President Joe Biden recently announced that, in response to Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. would halt its import of Russian fossil fuels. Republicans are using this action, along with rising fuel prices, to push the U.S. toward increased production of fossil fuels, rather than advocating increased production of renewable energy. This is a big mistake.
U.S.-produced fossil fuels are sold to the highest bidder; they don’t necessarily stay in the U.S. On the other hand, renewable energy that we produce stays here, reducing our dependence on foreign imports. Using renewable energy has additional benefits, namely improving air quality and public health and fighting climate change. Why should the U.S. be moving toward renewable energy? Ending our reliance on fossil fuels would lead to energy independence and environmental security.
In the past few years, Virginia started down the path toward renewable energy. In 2020, Virginia legislators passed the Virginia Clean Economy Act, which requires electric utilities to switch to renewable energy sources by 2050. In 2021, Virginia joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a carbon cap and trade program. Through the program, states set regional limits on carbon pollution from electric utilities. The utilities buy/sell/trade allowances for their carbon emissions, incentivizing utilities to lower their carbon emissions and generating funds for the participating state. RGGI was started by seven states in 2003, and 11 states currently participate. In the last 10 years, RGGI states lowered their electricity prices and decreased utility emissions by half, which improves air quality and public health.
In just one year, RGGI membership brought an extra $228 million to Virginia. With the $228 million from the program in 2021, Virginia funded flood preparedness and energy efficiency projects in cities and towns across the Commonwealth.
In the 2022 Virginia legislative session, the Republican-led House passed several bills that would have weakened or repealed Virginia’s participation in RGGI. These bills would have deprived Virginians of the promise of lower electricity prices, better air quality and health, and millions of dollars.
A recent survey conducted by the Wason Center for Civic Leadership at Christopher Newport University showed that 67% of Virginia voters support participation in RGGI and support the Virginia Clean Economy Act.
Within the past few weeks, Virginia Democrats in the General Assembly were able to stop Republicans’ attempts to block the Commonwealth’s path toward a clean energy economy. The bills failed to pass committee, which means that they are tabled for now.
Assuming that Virginia continues on the road to renewable energy, we can look forward to improved air quality and health, plus millions of dollars for Virginia coffers. Also, in the long term, we will be lowering electricity prices and helping to protect the environment for our children and grandchildren.
Martha Otto is an environmental engineer who recently retired after 35 years at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
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