Virginia joined with a coalition of 25 states and municipalities taking legal action Wednesday to defend the federal Clean Power Plan against a challenge in federal appeals court.
Attorney General Mark R. Herring said the coalition is intervening to support the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants and alleviate the impacts of global climate change.
"Here in Virginia, climate change isn't some theoretical idea or academic exercise," Herring said in a conference call with reporters to announce the filing. "Climate change is real. And here in Virginia, we're already dealing with the consequences.
"In the last 75 years, the sea level in Hampton Roads has risen by 2 feet -- 2 feet," he added. "Some projections show an additional 2 to 5 feet of relative sea level rise by the end of the century, and that would literally change the face of our state."
Gov. Terry McAuliffe said he applauds Herring "for standing up for the Clean Power Plan and the benefits it will bring to our environment and our economy." McAuliffe said he wants to make clean energy technology a centerpiece of the new Virginia economy.
The coalition filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to intervene in a lawsuit brought by other states and fossil fuel interests that oppose the plan. Opponents consider the plan federal overreach and economically harmful.
The plan requires states to reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants by 32 percent over the next 15 years, compared to 2005 levels, and gives states flexibility in achieving those reductions. The EPA says Virginia has already reduced carbon pollution from the power sector by 16 percent since 2008.
But opponents such as the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) call the rule "deeply flawed."
"Officials preparing for the upcoming climate change talks in Paris should take note of the widespread opposition from policymakers and elected officials across the United States who are working overtime to protect their constituents, state economies and the nation as a whole from the president's reckless pursuit of his climate legacy," Mike Duncan, ACCCE president and CEO, said recently.
Herring and attorneys general from New York, Massachusetts and Iowa, however, said Wednesday that transitioning to cleaner energy is already taking place in their states and achieving health, environmental and economic benefits.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said strategies already in place in her state to reduce carbon emissions are contributing to its "robust, clean-energy economy."
"It's now a $10 billion industry in Massachusetts and growing, employing nearly 88,000 people," Healey said.
In New York, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said the water level in New York Harbor has already risen 12 inches since 1900, leading to worse flooding for thousands of residents.
But between 2005 and 2014, the state already reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent using energy efficiency, he said, "so we believe this is not just an essential of public health and safety, but a very reasonable and doable plan."
Iowa's Attorney General Tom Miller said the power plan is also workable for his state because of its burgeoning wind energy industry. Iowa ranks No. 1 in per capita use of wind energy, he said, with significant job growth in wind energy technology.
Climate change threatens his state's vital agricultural industry, he said, "so we have an enormous stake in dealing with this."
And in Virginia, Herring said, "cleaner air means a healthier environment, a cleaner Chesapeake Bay, a more stable coastline and better yields for our agricultural and forestry industries. And a transition to cleaner forms of energy could be exactly the kind of shot in the arm that we need to grow a real vibrant clean-energy economy here in Virginia. And that's also where the jobs of tomorrow are being created."
Last year, he said, the solar industry created jobs at 20 times the rate of the overall economy, and clean energy construction jobs are projected to reach 3.3 million in the next three years.
After Herring's announcement, the American Lung Association in Virginia said it supported the move, saying the Clean Power Plan when fully implemented will save up to 6,600 premature deaths nationwide each year, and up to 150,000 asthma attacks.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Virginia Sierra Club also supported the move, calling for bipartisan support for clean energy in the state.
Dietrich can be reached by phone at 757-247-7892.