Commentary: RGGI is climatically meaningless

By Dr. Patrick Michaels – February 8, 2022

GOV. Glenn Youngkin raised quite a kerfuffle when, even before he took office, he said he would extricate Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). It is the right thing to do.

While he’s at it, he ought to propose that the Virginia legislature repeal the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA), which mandates that utilities’ power production be “carbon free” by 2045, a mere 23.9 years from now. To see how unpopular such measures are when put into action, Youngkin should look across the pond to the U.K., which is about to throw out Tory Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose energy policies are making it unaffordable for many to properly heat their homes. Fortunately, the winter has been mild there so far.

States like Virginia and California are proposing many of the same things that are being executed by Johnson and western Europe (save France). Germany is even shutting down all its carbon-free nuclear plants this year. The power shortfalls caused by heavy reliance on intermittent windmills and remarkably inadvisable solar (the sun is below the horizon half the time and Germany is pretty far north) is forcing Germany to burn more coal and to buy tons of natural gas from Russia at high prices, which will use Deutschland’s green policies to push them around. The natives in Germany are politically restless, too.

Whether Youngkin has the authority to withdraw Virginia from RGGI is debatable, and any legislation to repeal VCEA will never get through the (ever so slightly) Democrat-controlled Senate. But that may change in 2023.

Todd Gilbert, the new speaker in the House of Delegates, noted that RGGI “costs the public a significant amount of money for no tangible benefit,” but the Virginia Democrats tweeted in response that “Glenn refused to accept the basic science of climate change.”

Perhaps we should let Joe Biden’s EPA adjudicate these statements.

For years, it has used a computer model, called the “Model for the Assessment of Greenhouse-Gas Induced Climate Change” (acronymed MAGICC) to determine the climatic effects of various policy proposals.

One can program MAGICC to reduce all U.S. emissions (including Virginia’s) to zero today, and keep them there until 2100. Assuming that the UN’s current climate models are close to correct (they aren’t, and more likely too hot), the amount of global warming that this impossible policy would “save” by 2100 is 0.13°C, an amount that will be very hard to discriminate from the year-to-year noise in global temperatures, which is right around that value.

If anything, RGGI is more than futile. It only applies to electrical generation, and reduces related carbon dioxide emissions about a quarter. Its reductions are a droplet in the U.S. emissions bucket, which itself is now being swamped by China’s.

China burned far more coal than any other nation in 2021, and added more new coal power plants than anyone. These plants take decades to amortize, so they will be belching for the foreseeable future. China said its emissions will stabilize around 2030, which has been expected by energy economists for a long time. But its emissions will then be over three times those of the U.S. per year.

VCEA does reduce our generation emissions to zero by mid-century, but that’s not going to happen with solar and wind, and I doubt our greener friends will permit us to build nukes—which is why, in service of reality, VCEA is going to have to go sometime. The sooner the better—as it is still cold here in the winter, and will be in 2050, regardless of the trajectory of global temperatures. Climate, like politics, is local.

Dr. Patrick J. Michaels is a senior fellow with the Competitive Enterprise Institute. He was state climatologist for Virginia from 1980 through 2007 and is past-president of the American Association of State Climatologists.

This commentary was first published February 8, 2022 at The Free Lance-Star.

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