Front Porch Blog

Support shown for the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative with a “march backwards”

Rally opposed Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s efforts to get Virginia out of the program, which provides money for energy efficiency and flood protection

Participants in the Backwards March to support Virginia's involvement in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative listen to speakers explain the benefits of the program. Photo by Jen Lawhorne

Participants in the Backwards March to support Virginia’s involvement in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative listen to speakers explain the benefits of the program. Photo by Jen Lawhorne

Virtual rally for RGGI!

Gov. Glenn Youngkin wants to remove Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a program that has provided millions of dollars for energy efficiency and flood prevention programs while incentivizing polluters to cut carbon emissions.

Join us on Wednesday, Aug. 3 at 6 p.m. to learn about the threats facing RGGI.

Then call Youngkin’s office to tell him why the program is so important for Virginia!

By Finn Pollard
Virginia Grassroots Organizing Assistant
Appalachian Voices

On July 1, I attended a unique event — a “Backwards March” in Richmond, Virginia. Participants met by the bell tower on the capitol grounds, only a thousand feet or so from where legislators just two years prior had voted to join Virginia to the RGGI — the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. We gathered to show our discontent with Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s attempts to roll back environmental regulations, RGGI included.

Before the rally, I understood RGGI to be a collective effort between states to limit the amount of pollution emitted by power plants. In essence, this is correct, but I didn’t understand why it was important to the day-to-day life of Virginians other than helping to diminish the effects of climate change. As the speakers from various organizations explained how it took years of effort, by many of the same people there, to get Virginia to join RGGI, I started to see.

Marchers rallied support for Virginia's continued participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Photo by Jen Lawhorne

Marchers rallied support for Virginia’s continued participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Photo by Jen Lawhorne

They explained how RGGI is a group of 11 states on the East Coast, Virginia now included, whose purpose is to limit the amount of carbon produced by large power plants — those producing above 25 megawatts of electricity every day. To do this, the amount of carbon produced by these plants is added up and then converted into “allowances” — one “allowance” represents permission to emit one ton of carbon — that power plants can bid on. Because there are a limited number of allowances, and that limit is lowered over time, there is an incentive for utilities to pollute less. The more tons of carbon released from big power plants in the region, the higher demand for the allowances, which makes the allowances more expensive. The RGGI program allows utilities to keep burning fossil fuels if they would like, but over time, fewer allowances will be available, making the remaining ones more costly. So, it is an incentive to stop burning fossil fuels and switch over to green energy.

Speakers from different organizations including Chesapeake Climate Action Network and Virginia Interfaith Power & Light explained Virginia was finally able to join RGGI with the passage of a much larger bill in 2020 called the Clean Energy and Community Flood Preparedness Act. But Governor Youngkin has made a concerted effort to roll back a lot of important climate initiatives, RGGI included, and this is why we were walking backwards. It was symbolic of the rollback on climate progress that was happening in Virginia.

A brass band helped liven the scene during the march. Photo by Jessica Sims

A brass band helped liven the scene during the march. Photo by Jessica Sims

Everyone there understood that what we were protesting was an incredibly sad thing, but everyone responded creatively and tried to keep it lighthearted, with the brass band trio that played in-between the speakers — and the act of walking backwards was in and of itself a bit humorous.

Still the question remained, “how does RGGI help Virginians in their day-to-day life besides helping prevent large scale climate catastrophe?” Kidest Gebre from Virginia Interfaith and Power & Light spoke about how the money utilities spend on allowance goes directly to communities. It helps to lower energy bills and to make buildings more energy efficient, which results in lower utility bills. Lower utility bills mean more money for households to put back into the economy. And more energy-efficient housing means less energy is needed from large carbon-emitting power plants, which means the power plants will need to buy fewer allowances. Participation in RGGI also brings revenue into the Community Flood Preparedness Fund, which helps with flood prevention and resilience efforts. Being a part of RGGI allows Virginia to be a part of a positive feedback loop. Gebre said that in the first year Virginia has officially been in RGGI there has been astronomical success, including hundreds of millions in funding for flood protection and low-income energy efficiency programs.

Finn Pollard helps spell out RGGI during the Backward March. Photo by Jen Lawhorne

Finn Pollard helps spell out RGGI during the Backward March. Photo by Jen Lawhorne

By the time we started marching, I saw that RGGI’s impact on the daily lives of Virginians extended beyond confronting climate change. While preparing signs to start the march, I was joined by two other people holding a big colorful “R” and the “I”, while I held the two “G”s to spell out RGGI. We walked forward, crossing 9th Street. The crowd stopped for a second, pausing to collect ourselves, and then we started walking backwards. The brass band played music that sounded more at home with a football game than an environmental march.

When we first started marching backwards, I was embarrassed. I’m sure we looked rather silly, to say the least, but no one else seemed to care. I think we knew that our participation in such a visually unique scene would help passers-by see our commitment and prompt them to wonder what inspired this mid-day parade. Maybe they’d want to learn more about the governor’s efforts to roll-back environmental and climate progress that helps the people in their day-to-day life.

RGGI might be seen as a niche issue by some, but it helps so many people. It seemed everyone there was committed to doing their best to ensure Virginia remains in RGGI and committed to climate progress, affordable energy bills, and flood preparedness.

Someone yelled into their megaphone. “What do we want?” The crowd responded enthusiastically: “To stay in RGGI! To stay in RGGI!”

Every year, Appalachian Voices is fortunate to assemble a phenomenal team of rockstar interns from numerous Appalachian and East Coast universities. Enjoy these posts from our interns.


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