Statewide environmental news roundup – Nov. 2022

A bald eagle near Harrisonburg. (File Photo by Bruce Stambaugh)

A contributed perspectives piece by the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV)

Editor’s Note: This is the latest installment of a regular series of contributed news roundups about statewide environmental and news. This piece highlights, with links to further coverage in various media outlets, recent environmental news stories of significance to Virginia, with a focus on energy and the environment.

Energy

As noted in our last Perspectives piece, not everyone is happy with the Governor’s recently released Energy Plan. An “advanced energy advocate says … [the] plan ‘falls short’ [and is a] ‘U-turn away from a cleaner and cheaper energy future.’”

The Governor “wants Virginia to be the first state to commercialize [small nuclear reactors, SMRs]”; he wants one located in Southwest Virginia. This technology hasn’t been developed on a large-scale. The Governor said recycling nuclear waste will be a priority. He also said Southwest Virginia could become an “energy epicenter” for the state, the US, and world. An Environment and Energy reporter explained what an SMR is.

There are concerns that the efforts to bring an SMR to Virginia may also lead the state to lift its long‑standing ban on uranium mining. “A Canadian mining venture … is buying a big uranium ore deposit in Pittsylvania County despite Virginia’s 40-year moratorium on mining the radioactive metal.” “The largest uranium deposit in the United States is in Pittsylvania County at a 3,000-acre site …. [A] 1982 moratorium on uranium mining in Virginia has prevented any development of the site for 40 years. Several attempts to repeal the moratorium have been unsuccessful since then. The most recent, in 2013, was so unpopular that it was pulled before even going to committee.”

“With exploration for gold continuing in Buckingham County, a report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found Virginia’s current system of regulating gold mining ‘is not adequate to address the potential impacts’ of commercial extraction.” Piedmont Environmental Council’s “interactive map  shows the location of former gold mine sites in Virginia, and importantly, visually displays each mine site’s ‘OLAC ranking,’ a measure of prioritization for reclamation based on site assessments and potential contamination….”

Mountain Valley Pipeline owners said they “will not rest” until the project is completed. “For the third time in six years, the U.S. Forest Service will study the environmental impact of burrowing a large natural gas pipeline through a 3.5-mile stretch of the Jefferson National Forest. The latest evaluation comes after a federal appeals court rejected two earlier approvals … [because] the Forest Service did not adequately address the erosion and sedimentation to be caused by clearing land and digging a trench for a buried pipe that will traverse steep slopes through federal woodlands in Giles and Montgomery counties.”

Harrisonburg’s Shenandoah Valley Black Heritage Project received funding from several local non‑profits and recently celebrated its newly installed energy efficiency improvements and solar panels with a picnic. “New River Community College recently received state approval to offer a new training program for those interested in becoming a solar technician.”

“Virginia solar developers say stormwater rules could wash away their margins. The state’s Department of Environmental Quality [DEQ] is reviewing proposed stormwater regulations that would treat ground‑mounted solar arrays the same as parking lots, likely requiring developers to acquire more land.” Applications for solar installations–sometimes called solar “farms”–continue. In Pulaski County, Supervisors denied a permit. Planners in Isle of Wight County approved expansion of an existing solar farm. The Amherst County Planning Commission recommended approval of the permit to … operate a utility-scale solar generation facility on a 141-acre tract.” Cumberland County’s Planning Commission recommended approval of a large solar installation on 2,340 acres. “The Depot Solar Facility in Campbell County is the third solar project Appalachian Power has brought online in less than a year. The more‑than-50,000 solar panels produce 15 Megawatts of energy, enough electricity to power 2,600 homes.” “A new solar facility in Charles City boasting over 514,200 panels …, is expected to generate 175 Megawatts. That’s enough to power approximately 30,000 homes — over ten times the number currently in Charles City County.” “A new solar facility in Climax — set to power local homes served by Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative — is nearing the finish line…. [The] 2.8 megawatt facility will be able to supply about 2,100 meters serviced by the cooperative’s substation in Climax….”

Fairfax County’s School Board approved “a pilot rooftop solar power purchase contract at Annandale High School, the first rooftop solar program in the county school system.” “Community Housing Partners’ [CHP] 3,300-plus” apartment and townhouse dwellers [near Christiansburg] will soon be able to take advantage of Dominion Energy’s shared solar program that allows them “to buy their electricity from a solar developer.” Residents of CHP units served by Appalachian Power do not have a similar opportunity. The State Corporation Commission (SCC) is due to release a report soon that will address this disparity.

The State Corporation Commission (SCC) ruled that Dominion shareholders may need to cover costs if performance of Dominion’s offshore wind energy facility doesn’t meet what Dominion said it would deliver. Subsequently, “Dominion Energy … agreed to implement several consumer protections in connection with its massive offshore wind project under a proposed agreement with the office of the Virginia attorney general and other parties …. The proposed agreement, which includes performance reporting requirements and provisions laying out a degree of construction cost sharing, is still subject to final approval by the [SCC].” However, the agreement removes “a performance guarantee Dominion had criticized.” A blogger believes the agreement is not good for ratepayers. Another blogger argued that other East Coast wind projects are “faltering” because of economics. Canary Media reported that “Dominion Energy …agreed to protect customers if costs run over budget or performance falls short of expectations on $10B landmark offshore wind project.” The SCC conducted another hearing on the matter. Those appearing included parties to the agreement. Issues included “wind construction risk” and potential cost overruns. The SCC currently has two of its three Commissioners and one of those announced her resignation effective December 31. At least two Commissioners are needed to make decisions. The General Assembly, which did not fill the vacancy in the September special session called for that purpose, now has two to appoint.

“[Twelve] Local school systems will receive federal grants totaling nearly $11 million for the purchase of electric buses [as part of the federal] … Clean School Bus Program.” Several companies are operating electric trucks in Southwest Virginia. Advocates say states should take advantage of federal money to promote the use of EVs, Virginia included. Charge Up Fairfax is working to assist county residents overcome challenges to charging station access.

“American Climate Partners will work with Dominion to capture carbon in the soil in the company’s largest solar installation at Fort Powhatan…. Measurements of changes in soil carbon caused by the application of biochar which is created from waste wood will occur in the pilot project. Biochar will be placed under the solar panels and carbon reductions will be measure over four years in the pilot study.”

James Madison University’s Center for the Advancement of Clean Energy sponsored its second annual Rocktown Clean Energy Festival on October 29th. The Festival opened “community conversations about renewable energy.” Big Stone Gap received a $1 million grant from the “DOE’s Renewables Advancing Community Energy Resilience (RACER) Funding Program … to ‘improve energy resiliency as the country transitions to new energy technologies.’”

Climate and Environment

“Fairfax County … Board of Supervisors voted to adopt The Resilient Fairfax plan, which analyzes the impacts climate change will bring to the county in coming decades [and] lays out a roadmap to help residents and infrastructure adapt to a warmer and wetter climate.”

Buchanan County residents affected by a flash flood in July continue to experience hardships because of slow recovery efforts and FEMA’s refusal of federal aid. Virginia won’t appeal FEMA’s turndown of individual aid to flood victims. The Appalachian Regional Commission provided a $100,000 grant to pay for a new case manager to assist affected individuals. Recurrent flooding in the Hampton Roads area prompted “17 Hampton Roads cities and counties … [to] oppose [the Governor’s] proposal for Virginia to leave the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative [RGGI],” which provides funds to address flood resilience. “The Virginia Dam Safety, Flood Prevention and Protection Assistance Fund is offering $5 million in grant funding to dam owners in Virginia [for flood resilience]…. {M}ore than 2,600 regulated dam owners are eligible.”

Thanks to Appalachian Regional Commission funding of $1.5 million, “the New River Valley Regional Commission will construct or improve four public launches along the New River Water Trail, as well as expand the New River Trail website, which connects the Water Trail to existing activities and businesses in the area.” The Nature Conservancy awarded “Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment …$2.25 million of [a] USDA-funded [agroforestry] project to help mid-Atlantic and Appalachian farmers reduce carbon emissions, improve water quality, enhance biodiversity, and increase profitability.”

The Virginia “Department of Forestry [worked with The Nature Conservancy to create] … its 200th conservation easement in the Commonwealth…. With the addition of the 1,428-acre property in Wise County known as Pine Mountain, VDOF has now protected 91,597 acres of land, 84,112 acres of forest and nearly 460 miles of streams and rivers. [The easement will] help conserve more than 1,400 acres of managed forests and four miles of headwater streams.” “The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation … awarded a record $14.9 million in grant funding … [to] help conserve 13,955 acres in the Commonwealth.”

Virginia received $22.8 million of federal money for abandoned mine land reclamation projects …, which advocates and officials say will resolve environmental hazards and create well-paying jobs along the way.” DEQ and the Western Virginia Water Authority investigated the source(s) of “forever chemical” contamination in the “South Fork Roanoke River watershed.” “They identified a plant in Elliston that services industrial water treatment equipment.” The chemical is GenX, used in “a “chemical washing process.”

“Negotiations between the city [of Bristol] and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality on a consent order governing actions at the city landfill [were] referred to the state attorney general.” A lawsuit filed by Bristol Tennessee against its “sister city” is still pending. DEQ and the Waste Management Board issued new regulations to “tighten” rules governing landfills. “But the citizen group Virginians for Conservation and Community Rights, an organization that emerged out of local opposition to the proposed Green Ridge landfill in Cumberland County, says the regulations still fail to protect the environment and surrounding communities, particularly when it comes to groundwater contamination. Especially concerning to the group is a continued lack of protections for private wells that lie near landfills.”

“Experts from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Virginia Institute of Marine Science concluded that hypoxic conditions in the Chesapeake Bay are better than average in 2022.” This means that the “Bay has a smaller than average dead zone this year, shortened by cool temperatures and strong winds…. A dead zone is an area of low oxygen that forms in deep Bay waters …. In such an area [are] low-oxygen, or hypoxic, conditions at the bottom of the Bay. This year’s dead zone was determined to be the 10th smallest since 1985.”

Oyster populations in the Chesapeake Bay are showing resilience; “Virginia is the largest oyster producer on the East Coast.” Efforts to restore a Bay watershed species, freshwater mussels, will move forward thanks to “grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation [that] will allow [projects by] the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and James River Association.” “Recreational anglers and environmentalists are ratcheting up their pressure on Virginia leaders to shut down large-scale commercial menhaden harvests in the Chesapeake Bay…. Their ire is directed at … [a] Reedville, VA-based fleet of fishing vessels, guided by spotter planes, [which] is responsible for about 70% of the East Coast menhaden harvest.” State Delegate Tim Anderson introduced a bill “for the next session of the Virginia General Assembly to place a two year moratorium on Atlantic menhaden reduction fishing in Virginia’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay.”

“Investments in agricultural best management practices have positive returns for the economy, according to a report … by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation…. The report found that for every dollar spent on farmers’ best management practices within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, $1.75 is returned through higher sales of goods and services as well as earnings. Investments are also contributing to the creation of an estimated 6,673 jobs annually between 2020 and 2025.”

Check out…

Why not…

  • Skip bagging your leaves this fall? Here’s why.
  • Enjoy some of Virginia’s ample apple harvest.
  • Learn “why Virginia oaks [are] in danger.”
  • Register for the Citizens Climate Lobby Conference – Dec. 3-4, to learn what to expect going into 2023; it’s free. There will be several seminars and sessions helpful for volunteers, including an in‑depth policy look at the Inflation Reduction Act, a workshop about diversity and inclusion outreach in your chapter, and a workshop about conservative climate pillars and volunteer outreach.

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV) is a non-profit, grassroots group in the Central Shenandoah Valley that educates legislators and the public about the implications of the Earth’s worsening climate crisis.


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