In Virginia, the picture is murkier. In August, after state lawmakers banned the Department of Environmental Quality, or DEQ, from implementing the Clean Power Plan, Gov. McAuliffe offered a workaround: He convened a cabinet-level commission to examine what he could do under state law to cut carbon emissions from Virginia’s power sector. The group is holding “listening sessions” and in May of next year will make recommendations.
Molly Ward, McAuliffe’s natural resources secretary, who chairs the commission, said the group will focus on measures the governor could undertake without legislative approval and before his term expires in January 2018.
“The governor states over and over again that climate change is real, and the time is now to act,” she said.
The state’s dominant utility, Dominion Virginia Power, prefers an approach that would allow it to build natural gas plants and, in one scenario, a nuclear unit.
In a 2016 planning document filed with the state, the company acknowledges that “future regulation will require it to address carbon and carbon emissions in some form beyond what is required today.” Yet Dominion is forecasting a significant boost in carbon emissions from its own facilities, data submitted by the company to the state show. Its preferred plan would yield 49 million tons of carbon emissions in 2041 — 80 percent more than it put out in 2012. Because the Clean Power Plan applies only to existing facilities, Dominion could boost carbon pollution without being out of compliance.
In an interview with the Center for Public Integrity, Dominion officials defended the company’s preferred approach and confirmed its carbon projections. But they said the company would still meet the Clean Power Plan’s requirements if the projections proved to be true.
“The goal is to be in compliance with the rule, and the goal of the rule was to reduce emissions from existing sources,” said one Dominion official who asked not to be quoted by name, noting that carbon emissions from new gas plants are covered under a separate regulation.
A Dominion spokesperson declined to comment on what a Trump administration might mean for the utility’s plans.
Given Dominion’s stated intentions, environmental groups are pushing Virginia to cap the total amount of carbon emitted by all power plants. The state has yet to make any decisions, said Michael Dowd, chief of the DEQ’s air division, though his department and the governor’s office “want to do what’s right.”
Tuere Brown, meanwhile, waits for the next flood. Until the 1980s, scientists estimate, Hampton Roads averaged about 20 hours of minor flooding a year. Now it’s 200 — and counting. High tides block major roads to Old Dominion University, Naval Station Norfolk and Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. The puniest of rain storms can isolate neighborhoods. Already, Brown has lost a car engine to flood waters and had to carry schoolchildren, knee-deep in water, to higher ground.
She wonders what else might happen as the sea creeps inland.