By Terry Kilgore and George Jamerson

Average Virginians don’t pay close attention to everything that takes place during legislative sessions. Who can blame them? People are busy and the minutiae of legislative sessions are very dull. The people elect representatives to serve them and entrust legislators with the responsibility to make decisions that are in their best interest.

This year, the General Assembly did just that and passed a bill that would prohibit Virginia from enacting a carbon cap-and-trade program or joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) without two-thirds consent from the House of Delegates and state Senate. Unfortunately, Gov. Ralph Northam vetoed the bill for the second consecutive year.

The General Assembly commissioned studies, reviewed the data and found these regulations would be detrimental to Virginia’s economy and residents. The State Corporation Commission found and testified that any carbon tax program would cost ratepayers up to $5.9 billion over the next decade, which translates to an increase of up to $12 per month for the average Virginian’s power bill. Many Virginians remain unaware of the impact this will have on their wallets. The very titles of these programs, “cap-and-trade” and “Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative,” are deceptive by design. These terms provide the smoke and mirrors necessary to hide what these programs truly are: carbon taxes.

Cap-and-trade specifically puts a price on carbon dioxide emissions. Advocates say it is a “market-based” carbon pricing program, but this is simply smoke and mirrors to deceive the public. It is a carbon tax and therefore must be approved by the legislature. Now, the governor is seeking to unilaterally impose these taxes on Virginia by pushing them through state agencies, an action in which he completely lacks authority.

The effort to bypass procedure and the democratic process is alarming, but the lack of transparency with constituents is even more concerning. Has he consulted with gas and coal-fired power plant workers across the state? These men and women stand to lose their jobs, their livelihoods when plants are inevitably, prematurely shut down. The Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center is located in Wise County. It is a crucial engine for the local economy and its closing will further devastate Southwest Virginia, already beset by hard times.

By design, cap-and-trade programs are meant to artificially increase the price of fossil fuel generation, making it less competitive, driving it out of the market. Virginia thrives off a diversified portfolio of energy. It supports economic growth and well-being. Electric rates in Virginia are 12% below national average, and 32% below that of RGGI states. This contributes to a healthy business climate, but these regulations could force an exodus of energy-intensive industries for states with lower costs, such as has happened in RGGI states.

Of course, Virginians must support and promote conservation and environmental stewardship. From the Shenandoah Valley to the Chesapeake Bay, Virginia is home to a plethora of pristine landscapes. Undoubtedly, it is necessary to pursue prudent policies to protect the environment. However, sometimes it is a delicate balancing act between protecting the environment and promoting prosperity.

If imprudent regulatory proposals threaten economic prospects and have only negligible impact on the environment, Virginians, including the governor, ought to reject such measures.

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Terry Kilgore represents Virginia’s 1st District in the House of Delegates, serving since 1993. Contact him at tkilgore@kilgorelawoffice.com.

George Jamerson is the director of government relations at The Heartland Institute, a nonpartisan, free-market think tank, headquartered in Arlington Heights, Ill. Contact him at gjamerson@heartland.org.

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