The future economy of the Southeastern United States is being built in Virginia. In the past two years alone, the Commonwealth has adopted a host of policies that are rapidly transforming it into the region’s leader in renewable energy and the future of electric vehicles.
Seizing that role was, of course, a climate imperative for Virginia, which already faces the severe effects of carbon pollution. But Virginia’s leaders have also been constrained by the enormous economic opportunities of the transition to clean energy and transportation.
They saw a chance to develop new industries, spur innovation and create jobs – and a pathway for businesses and households to more easily access affordable renewable energy and electric vehicle options that will help them operate more efficiently.
Today, more than 88,000 Virginians work in renewable energy and electric vehicle transportation, including 9,000 in rural Virginia, 60% more than the state’s fossil workforce. And at least 97 Virginia businesses have pledged to power their operations entirely with renewable energy. These numbers will increase as state climate policies gain momentum and attract even more business investment. This is one of the main reasons why such policies have been enthusiastically embraced by major companies operating in the Commonwealth. They know that a clean, sustainable and resilient economy is good for business.
One policy that companies strongly support is the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. RGGI is new to Virginia, which joined the program in 2020, but has a proven track record elsewhere. Since 2009, the cap and trade program to reduce pollution from power plants has helped East Coast states dramatically reduce emissions, nearly twice as fast as the rest of the country. RGGI states, led by Republicans and Democrats, have simultaneously seen their economies grow faster than the national average and utility rates fall even as rates rise in other states.
Virginia raises $228 million in its first year of participating in the carbon market
RGGI is also a critical source of funding to protect Virginia communities from the climate impacts many are already experiencing firsthand. In just one year of Virginia’s participation in the RGGI, its funds have already led to investments of tens of millions of dollars to help cities and towns deal with flood threats. Leaving the RGGI would result in the loss of these funds in the future, as well as significant economic benefits enjoyed by RGGI states. It would also make it much harder for Virginia to meet its legal mandate to run on 100% clean electricity by 2050, which would lead to increased climate pollution and risk worsening the long-term effects of flooding from the sea level rise and extreme weather conditions.
Leaving RGGI and undoing other renewable energy and electric vehicle policies like the Virginia Clean Economy Act and the Clean Cars Standards would not only hurt the climate, but also Virginia’s economy and a key growth industry.
With so much to gain and so much at stake, it’s good to see the Virginia Senate answering the call of the business community and upholding Virginia’s ambitions for renewable energy and clean transportation. As the full General Assembly heads into the final negotiations of this session, the Senate should know that its support has the backing of leading companies who see smart renewable energy and electric vehicle policies are essential to building a healthy business community.
As several major employers – including Mars, IKEA Retail US, Nestlé, Workday and Unilever – wrote in a recent letter to the General Assembly: “Our companies are motivated to invest in places where we can access these kinds of policies.” Let’s make Virginia one of those places.
Anne Kelly is vice president of government relations at Ceres, a nonprofit sustainability organization that works with businesses and investors in Virginia and across the United States to implement sustainability practices and policies. .