Statewide environmental news roundup – March 2023

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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 energy 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.


In CAAV’s March 12 perspectives article, we provided summaries of important energy legislation that the 2023 General Assembly (GA) considered. To learn more about energy and other legislation, see also Virginia Conservation Network’s (VCN) General Assembly Review 2023 and its 2023 Bill Tracker. Governor Youngkin signed several energy bills—focused on nuclear, methane, gas, and coal—announcing on March 23 his delivery “ on his All-American All-Of-The-Above Energy Plan Priorities”. Not everyone agrees with the plan or the priorities. The governor remains committed to his “quest to put [the] nation’s first commercial small modular nuclear reactor in Southwest Virginia.”

Some updates about the GA session:

A May 2022 Dominion shareholders meeting saw a shareholder proposal pass, requiring Dominion to issue a report on its potential “stranded assets”, the first type of proposal like it to pass. Fast forward to February 2023 when, without much fanfare, the company issued the report, titled “Dominion Energy’s Natural Gas Assets: A Stranded Risk Assessment.” It assures shareholders and customers that “the risk of natural gas infrastructure becoming stranded is duly considered as part of the company’s robust risk management protocols. We believe the many voluntary methane reduction strategies Dominion Energy is employing across its natural gas distribution system, in conjunction with the promising future of RNG and hydrogen, substantially mitigate that risk.” The report says it doesn’t represent the company’s “final word”…, [declaring that the company is] charged with navigating a path toward a sustainable clean‑energy future—one which respects both our public service obligations and our responsibility to shareholders—in a rapidly evolving technological and policy landscape.” A recent Forbes piece declared that “99% Of U.S. Coal Plants Are More Expensive Than New Renewables. A Coal-To-Clean Transition Is Worth $589 Billion, Mostly In Red States.”

Dominion’s offshore wind project, which the company says is “on track,” may be facing some headwinds because of deaths of several whales along the Atlantic Coast. Some believe the sonar deployed may have contributed to the whale deaths; others disagree. “However, according to several federal agencies and scientists, there’s no connection between offshore wind development and what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calls an “unusual mortality event” that’s been afflicting whales up and down the East Coast, from Maine to Florida, since 2016, before the vast majority of Atlantic coast wind development began.”  Another offshore wind project, this one by a Portland Oregon company and off the North Carolina coast, is facing opposition from area residents who are unhappy with the plan to run cables from the wind turbines underground through a city-owned parking lot in Sandbridge Virginia.

The growing numbers of proposals for data centers, including in Prince William County, continue to generate controversy. “[A] mix of national and regional organizations who joined local citizens at a Virginia Department of Environmental Quality [DEQ] public hearing on Monday, Feb. 27 … [protested] a new DEQ proposal to let more than 100 data centers in Northern Virginia use their emergency generators to power themselves when the electrical grid is struggling. Opponents called the proposal … a violation of the DEQ’s stated mission “to promote the health and well-being of the Commonwealth’s citizens, residents and visitors in accordance with applicable laws and regulations.” There is opposition to Amazon’s Warrenton data center: “A contractor hired by Amazon Web Services has cut down hundreds of trees at the … site in Warrenton…. A lawsuit filed by Citizens for Fauquier County and 10 town residents last week claims that Amazon Web Services did not supply the town with required tree‑preservation information in its application for a special-use permit …[and] the lawsuit lists [that failure] as one of the reasons the permit approved by the town council should be invalidated.… Local residents … argued that the town is not enforcing its own zoning ordinance….” Another Warrenton area data center project (Devlin) is on hold. An opinion writer from the Data Center Coalition argued in favor of such facilities, pointing out economic benefits to localities and noting that “By centralizing computing resources, data centers have been able to leverage innovations in design, equipment, and technology to maximize energy efficiency.” He added that “we should also not lose sight of the energy and climate benefits unlocked by data centers.” “After hearing objections and complaints from scores of citizens and environmental watchdogs, [DEQ] … modified a proposed change to state rules that would allow data centers to run their generators as needed when the electric grid is strained.” DEQ limited “the geographic scope to just Loudoun [County].” Two bloggers offered their takes on the influence of Amazon during the 2023 GA session.

The 12 Prince William County schools going solar under an agreement with a solar developer are those with “with roofs in the best condition…. [A spokesman said:] ‘Each school’s output of energy will differ according to their roof’s orientation, but … about 50% of each school’s energy will be provided by its solar panels. Altogether, the solar panels are predicted to generate 10 million kilowatt-hours of electric energy per year.” “The American Institute of Architects …[(AIA) donated] $500,000 to Habitat for Humanity Virginia [HforHVA] to help launch a two-year project to install solar energy systems on up to 80 homes in Washington, DC, and Virginia…. AIA’s donation will be combined with funding from other donors, a small investment from each family, and other sources to install solar systems at a fraction of the retail cost of solar.” Give Solar, a Harrisonburg non-profit, initiated the first HforHVA venture into solar, working with the local affiliate.

 “The Charlottesville-based Community Climate Collaborative recently introduced its Solar Climate Justice Scorecard, rating proposed projects on a variety of factors related to their social and environmental impacts.” “Across the country, a big backlash to new renewables is mounting [including in rural Virginia].” Recent examples include Franklin County, Isle of Wight County, Mecklenburg County, Halifax County, Surry County, Pittsylvania County, Amherst County, and Patrick County.

“Five federally protected species of bats, fish and a plant are not likely to be jeopardized by running a large natural gas pipeline through their habitats, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [FWS] … determined. A 297‑page biological opinion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s [MVP] impact on threatened and endangered species … marked the third time … [FWS] has studied the issue. Two earlier opinions reached the same conclusion in 2017 and 2020, but were invalidated by a federal appeals court.” FWS “reissued a permit” for the MVP, which still lacks other necessary permits.

Climate and Environment

“The tree canopy in Charlottesville is [in] a situation that could worsen so-called “heat islands” and harm the health of residents. Trees covered about 50% of the city in 2004, but the canopy shrank to 45% in 2014 and fell to 40% in 2018. And now leaders of the Charlottesville Tree Commission fear that the canopy has shrunk to just 35% of the city.” The city’s utility department offered 200 free trees to residents “to plant on their property to help conserve energy and reduce energy bills.” The “Arbor Day Foundation [recognized] Staunton as a Tree City USA for [the] 27th year.”

“Experiences and information from the [innovative] Harrisonburg Pollinator Program will be included in the new Parks and Pollinators: Taking Action and Advancing Sustainability. This resource is published by the National Recreation and Park Association. The Harrisonburg community has been strengthened by efforts of the city’s public works department to protect pollinators while advancing key sustainability plans and practices.”

“The Richmond City Council adopted a lengthy ‘action plan’ that will serve as the city’s blueprint for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate-related impacts.”

The “18-member coalition of towns, counties, planning district commissions and several nonprofits share the vision” of making the Shenandoah Rail Trail a reality. “The vision is to transform an unused single-track railroad corridor into a multi-use trail re-connecting communities, businesses, schools and cultural and historic resources.” The Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley is part of the project’s coalition.

“The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) said this year’s Virginia oyster harvest could be the biggest in more than three decades since the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) has extended the oyster season in certain waters.”

After reviewing public comments received, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s Director, Air Pollution Control Board, Waste Management Board, and the City of Bristol filed a motion to enter a judicial consent decree memorializing the terms of a negotiated settlement to resolve issues at the Bristol Landfill. Additional information, including the Expert Panel report, is available on the Bristol Landfill webpage.

WHRO’s Center for Virginia Investigative Journalism has examined issues surrounding PFAS, toxic and potentially harmful so‑called “forever chemicals” found in its waters. This report, Forever Chemicals—A Perpetual Threat to Virginia’s Drinking Water, describes past and current efforts to identify, understand and address the associated problems. DEQ, Virginia Health Department of Health, and Henrico County collaborated on a study of PFAS in the Middle Chickahominy River, reporting their results in this storymap. The Roanoke area has been dealing with an identified leak for some time; the EPA is developing regulations governing PFAS in drinking water, including for the Roanoke area. PFAS are found everywhere and endanger both humans and wildlife. DEQ is also tracking and studying the presence of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), another group of highly toxic and carcinogenic chemicals that, even though banned since the 1970s, are still being found in Virginia waters between Richmond and the Chesapeake Bay.

A news story that “U.S. utilities find water pollution at coal-burning power plants” cited the opinion of Dominion Virginia’s chief environmental officer for Richmond who “said the company …conducts surface water tests near its facilities and was confident that the groundwater impacts were not having an effect on public drinking water or public safety offsite.” Grist recently concluded that “Coal plant pollution can be deadly — even hundreds of miles downwind [and] the coal industry may be dying in the U.S., but its health impacts are not…”

ACTION ALERT: Governor Youngkin is facing a “ flood of opposition to withdrawal from climate agreement, known as Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).” You can add your voice but you need to act quickly. Contact DEQ and…

Demand — RGGI must continue to help reduce energy bills and reduce the financial harms of flooding.

Insist — Withdrawing from RGGI would give a free pass to polluters while wasting opportunities to lift up the lives of all Virginians by shifting to clean energy sources as soon as possible.

Make it clear — Trying to repeal RGGI is shortsighted, cruel, and a betrayal of Virginians, present and future.

Comment by March 31 at

Check out…

  • Blue Ridge PRISM’s two April online “Spring/Summer Invasive Plant Workshops”? Both events will be recorded and available to registrants. Each costs $10.
  • April 10, 1 to 3 pm, Identification. Register here.
  • April 12, 1 to 3 pm, Management and Control. Register here.
  • Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance’s event, Rocktown Beer & Musical Festival, Turner Pavilion, April 22, Earth Day, 3 pm til…. CAAV will be tabling. Tickets here.
  • Climate Action VA’s online Eco Book Club’s discussion about Richard Powers’ The Overstory! – Even if you haven’t yet read this great book. It’s happening Thursday, March 30, 5:30 – 6:30pm EDT. This discussion will cover topics covered in the first half of the book, with plenty of room for a broader conversation relating to topics in the story. Reach out to [email protected] if you have any questions. Register here.
  • The Annual Native Plant Sale, April 30, 1:00 – 3:00, at Ivy Creek Natural Area’s Barn Lawn, 1780 Earlysville Road, Charlottesville, VA. Choose from over 50 species of native perennials, trees, shrubs, wetland plants and a large selection of spring wildflowers and groundcovers, mid/late season flowering species, and woodies including spicebush, red osier dogwood, and red mulberry.
  • Riverfest Waynesboro 2023, April 29, Saturday, April 29, 2023, 10 – 4:30, Conservation Park. This is the Year of the River Otter! Website:
  • Charlottesville’s C3 Collaborative’s Annual Open House, April 27, 5-6:30 pm at 415 8th St NE (Tarleton Square Building). Learn about its current projects and priorities, and talk about anything and everything climate! Get some ideas for what you can do for the climate in your community, Details here.
  • “A new documentary film showcasing communities who helped stop the Atlantic Coast Pipeline [that] will be screened … April 13, 7 pm at The Paramount Theater in Charlottesville.”
  • This article describing how you can find remedies for aches and pains in the “garden, farmer’s market, or refrigerator.” Think mint, sage, hot peppers, cherries, and ginger.

Why not…

  • Celebrate spring and visit these three “natural wonders” in VA, profiled in Blue Ridge Country magazine?
  • McAfee Knob. A “moderately challenging … hike … to one of the most visited, photographed and famous spots on the Appalachian Trail.… Avoid parking lot headaches and take the weekend (Fri-Sun) shuttle to the trailhead. Find nearby attractions and lodgings. 4440 Catawba Valley Drive, Catawba.
  • Crabtree Falls. Six “miles off the Blue Ridge Parkway to see the ‘highest vertical-drop cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi River.’ Five large falls and several smaller ones create a 1,200-foot drop! There are five overlooks of the falls and Tye River Valley—the first is accessible for all abilities via a paved trail.” Find nearby attractions and lodgings. 11581 Crabtree Falls Highway, Montebello.
  • The Channels Natural Area Preserve. Wind through a maze of 400-million-year-old sandstone crevices and boulders. The singularly unique 20-acre labyrinth is an otherworldly destination formed during the last ice age. The remoteness of this high-elevation forest requires planning ahead for food, drinks and sufficient time to explore. Find nearby attractions and lodgings. 4250 Hayters Gap Road, Saltville.
  • Go camping in one of Virginia’s State Parks, most of which opened March 3?
  • Join Climate Ride in the Blue Ridge Mountains, April 28-30? Bike or hike through the mountains for a good cause: our climate! Join the team that Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) is forming and be part of a weekend of cycling, hiking, camping, and bonding. Cyclists can choose from three different levels and hikers can choose to hit the Appalachian Trail. You’ll be fully supported along the way, plus bike mechanics, campgrounds setup and meals. Register here. Use “CCAN” promo code when signing up and select “CCAN” to join its team. Check out CCAN’s Facebook page.
  • Attend Virginia League of Conservation Voters’ (LCV) virtual event, Farmers to the Table, April 19, Wednesday, April 19, 6:30 – 7:30pm EDT? Join LCV’s climate action team and a round table of farmers and agricultural workers to learn how our food supply can help protect the environment, what we can do to help our friends in agriculture, and to advocate for a more sustainable future. Register here.
  • Tell DEQ what you think of its draft guidance, Environmental Justice in the Permitting Process, which it’s released for an informal comment period? The guidance outlines a permit evaluation process for all DEQ permitting actions and establishes processes for further evaluation of permits of particular concern to environmental justice communities. DEQ will accept informal public comments until May 1, followed by a formal public comment period after internal review. Submit comments here.

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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