Northam executive order increases Virginia’s resilience to sea level rise


environment climate changeDuring the sixth annual Conference of the Virginia Coastal Policy Center at the College of William & Mary Law School, Gov. Ralph Northam today signed a sweeping executive order to bolster Virginia’s resilience to sea level rise and natural hazards. Executive Order Twenty Four lays out a series of actions the Commonwealth will undertake to limit the impact of flooding, extreme weather events, and wildfires.

The Executive Order, broad in scope and objectives, is among the most comprehensive actions undertaken by any state to improve resilience and protect people and property from natural catastrophes. Most significantly, the executive order directs the development of a “Coastal Resilience Master Plan” to protect our coastline from sea level rise and extreme weather.

“As extreme weather events become more frequent and more intense, the safety and economic well-being of every Virginian is put at greater risk,” said Northam. “The actions the Commonwealth will undertake as a result of this Executive Order will ensure we address this growing challenge head on, setting Virginia on a path towards resilience to near and long-term natural catastrophes and enhancing our public health and economic vitality with a whole of government approach.”

“The actions described in today’s Executive Order set the stage for major investment in planning and resilience across the state,” said Secretary of Natural Resources and the Commonwealth’s Chief Resilience Officer Matthew J. Strickler. “Whether it’s riverine or coastal flooding, severe rain events, wildfire or hurricanes, all will benefit from a more resilient Virginia, especially one that harnesses the benefits of natural and nature-based infrastructure to protect people and property whenever possible.”

“With this Executive Order, the Commonwealth of Virginia seizes the opportunity to lead in creating new and innovative adaptive concepts and to work across a collaborative group of federal, state, regional and community stakeholders to ensure the vitality and adaptive growth of our coastal communities for our future,” said Special Assistant to the Governor for Coastal Adaptation and Protection Rear Admiral (Retired) Ann C. Phillips. “As recent weather and ongoing coastal flooding events in this year alone have shown us, we have no time to waste.”

The Executive Order lays out steps Virginia’s government will undertake to lead by example and ensure its facilities and holdings are resilient. In addition, it creates a series of reviews and planning efforts that will benefit the citizens, local governments, regions, public, and private property. It orders the creation of a “Coastal Resilience Master Plan” that will detail specific actions to adapt and protect Virginia’s Coastal Regions. It reviews state compliance with dam and floodplain management laws, and finally, reviews all state pre-disaster hazard mitigation programs and provides guidance for local governments on how to build and plan in a more resilient and adaptive manner.

Finally, the Executive Order lays out goals and ideas that further influence and improve resilience of the Commonwealth that include using nature based infrastructure when possible, ensuring better risk communication, engaging the United States military, empowering communities and individuals to reduce their risk, and more.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation Virginia Executive Director Rebecca Tomazin said the order is “an urgently needed step towards addressing the devastating threats that many Virginians are facing from sea level rise. Planning efforts to adapt to sea level rise are already underway in many of our coastal communities. The creation of a master plan will coordinate this essential work.”

“Under the executive plan, Virginia should prioritize natural solutions with multiple benefits. These nature-based practices, such as living shorelines and rain gardens, both reduce flooding and prevent runoff from polluting local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay. Incentivizing natural solutions helps us adapt to sea level rise and meet Virginia’s commitment to restoring our waters,” Tomazin said.

Harrison Wallace, Virginia Director at the CCAN Action Fund, applauds Northam for the order and “for taking serious steps to address climate change.”

“We look forward to working with him to pass legislation in 2019 that would join Virginia to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and use part of the carbon revenue — hundreds of millions of dollars — to invest in coastal flooding protection efforts,” Wallace said. “The reality is that coastal Virginia, with nearly two million people and the world’s largest naval base, has been flooding like a damaged ship for years and years and no one has bothered to fix the leaks. Now, Governor Northam appears ready to take the helm. He has a strong plan to begin fixing the holes in the ship and steer us in a new direction. With the recent IPCC report bringing new urgency to the climate crisis, Northam’s action could not have come at a better time.

“This executive order commits the state to serious resilience measures. This will require new sources of funding, some of which can only be obtained by joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. To do so, the General Assembly must pass legislation to allow the Northam Administration to access the hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue raised from that program. Legislation along these lines has been introduced in bipartisan fashion during each of last four legislative sessions in Richmond. A version of that bill will be coming back in January,” Wallace said.

The full text of Executive Order Twenty Four can be found here.



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