where he clearly had no authority.

          Of our recent Governors, only Warner and McDonnell really knew how to work both sides of the aisle. McAuliffe sometimes, but it seems he wants to appease the looney left.

          Medicaid expansion would be financially insane. Medicaid costs are already the fastest growing part of the budget and adding on to an out-of-control expense item is plain stupid.

          And this goes to prove what I’ve been saying for months, you folks on the left want to spend more on transportation, health care, higher energy costs (carbon fee), education. There are no priorities on the left — just more and more and more.

  11. Terry has gone into “noise making mode”. He tried to veto some provisions of the annual budget without vetoing the entire item. The Virginia Constitution and legal precedent in Virginia don’t allow this. It was so plain that the clerk of the General assembly wouldn’t even print the veto. However, Terry then ordered state agencies to act as if his partial line item veto was approved. He seems certain to lost this one.

    I think TooMany Taxes is right about McAuliffe’s authority to regulate carbon emissions by executive fiat. While he is trying to do the right thing it doesn’t seem like he has the authority to do this.

    Now I like Terry McAuliffe. He hasn’t done much as governor but the General Assembly hasn’t given him much of a chance. I actually think that’s a good thing. Given Virginia’s idiotic love of Dillon’s Rule, the less the state government does the better. Our General Assembly is at its best when one of the members is waving around an assault rifle during the session or playing basketball games or waxing poetic about some recently deceased Virginian. It’s when they start passing laws that everything goes to hell in a handbasket. Terry has helped that along with a record number of vetoes. Good for him.

    Terry now faces the reality of being out of office in eight months without the ability to run for reelection. Both US Senate seats are safely in Democratic hands. His dreams of serving out the remainder of Little Timmy Kaine’s senate term went down the drain when J. Edgar Comey decided to scuttle the Clinton campaign (with ample help from Clinton and Kaine).

    Even Terry’s detractors know he’s not stupid. However, even Terry’s fans know it’s always all about Terry when it comes to what Terry does.

    So … why the sudden fascination with late stage noise making? Why take futile actions when you have no office to run for over the three years after you leave office?

    Unless ….

    Could our boy be eyeing Barbara Comstock’s House of Representatives seat?

    Babs seems like she’s running a little scared. She’s developing snowflake tendencies even voting against Trumpcare.

    Imagine it’s 2020. Terry can spend the three years in the run up to the next presidential election building golf carts in China or … serving a term in the US House of Representatives. Trump could easily be a one term president giving 63 year old McAuliffe a crack at any number of positions – VP, Secretary of Commerce, Secretary of Labor, Ambassador to Ireland.

    Terry always has a plan. What’s his plan here?

  12. re: “Terry’s Plan…

    is more thoughtful and productive than the yahoos in the Va GA.. by a long shot and he got his felons rights restored despite the obfuscation… and I’m quite sure would have been more than willing to do a compromise on Medicaid.

    THe GOP in Va essentially has done to McAuliffe what the national GOP did to Obama…

    and on the national monuments issue – every single POTUS for the last half dozen.. GOP or DEM has – toward the end of their term done the National Monuments.. and the irony is that the idiots in Utah – while they are running their traps about Bear Ears are, at the same time , running tourism spots to come see their “Fantastic 5 National Parks”

    • Uh oh – the comprehension bear has again jumped out of his tree and landed on Larry’s back. Terry is positioning. You only do that if you are positioning for something. What is he positioning for?

      • You’re probably more perceptive than I… I think McAuliffe is ambitious… but I’m not sure if he strongly politically ambitious as you seem to think.

        There is no question he has political capital from his fairly successful tenure… or at least a tenure not marked by scandal and incompetence .. and actually stood up to the GOP fools.

        so yeah.. he’s not retiring off to a villa somewhere.. but we’ll see.

        • He has limited options based on the political circumstances at the national and state levels. I was guessing that he’d go back into private business with some new wild and crazy deal. But then he started drawing attention to himself in odd ways. His actions bolster his “street cred” with the left but won’t make any real difference in Virginia (IMO). So, I speculate that he may have near term political aspirations after all. He isn’t going to work in the Trump Administration. He isn’t going to challenge Kaine or Warner. What’s left?

  13. re: ” Similarly had Obama admitted he could not implement the Paris Accord or the deal with Iran without consent of the Senate, he might have had a chance to work out deals. He was Mr. Unilateral and in areas where he clearly had no authority.”

    you got a bad memory TMT.. he TRIED to do things with the GOP Congress but they were bound and determined to DENY him anything at all… and so he did went ahead without them.

    you can’t refuse to do anything then claim the other guy ran around you – unless of course you’re the GOP…

    I love the “victim” game here.. and 8 years of the GOP doing everything they could to – do nothing…. to deny Obama from doing anything… and these idiots spent 8 years blathering repeal and replace and they cannot even agree among themselves what Replace was… they had no clue.. and still do not.

    TMT – picking the GOP as aggrieved heroes… is pretty comical… these dolts could not find their back ends if it was not attached. Look at them right now.. they own both houses and the POTUs and look at what they’re doing!

  14. Pingback: Reducing Carbon Emissions from Power Plants in Virginia – Public Hearings in March 2018 on Proposed Carbon-trading Regulation; Proposal Follows Gov. Executive Directive Issued May 16, 2017 | Virginia Water Central News Grouper

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