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.
Much has happened during this Earth Day Month. This piece is Part I for April 2023. Look for Part II next week.
Here are some further updates on some 2023 General Assembly (GA) bills signed and/or amended by Gov. Youngkin upon their passage. If his amendments failed, he can sign or veto the bill as it originally passed. If his amendments passed, he would likely sign the amended bill. The GA still hasn’t reached agreement on an amended state budget.
- HB 1634 and SB 1187 encourage localities to consider strategies to address resilience in their comprehensive plans. These bills passed in 2023 GA and were signed by the Governor. Rockingham County is working on its Comprehensive Plan and will hopefully take heed.
- “New legislation about biomass facilities [HB2026/SB1231] cleared the House and Senate during [the 2023] session of the General Assembly. Gov. Glenn Youngkin then recommended four amendments….” The effect of the legislation and the amendments would have been to roll back clean energy progress and timelines and give special treatment to a single biomass facility by exempting it from the requirements of the 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) as a renewable energy source and “open a new market for credits from [a] wood‑fueled biomass plant in South Boston, but the state Senate didn’t take action on [one of the four amendments] and defeated the rest. The rejected amendments would also have “allowed nuclear and hydrogen to qualify as renewable energy.”
- The Senate also rejected the Governor’s attempts to remove the College of William and Mary’s new “Virginia Coastal Resilience Collaborative and Old Dominion University’s Institute for Coastal Adaptation and Resilience as collaborators for the Commonwealth’s coastal resilience policy strategy [HB2393].
- The Governor wanted to amend HB2444/SB1441 to guarantee cost-competitive offshore wind energy through a competitive solicitation process for Virginia’s next offshore wind project. The amendment would have guaranteed the most benefits and savings for ratepayers, but was not accepted by legislators.
- Bi-partisan utility reform legislation, SB 1265/HB 1770, “represent sweeping changes to the way Virginia regulates the electric company Dominion Energy that promise savings on ratepayers’ monthly bill [and] won approval from Gov. Glenn Youngkin. But these leave intact the heart of the bill, which should mean savings of $6 to $7 a month on a benchmark 1,000 kilowatt-hour bill, which currently costs a Dominion customer $137. This includes returning broad authority to the State Corporation Commission to review Dominion’s base rates, which account for about half customers’ bills. Base rates have been essentially unchanged since 2007 even though the capital costs they are meant to cover have declined since then. The measure also eliminates some of the two dozen surcharges that, in all, account for about a third of a Dominion bill. It provides for an option to spread out the cost of soaring fuel prices, which otherwise are set to boost that benchmark 1,000 kilowatt-hour bill by $17 beginning this summer.”
“The Hampton Roads Alliance and the cities of Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Virginia Beach, in a partnership with Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center, are creating a $6.5 million green hydrogen fuel program to help kick-start a local industry. The project includes plans for three to five transition projects, a demonstration and education site and a workforce training program.”
The public comment period to respond to Governor Youngkin’s plan to remove the state from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) by executive action ended March 31. Environmental activists have said doing so “will have the greatest effect on the Old Dominion’s coastal towns, which have suffered from recurring storms and rising tides in recent years due to climate change.
This editorial pointed out that the public comments totaled “more than 6,000 messages from across the commonwealth, the vast majority of which plead with the governor and state officials to remain a part of the multistate partnership.” Asking “Will it matter?” the opinion writer said “It certainly should …. Virginia’s membership was secured through the General Assembly’s passage of the Clean Energy and Community Fund Preparedness Act in 2020, not through an executive action. Only a repeal can undo that….”
The editorial went on to point out that “State law … divides RGGI proceeds between the state’s Community Flood Preparedness Fund and the Housing Innovation Energy Efficiency fund” and summarized what RGGI has produced for Virginia and Virginians:
“The state received “nearly $590 million from the auction of carbon credits since 2021…. The first has paid for a host of projects, including many in Hampton Roads, to hold back the ever-encroaching waters as seas rise as a result of climate change; the second helps pay to improve the efficiency of housing for low-income residents.” Noting that “there is no plan to replenish those revenue streams,” the editorial writer concluded that “the people of Virginia know … that climate change is a serious threat to the commonwealth … [and] that Virginia cannot turn its back on a program that is working to reduce carbon emissions, that is investing in resilience and efficiency, and that provides some hope that we can halt the worst-case scenarios projected should we do nothing. [T]hey said so loudly and clearly … in the comments….”
Proposed and existing data centers continue to make news. The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) “dropped a proposal to allow Northern Virginia data centers to disconnect from the electrical grid and run on their diesel generators during power shortages after the idea ran into a firestorm of criticism…. [DEQ] issued a public notice saying it is no longer pursuing a variance to state law that would have lifted restrictions on data centers’ generators to allow them to run for longer periods of time than would normally be allowed. The idea was opposed by many environmental groups, government watchdogs and citizens from Prince William, Loudoun and Fairfax counties who were mainly concerned about the effects on air pollution from hundreds, if not thousands, of commercial-grade diesel generators running day and night for extended periods of time.”
A Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) hearing examiner recommended the SCC “deny Dominion permission to carry out two … projects based on cost concerns.” Dominion proposed the projects as part of its 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) mandates around clean energy. If the SCC upholds the recommendation, Dominion will face some headwinds meeting its mandates.
Climate and Environment
“Bristol Virginia’s negotiated settlement with the state, Department of Environmental Quality [DEQ] and other agencies includes deadlines for completion of remediation projects at the landfill included in the consent decree.” The decree follows a lengthy period during which the city worked to address numerous problems with its landfill. “The city of Bristol, Virginia signed off April 17 on … settlement of [the] federal lawsuit from neighboring Bristol, Tennessee over odors from its landfill that have been plaguing the area for several years.”
Virginia localities will soon have a streamlined ability to offer incentives that aid the development of urban green spaces, like city parks or sport fields. The General Assembly passed House Bill 1510 to give localities regulatory flexibility. Urban green space is defined as a piece of land covered with grass, trees, shrubs or other vegetation and located around a populated area…. The proposed area must help reduce higher temperatures sometimes associated with urban development or aid the mitigation of stormwater in order to qualify for incentives, and can be public or private projects. The incentives would not be available in rural areas and areas of low population density.”
“For the fifth year in a row, Norfolk takes the top spot for sea-level rise on the East Coast … [according to] the Virginia Institute of Marine Science at William & Mary which released its latest Sea-Level Report Cards…. ‘In areas like Norfolk, land subsidence due to groundwater withdrawal and other factors magnifies the rise in absolute sea level, compounding the frequency and severity of coastal flooding….’
“Norfolk City Council delayed voting on two resolutions involving a $2.6 billion federal project to build floodwalls along parts of the city’s waterfront until April 25, a move intended to give the public opportunity to comment on a new plan to reassess the project…. The Coastal Storm Risk Management Project is a 10-year plan to build 8 miles of new or extended floodwalls around downtown Norfolk and surge barriers and pump stations in other neighborhoods, protecting the city from storms and sea level rise worsened by the effects of climate change. Norfolk residents have objected to parts of the plan that exclude historically Black Southside neighborhoods from structural protections against flooding.”
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data showed that “Natural disasters that cause widespread damage are on the rise in Virginia. The number of major disasters affecting the Commonwealth rose by 139% in the past two decades over the 20 years prior. The data … refers only to disasters where overall damages and costs reached or exceeded $1 billion, adjusted for inflation. Virginia experienced a total of 67 such disasters since 2003 — up from 28 between 1983-2002.”
“As the Environmental Protection Agency prepares to regulate a group of chemicals called PFAS in drinking water throughout the country, a preliminary test in 2021 showed that the water on the eastern side of Prince William County, which comes from the Occoquan Reservoir, was over the newly proposed limit. PFAS is an abbreviation for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances. These are chemicals that come from many products that people use every day, including nonstick pans, water-resistant clothing, fire-resistant foam and food packaging. Though their use in manufacturing has been phased out in the United States, they remain in the environment for a long time, and products containing them are still used.” Research underway may someday “scrub ‘forever chemicals’ from … tap water.” Meanwhile, “More than a dozen environmental groups are suing the federal Environmental Protection Agency over its failure to set water pollution limits for some industrial contaminants as well as its reluctance to update decades-old standards for others, arguing that the agency’s inaction amounts to a “free pass to pollute” for hundreds of chemical and fertilizer plants, oil refineries, plastics manufacturers and other industrial facilities.”
In 2020, Wild Virginia’s Habitat Connectivity Program helped enact legislation requiring the creation of the state’s first Wildlife Corridor Action Plan. The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources released the Plan. Wild Virginia noted that “One of the biggest outcomes of the Wildlife Corridor Action Plan is the creation of three important maps: Areas with High Wildlife-Vehicle Conflicts, Wildlife Biodiversity Resilience Corridors, and Nexus Areas (areas of mutual benefits to promote driver safety and improve wildlife corridors).”
- This article by a Virginia solar installer about why and how going solar can save you money.
- PROJECT GROWS 7th Annual Plant Sale and Open House, Friday, May 12th from 4pm-6pm, at their greenhouse, 608 Berry Farm Rd, Staunton. Here is the plant list.
- This Augusta County farmer’s blogpost reflecting on Earth Day 2023—the good and some bad news.
- This report on 2023’s Greenest States. Note that Virginia is ranked 17th overall with different rankings in the three measured categories: Environmental Behaviors, Eco-Friendly Behaviors, and Climate Change Contributions.
- Take your kids for the US Forest Service’s “Kids Fishing Day at Cave Mountain Lake … Saturday, May 6, from 9 a.m. to noon? The lake in Natural Bridge will be stocked with trout in advance of this event open to children ages 3 to 15.”
- Attend Wild Virginia’s “”Window to the Wild” virtual film screening, May 5-7? “We will be bringing Habitat Islands from the UNTAMED film series along with several other short films that highlight our rivers, streams, and forests and how we can protect them. The “Window to the Wild” film experience will follow the same format of an online show featuring beautiful films and musical performances. Once you register, you will receive your viewing password. The viewing opportunity will begin at 6 p.m. on May 5th, 2023, and go through 6 p.m. on May 7th.”
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.