The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Here’s how states can lead on clean energy

The sun sets on a cross reading "Christ is Life" on a waterway in Tangier, Va., last month. Climate change and rising sea levels threaten the inhabitants of the slowly sinking island. Now measuring 1.2 square miles, Tangier Island has lost two-thirds of its landmass since 1850. It may disappear completely in the next 40 years. (Jim Watson/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, is the governor of Virginia.

Climate change poses a serious threat to every Virginian’s way of life. Unchecked, it will affect everything from our water quality to the air we breathe to whether and where residents can make investments or buy a home.

The Hampton Roads region is the second-most vulnerable area in the United States, behind New Orleans, to the costly impacts of sea-level rise. Because it is home to the largest naval station in the world, sea-level change threatens not only our infrastructure but also our national security.

We also have $92 billion worth of residential property at risk of damage from increased storm surges. Half of Virginia's counties face increased risk of water shortages by 2050 caused by climate-related weather shifts.

Virginia may be particularly vulnerable, but this story is not unique to our state. The effects of climate change will increasingly pose a threat to communities and economies in every corner of the country and the world.

This threat demands an immediate and global response. And many countries have stepped up to the plate. Unfortunately, in the era of President Trump, the United States is not likely to be one of them.

So far, the president and his administration have shirked their responsibility to lead on this issue. Trump ordered the Clean Power Plan to be dismantled, and he has reneged on the United States' commitment to meet goals set at the Paris climate talks.

In the absence of federal leadership, it is up to the states to fill the void. I was proud to put our commonwealth on a list of states and cities dedicated to the principles of the Paris agreement even in the absence of federal leadership. But we were working hard on this issue even before Trump pulled out of Paris.

Last month, I signed an executive directive to begin the process of establishing a statewide cap on carbon dioxide emissions by Virginia's electric utilities. When complete, these regulations will significantly reduce the commonwealth's contribution to global warming and make Virginia a leader in the clean-energy economy.

In the coming decades, clean-energy technology will be a source of incredible economic growth. From 2015 to 2016, solar installations in Virginia nearly quadrupled. The number of Virginians employed by the solar industry rose to 3,236, significantly exceeding the dwindling number of coal jobs in our state.

I am proud that, despite our reputation as a Southern state hostile to renewable energy, Virginia is the first state in the Trump era to take action to cut carbon and create clean-energy jobs. But we cannot meet this threat alone. It is imperative that others pick up the mantle of leadership that Trump dropped.

Each state that steps forward will enhance our national response to this crisis and have the opportunity to contribute to a market-based approach to clean-energy innovation that could transform our economy and create jobs in every corner of the country.

The order I signed directs my administration to develop clean-energy regulations that would allow Virginia utilities to trade carbon credits in a multistate market. By capping carbon emissions and allowing utilities to trade credits, we will create an incentive in Virginia to innovate and provide cleaner and cheaper energy, which benefits our environment and the families and businesses that pay power bills.

As more states take action to participate in these markets, we can work together to cut emissions and costs through innovation. We can begin a new chapter of American energy independence. And we can restore our nation’s standing as a leader in the global response to climate change.

The science is real. And the stakes could not be higher. We simply cannot afford for politicians in Washington to put their party or the special interests ahead of our country. I am proud that our commonwealth is leading the way on climate and energy issues, and I hope my fellow governors will step forward soon. Our states, our economy and our future depend on it.

Read more about this issue:

Brian Deese and Ronald A. Klain: Another deadly consequence of climate change

Michael Gerson: Forget the Paris accord. Here’s what can really fight climate change.

David Ignatius: Not even Trump can easily reverse our progress on climate change

Bill McKibben: Donald Trump is betting against all odds on climate change

The Post’s View: What states can do on climate change