RICHMOND – The bipartisan Virginia Environment and Renewable Energy (VERE) Caucus met afternoon to review and adopt its legislative agenda for the 2016 Session. The 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.
“The bipartisan members of the VERE Caucus have done tremendous work throughout the year to develop this agenda,” said Delegate Lopez, Chair of the VERE Caucus. “As the session progresses, we are continuing to look for additional clean energy and environmental legislation that we can support and champion. Virginia needs to be doing more to reduce our carbon pollution, address sea level rise, mitigate the impacts of climate change, and preserve our environment for future generations. These bills and budget objectives represent a tangible way for Virginia to keep moving forward on these priorities instead of falling further behind.”
"I look forward to moving the ball forward on a number of important environmental and energy issues with my colleagues on the VERE Caucus this session" said Delegate Rip Sullivan, VERE Caucus Co-Chair. "Virginia is far behind many of its competitors, including North Carolina, on promoting and developing renewable energy and energy efficiency. We will work together in a bipartisan fashion to help Virginia move forward this year."
As a Co-Chair of the VERE Caucus, Delegate David Bulova added, "As Virginians, we cherish the beauty of our natural resources and recognize that their stewardship and conservation are critical to our long-term economic growth and prosperity. The legislative agenda of the VERE Caucus is a bipartisan effort to ensure that future generations can enjoy clean water and clean air and that we invest in technology that will put Virginia on the forefront of harnessing the potential of clean, renewable sources of energy."
"I am pleased to join with my colleagues, in a bipartisan effort, to ensure that Virginia works to improve our climate, protect the environment and provide alternative renewable energy sources," said Senator Donald McEachin, a founding member and VERE Caucus Co-Chair.
The meeting was attended by Delegates Boysko (D-Herndon), Minchew (R-Leesburg), Kory (D-Falls Church), Sullivan (D-McLean), Murphy (D-McLean), Rasoul (D-Roanoke), Bulova (D-Fairfax), Bell (D-Chantilly), Lopez (D-Arlington), and Levine (D-Alexandria).
VIRGINIA ENVIRONMENT & RENEWABLE ENERGY CAUCUS
2016 LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES
- SUPPORT: Fully funding Agriculture Best Management Practices cost-share program in the State Budget –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 steams under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. There is an estimated $65 million backlog in funding for the many farmers who have signed up to install fencing to protect streams from livestock.
- SUPPORT: Increased funding for the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund in the State Budget – 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 the 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.
- SUPPORT: Zero Tolerance for Repeat Polluters Act (HB976 – Lopez) – This bill raises the civil penalty that may be included with a special order from the Director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality from $10,000 to $50,000. It also raises the civil penalties for special orders from the State Water Control Board, Air Pollution Control Board, and Waste Management Board to $50,000 per violation with a maximum of $1,000,000 per special order.
- SUPPORT: Ensuring timely public notification for pollution in local waters (HB479 – Kory) – Residents should know as soon as possible that their local lakes, streams, or rivers have been exposed to pollution. These notices should be clear and visible at all access points outlining potential public health and safety risks.
- SUPPORT: Tightening the window of time for spill notifications (HB977 – Lopez) – This legislation requires any person who unlawfully discharges any harmful substance into state waters to notify the Department of Environmental Quality or the coordinator of emergency services of the affected locality . It also require the State Water Control Board or the Department to provide each report of a discharge to local newspapers, television stations, and radio stations as soon as practicable after receiving it.
Clean Energy and the Clean Power Plan
- OPPOSE: House Bill 2 – HB 2 infringes on the authority of the Governor to develop a state plan with the state agencies that are experts in protecting our health and environment. Importantly, the bill could obstruct state agencies who must draft a plan that fits the unique needs of Virginia, wasting an opportunity to develop a Clean Power Plan that works best for Virginia’s economy and our communities. The General Assembly should support timely and effective compliance with the final Plan targets and reject efforts to limit the autonomy of the policy experts at Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality from creating and submitting a state plan.
- SUPPORT: Virginia Coastal Protection Act (HB351 – Villanueva / SB571 - McEachin) – 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.
- SUPPORT: Increased Energy Efficiency Goals (HB576 – Sullivan) – 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.
- SUPPORT: Community Net-Metering / Reducing Stand-by Charges (SB140 – Edwards) – “Community net metering” allows utility customers to work together to install a renewable energy system that will benefit all members of a group. Customer-generated renewable energy offers significant benefits to the public as well as to individual owners of systems. These systems provide power directly where it is used, reducing line losses and the need for new utility generation. They also contribute to the security and stability of the electric grid, relieve grid congestion, and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels that pollute the air and water. The General Assembly should increase the availability of options for customers to install renewable energy systems, including through the use of community net metering.
- SUPPORT: Fixing the Virginia’s definition of Renewable Energy to promote efficient biomass energy generation (HB973 – Lopez / SB647– Favola) – Virginia’s definition of renewable energy is flawed because it includes all forms of biomass generation. We need to ensure that only energy sources with a low carbon footprint are considered renewable by removing the most inefficient and dirty biomass generators from the list of renewable energy sources in the state. By not diluting the meaning of “renewable” we can ensure that efficient biomass, wind, solar and other sustainable technologies are not overshadowed or overlooked as means of achieving Virginia’s clean energy future.
- 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.
- SUPPORT: Increased funding for successful land grant programs in the State Budget – The Virginia Land Conservation Foundation (VLCF) provides state matching grants for the preservation of various categories of special lands in the commonwealth.
- SUPPORT: $165 Million for public land acquisition in the 2016 General Obligation Bond package – In order to keep pace with public demand for public lands, the land acquisition portion of this should include at least $165M for parks, preserves, and forests.