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What the 2016 Virginia General Assembly means for the environment

state-capitol2Virginia Conservation Network held its annual General Assembly Preview, a one-stop-information-shop for all environmental issues that are expected to be most prevalent in Virginia’s 2016 General Assembly.  Scores of Virginians converged at Virginia Commonwealth University’s campus to participate and learn more about our state’s most pressing, current environmental issues.

The day consisted of panels of environmental group experts sharing their knowledge on a variety of policy issues concerning energy, land use and transportation, and water.  Important issues such as the Clean Power Plan, land conservation, the Clean Water Rule, renewable energy, and the Virginia Coastal Protection Act were covered.

“Private investment in wind and solar energy benefits all Virginians. Building wind and solar creates jobs, replaces dirty sources of energy, offers energy choice to consumers, and strengthens the security of the electric grid,” stated Ivy Main, Chapter Chair of the Virginia Sierra Club.  “But Virginia law currently holds back the market through size limits, unwarranted fees, and anti-competitive policies. Virginia environmental groups and the renewable energy industry have joined forces to support legislation that will free the private market to build wind and solar—with no mandates and at no cost to the public or other ratepayers.”

According to Trip Pollard, Senior Attorney with Southern Environmental Law Center, “Our current transportation and land use patterns are costly to taxpayers and are a primary cause of almost every pressing environmental problem facing Virginia.  We need smarter growth and sustainable transportation policies and projects.  The upcoming General Assembly session will present important opportunities to promote healthier and more resilient communities, advance cleaner transportation choices, and secure funding to protect natural areas, battlefields, and farmland.”

Dan Holmes, Director of State Policy with Piedmont Environmental Council, shared the importance of land conservation. “There is no better investment in our future than the conservation of significant landscapes and critical ecological habitats. It provides clean air, clean water, and the protection of our natural resources for generations to come. A strong land conservation program is essential in achieving longstanding public policy goals of the Commonwealth aimed at cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, the preservation of historic landscapes, protecting our farms and forests, and more recently, reducing and adapting to the damaging effects of climate change.”

Travis Blankenship, Government Affairs Manager with League of Conservation Voters, spoke on the threat of toxics to our waterways:  “Over the past two years, Virginia has seen its fair share of mishaps when it comes to our waterways being contaminated with toxic pollution. From the Dan River coal ash spill originating in North Carolina, to the Lynchburg train derailment, to the diesel fuel leaking into the Appomattox River at Hopewell, it is time Virginia strengthened both our preventative and responsive measures to these kinds of accidents. A 2014 University of Richmond report showed significant inadequacies in Virginia law regarding the reporting of toxic spills into our waterways and the penalties state agencies can impose on polluters when compared to other states. Legislation filed last year to remedy these inadequacies was unsuccessful, but we remain confident that with the support of the public, legislators will put the health and wellbeing of Virginia families ahead of polluter interests in 2016 and support these commonsense proposals.”

Along with the three panels, guest were also treated to a presentation on how to be an effective lobbyist by none other than Delegate Alfonso Lopez, Chairman of the bipartisan Virginia Environmental and Renewable Energy Caucus.  Del. Lopez shared his knowledge and experience on the best ways to get through to your legislators.

Perhaps one of the most candid parts of the day, a panel of guests shared their personal stories on how climate change has impacted their life or work.  Tuere East-Brown, a Special Education Paraprofessional for Chesapeake Public Schools, shared how the frequent flooding in the Hampton Roads area impacts her young students on a regular basis.

Overall, the event was a great success with dozens of Virginians coming out to learn more about the Commonwealth’s most pressing environmental issues.  VCN will be presenting their annual Lobby Day in January, which continues to educate the public on important environmental issues while offering the opportunity to meet with your elected officials.