Northam Sticks to Environmental Priorities; Vetoes Bills Limiting Virginia’s Ability to Combat Pollution

March 20, 2019

Sticking to his environmental priorities, Governor Ralph Northam has vetoed two bills that sought to limit the Commonwealth’s ability to combat air pollution generated from vehicles and power plants.

First, Governor Northam vetoed HB 2269 (Poindexter), which prohibits the Governor or any state agency from adopting any regulation establishing or bringing about the participation by the Commonwealth in the Transportation and Climate Initiative or any other regional transportation sector emissions program. Additionally, HB 2269 stipulated that the Commonwealth could participate in such a program only if the House of Delegates and Senate both adopt resolutions by a super-majority (two-thirds vote) that specifically references and approves the regulatory text proposed for adoption. Should it have become law, this bill would have effectively blocked the Administration from participating in programs like Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ), which currently provides funding to both the Commonwealth and numerous local governments in Virginia for transportation projects and programs to help meet the requirements of the Clean Air Act.

In a similar move, Governor Northam vetoed HB 2611 (Poindexter), which prohibits the Governor or any state agency from adopting any regulation establishing a carbon dioxide cap-and-trade program or bringing about the participation by the Commonwealth in a regional market for the trading of carbon dioxide allowances. Like HB 2269, HB 2611 further stipulated that the Commonwealth could participate in such a program only if the House of Delegates and Senate both adopt resolutions by a super-majority (two-thirds vote) that specifically references and approves the regulatory text proposed for adoption. HB 2611 would have prohibited the Administration from participating in a program like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which would allow Virginia to sell emission allowances through auctions and in turn invest proceeds in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other consumer benefit programs.

Currently, the Air Pollution Control Board has a regulation at the proposed stage that establishes an emissions trading program for Virginia like RGGI. The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), estimates that participation in a such a program would not simply result in a decrease in pollution from power general facilities, but it would also generate approximately $65 million annually beginning in 2020, with yearly reductions of three percent until 2030. Under the proposed regulation, 95 percent of these funds will be passed on to the public through utility rebates, and five percent would be used by the Virginia agencies for further abatement and control of carbon dioxide air pollution.

The General Assembly will reconvene on April 3, 2019 to consider and vote on all of the Governor’s amendments and vetoes. The General Assembly can override a veto by a two-thirds vote of each house, though that is unlikely to happen for either HB 2269 or HB 2611. Both bills passed each chamber by strict party-line votes (HB 2269 passed 50-48 in the House and 21-19 in the Senate while HB 2611 passed 51-48 in the House and 21-19 in the Senate), and no Democrats are likely to switch their votes. Moreover, in 2018 Governor Northam vetoed a similar bill to HB 2611 (HB 1270 (Poindexter)) and the House ultimately sustained the veto.

VACo Contact: Chris McDonald, Esq.

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