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Virginia, New York Advance Climate Actions Despite Trump Administration Rollbacks

The Trump administration may be rolling back Obama-era emissions limits, but at least two state governors aren't letting that stop them from taking action to address climate change.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced Tuesday that he has signed a directive instructing the state's Department of Environmental Quality to develop regulations limiting carbon emissions from power plants -- effectively a state version of the Clean Power Plan proposed by the Obama administration's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). McAuliffe has directed that the regulations be submitted for approval by Dec. 31.

Meanwhile, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo -- not exactly known as a friend to the natural gas industry -- announced a new state Methane Reduction Plan this week targeting emissions reductions from landfills, oil and gas infrastructure and agricultural sources. This comes amid recent efforts to undo Obama-era limits on methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.

Pipelines Part of Debate Over VA Energy Future

In Virginia, McAuliffe previously ordered the state's Secretary of Natural Resources to convene a workgroup to study ways to reduce carbon emissions in the state.

"The threat of climate change is real, and we have a shared responsibility to confront it," McAuliffe said. "Once approved, this regulation will reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the Commonwealth's power plants and give rise to the next generation of energy jobs. As the federal government abdicates its role on this important issue, it is critical for states to fill the void. Beginning today, Virginia will lead the way to cut carbon and lean in on the clean energy future."

The governor's office said Virginia's coastal regions are "already experiencing the effects of climate change" and that "the impacts extend far beyond our coast, as half of Virginia's counties face increased risk of water shortages by 2050 resulting from climate-related weather shifts."

A release from the Virginia governor touts growth in the state's solar industry but doesn't mention how natural gas fits into the state's carbon reduction plans.

Two high-profile greenfield natural gas pipelines proposed to cross through Virginia -- the Mountain Valley Pipeline and the Atlantic Coast Pipeline -- have become politically contentious in the state as residents prepare to elect McAuliffe's replacement in November.

McAuliffe, a Democrat, has embraced natural gas pipelines, but Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Perriello has made opposition to Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast part of his campaign platform.

Richmond-based Dominion Resources Inc., a lead backer of Atlantic Coast, has chimed in to wield its political influence. The Washington Postthis week published a letter from Dominion CEO Thomas Farrell to retirees, employees and shareholders highlighting that Atlantic Coast, a 600-mile, 1.5 Bcf/d pipeline, is "one of the largest and most important projects our company has ever undertaken."

The project "is a critical statewide issue, and it has been the subject of some discussion in the ongoing political campaign season," Farrell wrote, before encouraging the company's stakeholders to vote in the upcoming primaries and "take time to review the candidates' positions and see how they stand on critical projects such as the Atlantic Coast Pipeline."

New York Methane Plan Follows Pipeline Denials

In New York, Cuomo's methane reduction plan is part of the state's long-term effort to reduce energy sector emissions by 40% by 2030 and by 80% by 2050 compared with 1990 levels.

"With this action, New York will continue to shrink our carbon footprint by reducing emissions that contribute to climate change," Cuomo said. "This administration has made remarkable progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and with this plan, we take a major step in securing a cleaner, greener New York for all."

Given New York's ban on hydraulic fracturing, Cuomo's methane limits would appear to have limited impact on the upstream natural gas industry, but the plan also proposes "incentive programs for addressing methane leakage in utility and customer-owned pipelines that prioritize safety and climate change mitigation."

New York state has proven hostile territory for pipeline developers in recent years, with the state's Department of Environmental Conservation denying critical water quality permits to National Fuel Gas Co.'s (NFG) Northern Access expansion and the Constitution Pipeline. Both projects have received certificate orders from FERC but have been stalled due to the state's actions.

During a recent earnings conference call, NFG CEO Ronald Tanski went so far as to highlight the "lousy regulatory treatment" the New York-based company has experienced in its home state.

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