In this week’s newsletter, I discuss Virginia’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), Virginia’s automobile emission standards, share announcements from our local and state partners, highlight community events from this past week, and commemorate Hispanic Heritage Month. Thank you for taking the time to read our newsletter and for staying informed.
Virginia’s Participation in RGGI
Virginia’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) has been in the news frequently over the past several months. Governor Youngkin continues to make the argument that he has the authority to pull Virginia out of this regional cooperation. Members of the General Assembly have countered by pointing out that this decision rests with the legislature – not with the executive branch.
What is RGGI?
RGGI is a carbon emission reduction program; Virginia is a member of RGGI, along with 10 other states within the region. RGGI’s goal is to address the concerns of climate change through a regional cooperative focused on reducing carbon emissions. RGGI establishes carbon pollution caps for our fossil fuel industries and targets the reduction of permitted emissions. RGGI generates funds through the “cap and trade” program, and these funds bring hundreds of millions of dollars into the Commonwealth and support essential programs such as The Community Flood Preparedness Fund and Low-income Energy Efficiency Fund. Knowing that massive flooding threatens Virginians, these funds are essential to the Commonwealth.
RGGI dollars also provide homeowners with support for weatherization programs and upgrades to protect homes from extreme weather caused by climate change. RGGI has helped to place Virginia ahead of many other Southern states in terms of climate action.
Recent Efforts to Pull Virginia out of RGGI
Although Virginia has received over $450 million in revenue from the program and despite RGGI’s success in reducing carbon emissions, the Youngkin administration is now trying to pull Virginia out of the regional cooperation. The Governor made removing Virginia from RGGI a part of his campaign; he also sought legislative action during the 2022 Session. Now, Youngkin’s team has signaled that it will introduce a notice of intended regulatory action.
Contrary to Youngkin’s statements, Virginia’s participation in RGGI is mandated by law, and the Commonwealth’s General Assembly would need to take legislative action to withdraw Virginia from the agreement. The Governor’s unilateral efforts to withdraw Virginia from RGGI will likely face legal challenges.
Regardless, these efforts on the part of the Youngkin team are in line with climate change denial and reflect poorly on the Commonwealth’s opportunity to serve as a regional leader in addressing the growing crisis. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a critical step in responding to increasing global warming, destructive flooding, and severe weather conditions. As Virginia’s own Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) states, “Cap and trade programs like RGGI are a proven, cost-effective way to reduce carbon pollution.” Citizen advocates are actively engaged in the conversations around RGGI, and robust public participation will be critical over the next several months.
Virginia’s Emissions Standards
The California Air Resources Board recently announced its “Advanced Clean Cars II rule,” which establishes a roadmap towards zero-emission vehicles. Essentially, by 2035, 100% of new cars and light trucks sold in California will be zero-emission vehicles, including plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.
Why does California’s rule matter to us in Virginia? California’s recent announcement has received a lot of press and attention here in Virginia because during the 2021 Session, the General Assembly passed legislation to grant the State Air Pollution Control Board authority to adopt California’s low-emission vehicle standards, which are stricter than those imposed by the federal government, as well as its zero-emission vehicle standards which set targets for electric vehicle sales as a proportion of all sales by manufacturers in the state.
As recent news of the California standards broke, some began to argue that Virginia has “ceded” its own regulatory authority to another state. This is a false claim. In reality, Virginia has no regulatory authority over automobile emissions standards because those standards are not decided on a state-by-state basis. Emissions standards are federal policy and are under the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency.
The exception to the federal Clean Air Act is the case of California, which was granted a special waiver well over a decade ago. California’s waiver allows it to adopt standards that are stricter than those of the federal government. This waiver also granted other states the opportunity to follow these stricter standards outlined in California.
In essence, the federal Clean Air Act gives states two choices in vehicle emissions standards: adopt those set by the federal government or those set by California. To date, 14 other states and Washington, D.C., have opted for the latter course, embracing either the low-emission vehicle (LEV standard) alone or both the LEV and the zero-emission vehicles (ZEV) standards. More states will soon likely follow the stricter emissions standards.
Why did the Virginia General Assembly select the stricter standards? By aligning Virginia with the stricter emission standards sooner rather than later, our automobile dealers are now able to compete better for a larger market share of electric vehicles (EVs). Auto manufacturers, including Detroit's Big 3 and leading international brands, have aligned themselves with the 2035 goals of California, and they will be targeting sales in those states that have adopted similar timelines.
For the last several years, a scarcity of available EVs in Virginia has been hurting our automobile dealerships. As popularity and demand for EVs increases, our neighboring states are reaping the benefits; many Virginians are purchasing their EVs from states such as Maryland because Virginia's policies did not incentivize car manufacturers to send a greater number of electric vehicles to our lots. Virginia auto dealers pressed hard for the Commonwealth to follow California emission standards so that Virginia would have a stronger footing as auto manufacturers move increasingly toward zero emission vehicles.
Don Hall, President of Virginia Auto Dealers Association (VADA) made the case that the big automakers “have made the commitment to manufacture and provide EVs, and I don’t want to see Virginia’s dealers be left out in the cold and not have EVs available.”
For the next several years, Virginians will still be able to continue to buy non-electric vehicles; the conversion timeline extends throughout this decade. Additionally, sales of used gasoline-fueled cars will continue well into the next few decades. However, as car manufacturers ramp up production of EVs -- both in the US and globally -- this legislation enables our auto dealers to remain competitive and to be regional leaders.
Community Resource Fest
This Saturday, September 17, from 10:00am until 2:00pm, Councilperson Mike Jones and I will co-host a Community Resource Fest, an event focused on community, connection, and fun. The festival is open to everyone, and we encourage community members to join us to learn about services provided by state agencies, nonprofits, local businesses, and other community organizations. VCU Health, FeedMore, and Brightpoint Community College are just a few of our participating organizations. The event includes opportunities to enjoy ice cream, food, music, participate in children’s activities, and more. We will also be joined by other elected officials. We look forward to seeing our community members on September 17 at Broad Rock Sports Complex (4825 Warwick Road).
COVID Boosters & Flu Vaccines
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent (CDC) recommended the first updated COVID booster vaccination, targeting COVID variants that are more transmissible and immune-evading including Omicron’s BA.5 and BA.4 sub variants. Additional information on booster eligibility can be found at Richmond-Henrico Health District (RHHD). Those interested in receiving the booster can find participating community clinics and pharmacies using vaccines.gov.
In addition to receiving COVID boosters, Fall is also an ideal time to get vaccinated against the flu. Flu activity begins to increase in October, with peak activity occurring between December and February. Information about accessing flu vaccines is available at “Find Flu Vaccines”, and the CDC provides additional information about the seasonal flu.
Library Card Sign-up Month & this Week’s “Banned Book” Selection
September is Library Card Sign-up Month. I encourage community members who do not have a library card to visit one of our local library branches and sign up: Powhatan County Public Library, Richmond Public Library, and Chesterfield County Public Library.
As we continue to highlight the issue of “banned books,” I place a spotlight this week on Maus by Art Spiegelman. Maus is a graphic novel (a literary format that uses sequential art, like a comic book, to tell a story), and it is the first (and so far only) graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize. Published in the 1980s, the novel has been used in advanced middle or high school classes for decades to help students develop awareness about the atrocities of the Holocaust. Set in Poland and tracing Spiegelman’s own family history through conversations with his father, Maus depicts Jewish characters as mice and German Nazis as cats. It is a painful and honest examination of antisemitism, facism, individual valor as well as private cowardice, family trauma, and the horrors of genocide.
This past January, a Tennessee school board decided to ban Maus from the curriculum, and other school districts around the country are engaged in similar discussions. One member of that Tennessee school board insisted that “we can teach them [students] graphic history, we can tell them exactly what happened, but we don’t need all the nakedness and all the other stuff.” I’ve noticed that some individuals who raise objections to “graphic novels” erroneously believe that they are graphic in their depictions of sexuality or violence. Such individuals do not understand that the term “graphic novel” does not refer to a book’s content but is, rather, a literary term used to describe a novel whose narrative is told through sequential art.
Errors and misunderstandings such as these are partially to blame for attacks on books and efforts to ban literary work. Individuals, committees, and school boards that raise objections against books ought first to read those texts and demonstrate some level of comprehension about their subject matter.
Maus examines a subject full of pain and horror. It is hard to imagine how the Holocaust can be made palatable for public consumption. Readers ought to feel visceral anger at the reality that millions suffered and died because of antisemitism and bigotry. Spiegelman’s graphic novel helps readers to understand the scope of genocide through the lens of one family as it struggles with its own profound pain.
Banned Book Week is September 18 - 24. A comprehensive list of banned and challenged books compiled by the American Library Association can be found here.
Richmond Forum Scholars Program
The Richmond Forum is now accepting applications for its Richmond Forum Scholars Program, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for high school juniors to interact with world-renowned speakers as a part of the Richmond Forum event team. This program is open to all high school juniors attending a public or independent school located in the Richmond region, which includes Chesterfield, Hanover, Henrico, and the City of Richmond. More information about the program and application requirements are available here. Applications are due by Friday, September 23.
Richmond Community Conversations with Chief Smith
The Richmond Police Department and Chief of Police, Gerald Smith, will be hosting a series of community conversations for Richmond residents throughout September. Residents are encouraged to attend.
Senate Page Program: Applications are Open
The Senate Page Program is a remarkable educational experience for young Virginians who are interested in being a part of the annual General Assembly, learning about policy making, and engaging directly in state government processes. It is a tradition that has been in place for over 150 years.
Selected pages perform administrative duties, participate in team building, and help with day-to-day operations of the General Assembly. Pages are an integral part of the Capitol during the convening of the General Assembly. Pages live in Richmond throughout the duration of the General Assembly, visiting home on the weekends. The well-structured program provides time for Pages to keep up with schoolwork while also engaging in the direct experiences of government and policy making. More information about the program is available at the Senate Page Program.
Applications are now being accepted for the 2023 Senate Page Program, and the application process remains open until 5:00 pm, October 17. Applicants must be residents of the Commonwealth and either 13 or 14 years old on January 11, the first day of the 2023 session. The application is available here.
On Saturday, I attended the Richmond City Democratic Committee’s Annual Dem-Que alongside Senator Jennifer McClellan, Delegate Betsy Carr, Delegate Delores McQuinn, Councilwoman Katherine Jordan, and numerous others.
This week, I attended the second in-person meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) Early Childhood Fellows program in Denver. Virginia State Senator Jennifer Boysko joined me, and together we’ve learned a lot from the experts and presenters. We look forward to bringing these discussions back to Virginia. Our Early Childhood cohort was joined by the Youth Homelessness Fellows and the Child Welfare Fellows. We’re fortunate to have Senators Adam Ebbin and Barbara Favola representing the Commonwealth in those cohorts.
On Tuesday, my Legislative Assistant presented a commending resolution I sponsored for the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities at its State Board of Directors meeting. VCIC helps foster workplace, school, and community environments that are more welcoming and inclusive, and I am proud to serve as a board member for the Richmond chapter of VCIC
On Tuesday, my Chief of Staff visited Oak Grove-Bellemeade Elementary School to celebrate the school’s recognition as a Special Olympics Unified Champion School. U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona made the official announcement, acknowledging the Oak Grove-Bellemeade community as an inclusive, welcoming place for students of all abilities and backgrounds.
On Tuesday evening, my Chief of Staff had the opportunity to meet with advocates from the Behavioral Commission Collaborators, a group focused on supporting mental health legislation and initiatives in the Commonwealth. Together, they discussed legislative processes and how the General Assembly functions, both in and outside of the legislative session.
Hispanic Heritage Month
September 15 to October 15 is Hispanic Heritage Month, a time to celebrate the invaluable contributions and influence of Latine and Hispanic Americans to the Commonwealth and across the country. We also celebrate the independence of many Latin American countries during this time and recognize the beauty of their rich and individual cultures.
Desde el 15 de septiembre hasta el 15 de octubre es el mes de herencia hispana, un tiempo para celebrar los contribuciones invaluables y la influencia de Americanos latines y hispanos al Commonwealth y alrededor del país. También celebramos la independencia de muchas países latinoamericanos durante este tiempo y reconocemos la belleza de sus culturas ricas y individuas.
Connecting With My Office
My staff continue to hold meetings with constituents via Zoom or by phone. You can sign up for a meeting with either of my staff members with our easy scheduling app: