Column: Environmental Issues Take Back Seat

Column: Environmental Issues Take Back Seat

Even with increasing evidence of climate change, there is a sparsity of bills in the current session of the General Assembly dealing with environmental and climate changes. Of greater concern is the fact that among the bills that could be classified as relating to the environment, most would turn back the clock on current laws, programs, and regulations in place to protect the environment. Virginia did not get its top ranking as a business-friendly state because of its tough environmental regulations, but its already minimal laws and programs are under attack by those who oppose government action on keeping our environment clean and on stopping climate change.

Evidence of the shift in environmental policy came earlier this year when the newly-elected Governor Glenn Youngkin announced his opposition to Virginia’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), an effort among 11 states to cap and reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector. CO2 is the major culprit in the warming of the earth that is leading to climate change and the bizarre shifts in weather and air quality. Most surprising about this shift in policy is the fact that RGGI is a cooperative, market-based approach supported by many in the industrial sector to cap and reduce CO2 emissions across the northeast region of the country without the need for government regulations.

Another concerning piece of evidence of a shifting of policy came with the new governor appointing a former Trump administration official known for his opposition to environmental protection regulations as his Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources. A review of the credentials of the appointee raised such alarm among legislators that the Senate refused to confirm the appointment, only the second such refusal in the decades of history of the cabinet system in Virginia.

Most recently two bills have been making their way through the General Assembly that would strip citizen boards of their power and responsibilities in protecting air and water quality. The impetus for the bills came from businesses and industries that felt it takes too long and is too complex to get needed air or water permits to situate their industries in Virginia. Most recently there has been a great deal of controversy and court action about pipelines that proposed coming through Virginia. These affected industries placed the blame for the complexities of the regulation process on the need for scientific evidence and the public participation that raised questions about their plans on the State Water Control Board and the State Air Board. The bills making their way through the legislature and no doubt to be signed by the governor would strip the boards of their power.

I have taken a strong stand against the changes in the Air and Water Boards. My speech against the bills on the floor of the House of Delegates can be heard at, and an article I wrote with Del. Kathy Tran and an expert on the subject is available in the Washington Post at The current policies that are being implemented in Virginia can do immeasurable harm to the already fragile environment of the Commonwealth.