The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Virginians can work together on the climate crisis

A pedestrian walks through flood water on Union Street as heavy rain falls in Old Town Alexandria on Oct. 29. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

Andrea McGimsey, a resident of Loudoun County, is the executive director of the Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions.

My Northern Virginian family has been taking vacations on Assateague and Chincoteague Islands since I was a little girl in the 1970s. I love that national seashore and its magnificent wildlife, and I always look forward to our annual dinner of crab cakes at Bill’s Restaurant. Languid, peaceful days on those wonderful islands are the best that small town America has to offer.

Over the years, I have seen the toll that climate change is taking on the islands, and I worry for the businesses and people in this place I deeply love. For the sake of our coastal communities, Virginia’s elected leaders must act on climate now.

As people of faith, we believe we have a responsibility to protect people and nature. Climate change is the moral and urgent challenge of our time, and we must implement solutions at the scale and pace the science demands. By reducing planet-warming pollution from power plants and making polluters pay, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) has placed Virginia on a strong path to tackle climate change.

Keeping equity in mind when RGGI legislation was passed in 2020, our elected leaders ensured that half of the proceeds from the carbon auctions would directly benefit low-income families. Energy efficiency repairs in nearly every county in Virginia have cut their energy bills by 20 percent on average. Thanks to these investments, we are making the homes of our lowest-income neighbors more comfortable, safer and affordable.

RGGI is also a crucial tool for adapting to the ravages of climate change already baked into the Earth’s system by our profligate burning of fossil fuels. Flood damages in Virginia’s coastal region, for example, are projected to increase from $400 million to $5.1 billion every year over the next 60 years. RGGI-funded projects help communities across the commonwealth prepare for this increasing threat.

Southwest Virginia, for example, has been hit hard in recent years. A devastating deluge in Buchanan County this past summer destroyed 20 homes and tragically took a life. Buchanan received a grant to develop a resilience plan to guard against future damage from more extreme weather. In the second round of grants announced in December, the state awarded $24.5 million across 30 projects, greatly expanding the communities that are benefiting directly from RGGI funds, from Norfolk to Alexandria to Christiansburg. These are the direct, tangible benefits of a program that reduces the threat of climate change and directly takes on its terrible impacts on our fellow Virginians.

For more than a decade, RGGI has been a proven success for our neighbors from Maine to Maryland, reducing pollution and investing in cleaner energy. Republican and Democratic governors alike have supported this regional program — because it works. As a native Virginian, I could not be happier we became the first Southern state to join this common-sense, bipartisan program that powerfully addresses the climate crisis.

There is no time to waste. We are seeing the impacts of climate change today, and the warmer, expanding, surging ocean doesn’t care who is a Republican or Democrat. The stronger sheets of rain running off our mountains and swelling the rivers and creeks of Appalachian valleys don’t care either.

It’s time for all of us to work together to protect Virginians from the looming climate crisis. Let’s stay in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Loading...