Virginia Environment & Renewable Energy Caucus Adopts 2017 Legislative Agenda

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 17, 2017

Contact: Jason Stanford, 804-698-1049, DelALopez@house.virginia.gov


Virginia Environment & Renewable Energy Caucus
Adopts 2017 Legislative Agenda

RICHMOND – Monday, January 16th was the first meeting of the bipartisan Virginia Environment and Renewable Energy (VERE) Caucus. The VERE Caucus met to review and adopt its legislative agenda for the 2017 Session as well as hear a presentation from Dylan McDowell of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators.

This year’s agenda includes legislation to improve water quality, promote land conservation, and invest in clean, renewable energy to create new job and grow Virginia’s economy.

“This is going to be an exciting year for environmental legislation in the General Assembly,” said Delegate Lopez, Chair of the VERE Caucus. “We have bipartisan support for legislation to protect Virginia’s waterways, develop new renewable energy, improve our drinking water infrastructure, preserve our public lands, and reduce toxic chemicals in our environment. Working together, I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to take a positive step forward on each of these priorities this session.”

The meeting was attended by Delegates Plum (D-Reston), Hester (D-Norfolk), Minchew (R-Leesburg), Kory (D-Falls Church), Simon (D-Falls Church), Murphy (D-McLean), Rasoul (D-Roanoke), Bulova (D-Fairfax), Lopez (D-Arlington), Boysko (D-Herndon), Bell (D-Chantilly), and Levine (D-Alexandria). 

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Virginia Environment and Renewable Energy Caucus
Legislative Agenda 2017

Water Quality

  • SUPPORT: Fully fund Agriculture Best Management Practices cost-share program
    • Robust and reliable funding of Virginia’s agricultural best management practice cost-share program is essential for meeting the Commonwealth’s water quality goals.
    • Practices like fencing cattle out of streams, planting streamside trees and grasses, managing manure effectively, planting cover crops, and many others are the most cost-effective steps Virginia can take to restore the Bay and local streams under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.
    • Last year the General Assembly allocated an additional $61.7 million for Agriculture Best Management Practices in the two-year budget; however, we still need an additional $45 million to fully fund the demand for Agriculture Best Management projects to ensure we do not fall behind on improving water quality and protecting Virginia waterways.
  • SUPPORT: Increased funding for the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund
    •  Virginia localities are working hard to restore our waterways with enhanced runoff control programs, stream restoration initiatives, and other projects.
    • To support localities’ work and meet our Clean Water Blueprint goals, the Commonwealth must substantially increase funding for the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund (SLAF), a program that provides matching grants to localities for effective stormwater management projects.
    • According to VirginiaForever, a coalition of major businesses and conservationists, a $50 million investment for management of polluted runoff is needed annually.
    • Last year, the General Assembly allocated $20 million for Stormwater Local Assistance Fund. While this is an increase in funding, it still falls shorts of the $50 million per year investment needed to meet the Clean Water Blueprint goals.
  • SUPPORT: Bringing spill notifications into the 21st Century
    • Virginia law currently on requires the Department of Environmental Quality to notify local newspapers of a spill in Virginia waterways that could be hazardous to Virginians.
    • We need to bring our notification requirements into the 21st century and alert local television and radio stations so that people can know as soon as possible that their health may be at risk.
  • SUPPORT: Strengthening Virginia’s Lead and Copper rule to protect our drinking water
    • As we all saw in Flint, Michigan last year, our drinking water infrastructure is in desperate need of repair and improvement.
    • There are water systems in Virginia that have exceeded the 15ppb lead action level in Virginia.
    • We need to increase funding for the Virginia Water Supply Assistance Grant program by $4 million to help local water systems that exceed the lead action level improve their drinking water infrastructure.
    • We also need to strengthen our drinking water regulations to lower the action level from 15ppb to 5ppb, require notice and action if an individual household tests above 40 ppb, and ensure a corrosion control plan is in place before any changes to a new water source are made by a local water system.
    • The Virginia Department of Drinking Water needs to study our drinking water infrastructure and regulations, and provide recommendations to the General Assembly for what we can do to ensure what happened in Flint never happens in Virginia.
  • SUPPORT: Lead Testing in Schools
    • Aging school buildings present a danger to our children’s health because lead may leak from interior pipes into drinking water, regardless of the purity of the water delivered by the public water system.  Schools built before 1986 are specifically likely to present this health hazard.  Regular drinking water sampling will ensure that our children are not poisoned by lead in our schools’ drinking water.  Water testing plan results and remediation must be transparent to maintain public confidence in our efforts to safeguard our children’s health.

Climate Change

  • OPPOSE: Any effort by the General Assembly to block reductions in carbon pollution and ignore the threat of climate change
    • The Governor has the authority to develop a state plan to reduce carbon pollution with state agencies that are experts in protecting our health and environment.
    • Regulation of carbon pollution is based on science and has an unassailable foundation in existing law.
    • The General Assembly should support efforts to reduce carbon pollution and mitigate the impacts that climate change on our economy, our health, our national security, our environment, and our way of life.
  • SUPPORT: Virginia Coastal Protection Act
    • Flooding has become one of the most challenging public policy issues facing coastal Virginia. The increased warming and rising of ocean waters due to climate change, combined with the area’s sinking land, will cause as much as 7.5 feet of sea level rise by century’s end, according to the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences.
    • As a win-win solution, Virginia should join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which will provide crucial funds for adaptation measures in Hampton Roads and throughout Virginia while lowering emissions in a way that is proven cost-effective.
    • The Virginia Coastal Protection Act creates Virginia’s first dedicated fund to assist localities with implementing the flooding solutions they desperately need.
    • As outlined in the VCPA, half of the revenues generated from the sale of carbon allowances will help fund resilience efforts. The other half will support economic development in Southwest Virginia, and clean energy and efficiency investments statewide.

Clean Energy

  • SUPPORT:  Legislation to expand solar energy in Virginia
    • Over the summer, a working group comprised of Virginia utility companies, solar energy industry representatives, and solar advocates met to discuss legislation to expand solar energy in Virginia.
    • The group reached agreement on legislation that would expand opportunities for large, medium, and small-scale solar projects in Virginia.
    • This agreement would increase the upper limit of solar and wind projects in Virginia by 50 MW, create a pilot program for community solar, and expand agricultural net-metering.
    • This agreement is an important first step to growing Virginia’s clean energy industries so that we can protect our environment and build a stronger Virginia economy.
  • SUPPORT: Increased Energy Efficiency Goals and IRP Transparency
    • Energy efficiency programs in Virginia represent an under-utilized tool by which the state can reduce its total energy consumption and also stimulate local economies through in-state job generation. Additionally, under the U.S. EPA’s now-final Clean Power Plan, expanded efficiency programs can aid the state in meeting its greenhouse gas emissions targets. Utility-run efficiency programs will play a dominant role in Virginia’s overall efficiency efforts, and the utilities’ planning documents should properly account for that impact.
    • In Virginia, there is a voluntary goal for the state to avoid 10.7 million MWhs of electricity generation through efficiency programs. This would equate to 10% of 2006 consumption. However, even if Dominion and APCo achieve all of their forecasted efficiency savings, the state will fall well short of its goal. Moreover, failure to achieve Virginia’s modest efficiency goal will only hamper the state’s ability to comply with the Clean Power Plan. The utilities could implement far more efficiency than their current IRPs project, and such programs would not only obviate the need for expanded traditional generation resources, but they could generate additional revenues as tradable credits under the Clean Power Plan.
    • Energy efficiency is tool for economic stimulus and reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Should the General Assembly revisit the IRP statute, it should direct investor-owned utilities to evaluate the potential for higher levels of energy efficiency and renewable resources going forward. Doing so will enable the development of an IRP that meets the IRP Guidelines’ directive to “comparably evaluate various supply-side technologies and demand-side programs and technologies on an equivalent basis.”

Land Conservation

  • OPPOSE: Any additional cuts to the Land Preservation Tax Credit and any attacks on voluntary conservation easements
    • The Land Preservation Tax Credit is Virginia’s most successful, dependable land conservation funding program and is one of the best land conservation tax incentive programs in the nation.
    • This program is an efficient and effective way to encourage private voluntary land conservation by providing taxpayers who make gifts of land or conservation easements tax credits equal to 40 percent of the value of their donated interest.
    • Landowners with lower incomes who are unable to use all of their tax credits may transfer unused but allowable credits to other taxpayers.
    • In the 2015 Session of the General Assembly, the program was scaled back from $100 million in tax credits available each year to $75 million. In addition, the amount of credits each individual taxpayer can use in any one year has been reduced.
  • SUPPORT: Increased funding for successful land grant programs
    • For FY2018, that amount should be $20M, allocated as follows: $16M for the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation, $2M for the Office of Farmland Preservation, and $2M for the Civil War Sites Preservation Fund.
    • The Virginia Land Conservation Foundation (VLCF) provides state matching grants for the preservation of various categories of special lands in the commonwealth.
    • These grants are awarded on a competitive basis for the protection of open spaces and parks, natural areas, historic areas, and farmland and forest preservation.
    • This highly effective program leverages local and federal investment for natural resource conservation by paying no more than 50% of the cost of worthy projects.
    • Grant applications to the VLCF program have consistently far exceeded available funds. Since 2000 over $82 million of grants have been requested of the program while only $28 million have been available. This represents a lost opportunity for the commonwealth to capture more than $50 million in federal, local, and private matching dollars for land conservation.
  • SUPPORT: Protect the property rights of landowners by repealing the 2004 law allowing Natural Gas Companies to make examinations, tests, land auger borings, appraisals, and surveys without the written consent of the landowner under certain circumstances.
    • In 2012, 74% of Virginians voted in favor of a constitutional amendment that limited eminent domain exercised by public entities for private enterprises. Section 56-49.01 is inconsistent with the view expressed by Virginians in adopting this constitutional limit on eminent domain in 2012
    • Repeal of Section 56-49.01 would require gas pipeline companies to follow the same procedures for obtaining permission to enter a property that other transmission companies must follow as provided in Section 56-49, for example: electricity transmission lines
    • The three private natural gas companies pursuing pipelines through Virginia would exercise the largest condemnation action in the Commonwealth in decades without basic constitutional protections for property owners
    • Under existing law, companies can spray-paint as they survey, test the site with invasive land auger borings, and spend as much time on the private property as they see fit. Residents and property owners have no protections against this trespass on private land.

Toxic Chemicals

  • SUPPORT: Create a comprehensive database of hazardous waste sites in Virginia
    • Virginia’s current approach to identifying and remediating hazardous waste sites is fragmented and insufficient.
    • As a result, there are hundreds of waste sites that are not listed or remediated.
    • In order to protect public health, Virginians need to know where these sites are and if action needs to be taken to remediate them.
  • SUPPORT: Regulate chemical storage in Virginia to protect our drinking water
    • In 2015, the General Assembly requested a study of Virginia’s current statutory and regulatory tools for chemical storage. The report, which was released in December, provided recommendations including the creation of an inventory for chemical storage tanks, developing a way to register them and maintain that registry, and developing specific regulatory targets for them to meet.
    • Now that the report is complete, the General Assembly needs to take action to pass legislation implementing these recommendations so that Virginia waterways are protected from potential contamination.
  • SUPPORT: Protecting Children and Firefighters from toxic chemicals in flame retardants
    • Flame-retardants in upholstered furniture and children’s products are not needed, ineffective, and no longer required by state or federal regulators.
    • These flame retardants were originally added in response to a 1975 requirement from California, but we no longer need to let California drive the safety of Virginia products.
    • Not only are these flame retardants ineffective in fire protection, they generate excessive smoke and toxic chemical byproducts that expose firefighters to a “toxic soup,” including cancer-causing dioxins and furans.
    • The Virginia General Assembly should ban the use of these chemicals in our products to protect the health of both firefighters and children. 

Coal Ash

  • SUPPORT: The safe and clean closure of coal ash sites in Virginia
    • Coal ash is the waste product generated when coal is burned for energy and poses a danger to Virginians’ health, drinking water, and environment.
    • Because coal-fired power generation requires large quantities of water, coal ash disposal sites are typically located close to rivers, creeks, and streams.
    • Because many of these plants predate both modern state and federal solid waste disposal safeguards, a large number of the coal ash waste sites are not lined and plans to cap these sites will simply leave the source of pollution in place.
    • The General Assembly should support legislation that requires coal ash sites to be safely and cleanly closed so that they do not threaten our environment.

Environmental Education

  • SUPPORT: A comprehensive study of the delivery of environmental education in light of the elimination of the Office of Environmental Education at the Department of Conservation and Recreation due to budget cuts.

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