Planning in Virginia for Spending Money from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), Part 2

by admin on March 23, 2021

Dominion Energy — Chesterfield Power Station, once the largest coal-fired power plant in VA

Virginia has $43 million in RGGI carbon market revenues. How is it going to spend it?

From an Article by Sarah Vogelsong, Virginia Mercury, March 17, 2021


Flood preparedness in Virginia

Virginia’s top flood officials were also facing a similar windfall — and a similar dilemma. As the recipient of 45 percent of the RGGI funds, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation will get more than $19 million.

As it does with the Department of Housing and Community Development’s money, the RGGI law put some guardrails on the DCR’s new revenue, which would be collected into the Virginia Community Flood Preparedness Fund. The money must be “used solely for the purposes of enhancing flood prevention or protection and coastal resilience.” At least 25 percent must go to projects in low-income areas, and priority must be given to projects using nature-based solutions for “community-scale hazard mitigation.”

“There’s already a little bit of priority that’s written into the code itself, but obviously we need to get a little bit more granular,” said the agency’s deputy director, Russ Baxter.

That task has proven even more difficult than expected. In December, the department issued draft guidelines for how the fund would be administered, attempting to sketch out how it would work, who would be eligible for grants and how those grants might be awarded.

A wave of comments followed, many concerned about the vagueness of the six-page framework.

“The very general nature of the draft guidelines makes it difficult for stakeholders to develop comprehensive and constructive feedback,” wrote one coalition of prominent environmental groups, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Southern Environmental Law Center and Wetlands Watch.

Other fault lines also emerged, particularly concerning the question of whether the money should be available statewide or should prioritize coastal areas like Hampton Roads that are already facing recurrent flooding linked to sea level rise.

“We believe that it is critically important for regional equity to be a guiding principle in the administration of this fund and grant award decisions. … Numerous communities outside of coastal Virginia have significant needs with regard to the data and planning necessary to identify and undertake meaningful climate and flood resilience projects, and it is incumbent upon the state to help bridge those gaps,” wrote Adam Gillenwater of the Piedmont Environmental Council in one.

Norfolk officials, however, rejected that idea, with one characterizing the use of funds for non-coastal areas as “diluting the fund and negating the intended purpose of establishing a dedicated funding source to assist coastal communities with the greatest 21st century challenge that will face the commonwealth: sea level rise.”

Facing competing priorities, the agency has slowed its pace. While final guidelines were expected to be released March 1, Baxter said DCR is now focusing on hammering out the details in a grant manual that will spell out more precisely how the fund would work. That manual will then be released for a 30-day public comment period.

“Things are revving along,” he said. “We’re in the process of making some final decisions.”

Statewide climate planning in Virginia

Final decisions are also on the mind of the Department of Environmental Quality, the agency that has been most intimately involved in Virginia’s participation in RGGI and that will receive 3 percent of its revenues.

“Our relatively small allocation for RGGI pays a big dividend for the state’s ability to invest in climate action,” said Deputy Director Chris Bast.

For DEQ, which has long dealt with a dearth of funding and employees, carbon dollars will go toward new staffing and programming. The agency has already hired someone to lead its efforts to inventory the state’s greenhouse gas emissions and to work with the RGGI program, and it expects to make more hires in the coming months. Other programs that aim to coordinate and chart statewide efforts are being considered, although Bast and Dowd, the Air Division head, said plans are still being developed.

“We have a lot on our plate, a lot of regulations to draft,” said Dowd. But while Dowd emphasized that “culturally, we’ve always gotten a lot done with not a lot of staff,” Bast cast the agency’s task as building up a “climate bureaucracy.”

“That’s what this funding is for, is to help us make sure that within the bureaucracy we can meet that level of ambition that policymakers have implemented,” he said.

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