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Va. governor proposes $733M for environmental, clean energy initiatives

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is proposing to add $733 million to the state budget to fund several environmental and renewable energy programs, including offshore wind and energy efficiency.

Northam, a Democrat, said in a Dec. 11 news release that the funding would create a new office for offshore wind. The governor's budget proposal calls for an investment of up to $40 million to upgrade the Portsmouth Marine Terminal to support a local supply chain, helping the state achieve his Sept. 17 executive order calling for the construction of 2,500 MW of offshore wind capacity by 2026.

In addition, the proposed budget would allot more than $400 million for the state's Chesapeake Bay clean water initiative to focus on stormwater pollution, wastewater treatment plants and farm runoff. About $10 million would go to a revolving loan fund for local governments and residents to invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, with additional funding for a related clean energy financing program.

Northam also proposed removing language that prevents Virginia from participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Northam said he intends to propose legislation to have the state join the RGGI, a market-based cap-and-trade program for state members to reduce emissions from regional power plants by selling nearly all emission allowances through auctions and investing proceeds in energy efficiency projects.

In November, Democrats took control of Virginia's state Legislature following the Nov. 5 general election, opening the possibility for legislators to restart efforts to join the RGGI.

Northam signed the state's budget bill in May but opted against using his line-item veto authority to remove language that bans using state funds for participation in the RGGI. The Virginia Air Pollution Control Board in April adopted a rule to move forward with linking the state to the RGGI and effectively curb total power plant carbon emissions by 30% by 2030.

Dominion Energy Inc., which operates in the state through subsidiary Dominion Energy Virginia, has opposed Virginia participating in the RGGI. The utility has claimed that linking to the RGGI may lead to emissions increases, a phenomenon known as leakage, and would cause rates to go up "considerably in Virginia."

Environmental advocates applauded the governor's proposed budget, which they said underscores the state's commitment to fight climate change and develop a clean energy economy.

"There is no clearer indication that a state is committed to clean energy than using state dollars to fund solutions that will get us closer to a carbon free environment," Southern Environmental Law Center Senior Attorney Will Cleveland said in a statement.