A group of Virginia-based environmental and conservation groups sued the state Monday over Virginia’s withdrawal from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a carbon-capping agreement encompassing several other East Coast states.

The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Association of Energy Conservation Professionals, Virginia Interfaith Power & Light, Appalachian Voices and Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions. The organizations argued that the state Air Quality Control Board withdrew from RGGI unlawfully, as the state joined the agreement through legislation by the state General Assembly. 

The Air Quality Control Board comprises a majority of Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) appointees, and Youngkin announced his intention to leave the agreement shortly after his election in 2021. Multiple RGGI withdrawal bills died in the Democratic-majority state Senate in the 2023 legislative session.

Virginia is set to remain in RGGI through the end of 2023 even if the Youngkin administration successfully defends the withdrawal.

“It is critical that we continue our participation in RGGI, a proven climate solution,” said SELC senior attorney Nate Benforado. “Virginians know that we need this program and that we have no time to waste. We will be doing everything we can — as quickly as we can — to enforce the law and maintain this successful program.”

RGGI proponents say that the initiative, in which participating states set a cap on carbon emissions through tradable allowances, has saved money without hurting state economies, pointing to economic growth along with declining emissions in those states. Youngkin has blasted the program as a de facto regressive tax on utility customers.

The Youngkin administration has frequently clashed with the divided Legislature on environmental issues. Last year, Youngkin attempted to appoint Trump-era Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler as state secretary of natural resources, naming him to a senior advisory position after the state Senate tabled the nomination.

“The Office of the Attorney General confirmed the State Air Pollution Control Board has the legal authority to take action on the regulatory proposal using the full regulatory process—and the Board voted to do just that—furthering Virginians access to a reliable, affordable, clean, and growing supply of power,” a Youngkin spokesperson told The Hill in a statement. “Virginians will see a lower energy bill in due time because we are withdrawing from RGGI through a regulatory process.”

Updated: 5:17 p.m.