In April 2020, Virginia made great progress on the climate front: the Virginia Clean Economy Act of 2020 passed the Virginia House by 53D to 45R and the Senate by 22D to 18R. Sister District-backed Representatives were part of that win.
The Clean Economy Act establishes renewable portfolio standards, requiring two utilities to be carbon-free in 25–30 years. In addition, nearly all coal-fired plants — a huge contributor to greenhouse gases and other noxious pollutants — must close by the end of 2024. There are provisions incentivizing the development of offshore wind, solar and storage, all important to get the world to the global warming goals set by the Paris Climate Accord. Implementation of the Act includes tax exemptions for energy storage.
Also important, the Act combines clean energy with equity by supporting an energy efficiency program to reduce the energy burden for low-income customers, and by requiring Dominion Energy to prioritize hiring local workers from historically disadvantaged communities to build offshore wind.
Sister District candidates who voted in favor include Hala Ayala (now running for Lieutenant Governor), Lashrecse Aird*, Alex Askew*, Jennifer Carroll Foy (now running for Governor), Joshua Cole*, Karrie Delaney, Wendy Gooditis*, Nancy Guy*, Elizabeth Guzman, Chris Hurst*, Mike Mullen, Kathleen Murphy, David Reid, Danica Roem, Shelly Simonds, Kathy Tran, and Roslyn Tyler*. Aird, Askew, Hurst and Tyler are running again this year for the House of Delegates.
In that same legislative session, amendments were made to the Virginia Clean Energy and Community Flood Preparedness Act. Virginia is now part of a successful regional cap-and-trade coalition aiming to reduce emissions from power plants. There are also new provisions for a low-interest loan program to help inland and coastal communities subject to recurrent flooding.
More recently in March 2021, a new bill passed that directs the Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board to establish low-emissions and zero-emissions vehicle programs for motor vehicles with a model year of 2025 or later. The direction is good, as vehicles are the major source of carbon dioxide in Virginia, but specifics still need to be hammered out.
As you can see with the Clean Economy Act, the margin was close, and as we all know, every vote in the House of Delegates counts. Our candidates did make a difference. And there is still more work to be done — including reducing greenhouse gas from hard-to-decarbonize sectors, such as agriculture and industry, repurposing coal mines for beneficial uses, and transitioning to electric vehicles.
The current federal administration is all in on supporting clean energy and equity for our future. Still, the environment and equity are, and always will, be local. And it’s a tight battle to retain the VA House of Delegates coming up.