Opinion: Commentary: Protecting Our Planet

Opinion: Commentary: Protecting Our Planet

I hope your Fourth of July holiday was restful and enjoyable, and that you are staying safe wearing your mask in public and exercising prudence through social distancing and good hygiene. As you might have read in my column last week, we have much to celebrate with the passage of so many beneficial new laws here in the Commonwealth that went into effect on the first of July. These include sweeping environmental reforms that bring Virginia to the forefront of leaders in environmental protection and climate change prevention and mitigation — transitioning Virginia into a new carbon-free energy era. The laws are barely on the books, and just this week Dominion Energy announced it has cancelled the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project that would have locked in natural gas as one of our energy sources for decades, and would negatively impact many communities, waterways too numerous to count, and some of our most pristine wild spaces on both sides of the Appalachian Trail.

This cancellation of the gas pipeline project is an incredible development and cause for much celebration not just by environmentalists and affected community members but by everyone who cares about our planet’s future. Yet, it happened not just due to tremendous work by these grassroots activists who have fought this project every step of the way, but because now our new laws have made renewable energy the better choice. Indeed, Dominion Energy also announced that it has entered into an agreement to sell off its gas transmission and storage assets for $9.7 billion. This move is a significant pivot away from fossil fuels and towards investment in a commitment to pursuing clean energy alternatives to meet our energy needs. The old carbon power-reliant Dominion Energy company that you used to know will become a leader in carbon-free power: transforming Virginia’s electrical grid with new business opportunities in the clean energy sector, which could be a big help in pulling us out of this COVID-19 economic malaise.

Looking just locally to where so much trash clogs our creeks, pollutes our Potomac, floats down to the Chesapeake Bay, and into the ocean beyond, we passed my bill to add a $100 penalty for delinquency on litter tax payments. In addition, Delegate Lopez’s bill to double the litter tax, which has remained stagnant since its inception in 1977, went into effect. The additional revenue produced from these measures will help the Litter Control and Recycling Fund, which is used for local litter prevention and recycling grants. Fairfax County, due to size and population, receives the largest amount, approximately $100,000 per year from this program for litter mitigation. With these new laws, that number could be closer to $250,000 going forward. A bill introduced by Senator Surovell, which I have supported for a number of years, is now in effect which creates a penalty for abandoned shopping carts that end up polluting our waterways, especially in our local creeks here in Mount Vernon.

At the state level, and having a big impact on combating climate change, Virginia is no longer prohibited from joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a multi-state cap-and-trade program on carbon emissions. Joining this initiative will go a long way towards reducing Virginia’s carbon footprint. Most importantly, the Virginia Clean Economy Act went into effect, which makes Virginia the first Southern state with a 100 percent clean energy standard to advance wind and solar energy alternatives to break our reliance upon fossil fuels. Furthermore, the State Corporation Commission has been tasked with creating a shared solar program to allow Dominion Energy customers to purchase electric power through a subscription in a shared solar facility. Under this program, a subscriber receives a bill credit for the proportional output of a shared solar facility attributable to that subscriber. Under this law, at least 30% of these customers must be low-income, allowing them to not only benefit from the lower cost of energy but also contribute to a lower carbon footprint through solar power.

Offshore wind development is now a top priority, with the new laws determining that construction of offshore wind facilities are in the public interest. Dominion Energy has already broken ground on a new offshore wind development that will be among the largest on the eastern seaboard. This alone is a powerful move to wean the Commonwealth off of non-renewable energy.

This past General Assembly session was a historic one for our environment and towards a cleaner, healthier future. We will continue to build on this success with the Governor’s just-announced “Clean Energy Virginia Initiative” to push investment in renewable energy business opportunities where the jobs of the future will drive a new modern, clean energy economy for our Commonwealth.