Opinion: Commentary: Environmental Working Groups

Opinion: Commentary: Environmental Working Groups

These groups are critical to identifying issue, gathering stakeholders to help reach consensus on the best approach to creating future legislation

Now that the legislative session has finished up for the year and we are headed into the summer months, my colleagues and I in the General Assembly are as busy as ever with the many boards and commissions we are appointed to, as well as legislative working groups created by legislation we passed in the past session. So far, I have been appointed to one such group, the Subcommittee on Charitable Gaming. Furthermore, in this “off season”, I have my hands full each year with meetings of the State Water Commission, the Broadband Advisory Council, the Offender Population Forecasting Policy Committee, the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC), and the Virginia State Crime Commission.

Today, I would like to highlight some of the interesting and important environmental and conservation related stakeholder working groups that we passed through the General Assembly this year. These study and working groups are critical to identifying problems, gathering stakeholders on each side of the issue — and from different walks of life; and, they help legislators and stakeholders reach consensus on the best approach to creating future legislation that will address these problems. Giving all stakeholders affected by an issue a seat at the table to agree on a course of action is one of the most important factors in passing good and effective legislation. Studies often collect necessary, but currently missing, data that can be used in crafting legislation, and including everyone in the study and bill crafting process promotes buy-in and the broad support necessary to pass the legislation in the subsequent General Session.

Delegate Simonds’s HB 2074 created the Interagency Environmental Justice Working Group as an advisory council in the executive branch of state government to further environmental justice in the Commonwealth and directs each of the Governor's Secretaries to designate at least one environmental justice coordinator to represent the secretariat as a member of the Working Group.

The bill directs the Working Group to focus its work during its first year on the environmental justice of current air quality monitoring practices in Virginia and provides that the Working Group shall expire on July 1, 2031. The bill directs each state agency to adopt an agency-specific environmental justice policy that requires an evaluation of the environmental justice consequences of any covered agency action, requires a consideration of the environmental justice consequences or cumulative impacts of the administration of regulations, and contains other features, including public participation plans for residents of environmental justice communities and fenceline communities potentially affected by a covered agency action.

Delegate Keam’s HB 2118 created the Electric Vehicle Grant Fund and Program and a working group. The fund will award grants on a competitive basis to public school divisions for assisting with costs of replacing diesel school buses with electric school buses, the implementation of recharging infrastructure or other infrastructure needed to charge or maintain such electric school buses, and workforce development and training to support the maintenance, charging, and operation of such electric school buses. The stakeholder work group, convened by The Department of Environmental Quality will develop recommendations for establishing and administering the Fund and Program and shall report the work group findings to the General Assembly. This is an exciting first step towards transitioning school buses away from fossil fuel dependency.

Senator Marsden’s bill SB 1393 created a working group for the purpose of developing and providing recommendations to state and local governments related to policies that encourage the conservation of mature trees and tree cover on sites being developed, to increase tree canopy cover in communities, and to encourage the planting of trees. Planting and saving trees is critical to combating climate change as they sequester large amounts of carbon. But, even more significantly, trees produce oxygen which we depend upon to live. Trees make your property values higher, are important to our mental wellness, slow stormwater runoff, and produce products for our use. Adding to our tree canopy is of critical importance.

Lastly, my bill to protect pollinators from the effects of exposure to neonicotinoid pesticides became a “study bill.” The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services will study the Beekeeper Pollination Plan and voluntary best management practices to improve communication between beekeepers and applicators to reduce the risk to pollinators from neonicotinoid pesticides. The bill authorizes the Department to establish a stakeholder working group and directs it to report on its findings no later than Dec. 1, 2021.

If you have any interest in these or other working or study groups, please contact my office at DelPKrizek@House.Virginia.Gov and I will be happy to provide you with more information and how you can participate and/or listen in to these public meetings.