Va. governor rejects bill with obstacles for EPA regs

Source: Emily Holden, E&E reporter • Posted: Sunday, March 6, 2016

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) has vetoed a bill that would require state lawmakers to sign off on any plan to meet federal climate regulations for power plants.

McAuliffe, who supports U.S. EPA’s rule, said yesterday on Twitter that the bill would “hamper his ability to implement the Clean Power Plan in a way that works for [Virginia].”

The measure comes in the wake of uncertainty surrounding the Clean Power Plan since the Supreme Court issued a stay of the rule last month.

Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality is meeting monthly with power companies and advocates to sketch out a path forward despite pushback from critics who say planning while the rule is on hold is a waste of resources.

DEQ’s Air Division director, Michael Dowd, has said the bill would have tied the agency’s hands and also required an impractical study on potential outcomes of the rule (ClimateWire, Feb. 22).

The legislation, S.B. 21, originated in the Senate, but a House version, H.B. 2, is now under consideration by the Senate and could also make its way to McAuliffe’s desk.

In a veto statement released yesterday, McAuliffe called the requirement “an impermissible breach of Virginia’s constitutional separation of powers,” explaining that federal law tasks the governor with plans to comply with regulations under the Clean Air Act.

“This process rests squarely in the executive branch of state government,” he added.

The legislative approval bill is not the only Clean Power Plan pushback in the works.

‘Another salvo … in the war on coal’

Last week, House lawmakers also backed, 63-34, an amendment to Virginia’s biennial budget bill that would prevent DEQ from spending money on planning for the rule while the stay is in effect.

A source familiar with DEQ’s funding noted that it’s unclear whether the amendment would prevent officials from continuing meetings of concerned parties and whether it would prohibit the agency from spending money it collects from permits or receives through federal grants.

A recent version of the budget the Legislature is considering included $350,000 for DEQ to contract out the study in the bill McAuliffe has vetoed.

The House and Senate are in the process of reconciling different versions of the budget before the current session concludes at the end of next week.

Delegate Israel O’Quinn (R), who sponsored both the budget amendment and H.B. 2, called the veto “another salvo in the Obama-Clinton-McAuliffe war on coal,” arguing that the Clean Power Plan threatens to raise utility costs, close power plants prematurely and make the energy grid less reliable, according to the Hampton Roads Daily Press.

“This issue impacts far too many Virginians to be left to un-elected bureaucrats, who, by their own admission, do not have the expertise to do the job,” O’Quinn said in a statement cited by the newspaper.

Since the Supreme Court stay on the rule, state government officials have been working out how to proceed, and at least 18 states have stalled their planning work. Leaders of red states that advocate continuing conversations on the rule have faced opposition.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R) wants his state to forge ahead, in case the rule survives, but the state’s Legislature disagrees.

Lawmakers this week approved a bill similar to Virginia’s to prevent spending on the rule. But their version would allow officials to stay involved in Clean Power Plan discussions (ClimateWire, March 2).

The conservative political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity has said it will push state legislatures to resist complying with the rule (ClimateWire, Feb. 5).

Click here to read more about Virginia and the Clean Power Plan.