2020 General Assembly Priorities

VAIPL Action Alert (1)

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A Quick Recap of the Landmark 2020 Session:

  • What passed?
    • The Virginia Council on Environmental Justice is now codified, which establishes a public forum for community voices to be heard on the issue as well as making sure that there will be ongoing recommendations to the governor as to how to protect vulnerable communities from disproportionate impacts of pollution. HB1042/SB883 has been signed by the governor.
    • The Virginia Environmental Justice Act, which makes it the policy of the Commonwealth to promote environmental justice and ensure that it is carried out, is on the governor’s desk.
    • Two bills (HB1162 and HB1164) that ensure the Department of Environmental Quality’s purpose and mission statement are modernized to include climate change and furthering environmental justice passed. VAIPL worked to strengthen HB1164 moving the language from “striving for” to “ensuring” environmental justice.
    • HB394 establishes the position of Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to be appointed by the Governor, making Virginia one of the first states to have this position at the secretariat level.
    • The Clean Energy and Community Flood Preparedness Act (HB981/SB1027) passed. This is the most equitable version of a Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) proposed on the past few years. It joins VA on to the RGGI program and provides funding (half of the RGGI revenue) for low-income energy efficiency programs.
    • The Solar Freedom bill (HB572/SB710) passed, which cuts red tape that prevented Virginians from embracing solar. It raises the cap on the total amount of net metered solar allowed from 1% currently to 6%, increases the allowable size of residential net-metered projects to 25 kW, allows residents of apartment buildings and condominiums in Dominion Energy territory and Old Dominion Power territory to participate in shared solar programs using on-site solar facilities and in Dominion territory, allows customers to install enough solar to meet 150% of their previous year’s demand, recognizing the needs of growing families and EV owners (in APCo territory the maximum stays at 100% of demand) among other positive changes as well.
    • SB646 slightly raised penalties for violating construction rules on fracked-gas transmission pipelines and passed.
    • HB528, which addresses the issue of energy burden by empowering state consumer protection watchdogs at the State Corporation Commission to determine the amortization period for recovery of any appropriate costs due to the early retirement of power plants. The longer the pay back period, the lower the costs for Virginia billpayers.
    • SB1075, which allows more opportunities for public education, input and comments in some permitting and new regulations considered by the Air Pollution Control Board, passed.

    What failed?

    • VAIPL opposed SB992, which would have exempted two fracked-gas plants in Charles City County from participating in RGGI by essentially giving them subsidies of around $176 million. The bill made it through the Senate, but it was removed from the docket of the House Labor and Commerce Committee!
    • The Fair Energy Bills Act (HB1132), which would have reinstated historical measures that kept Dominion from overcharging billpayers and empower state watchdogs at the State Corporation Commission to help reduce energy burden, failed in the Senate Commerce & Labor Committee after making it through the House.
    • Bills to substantially increase fines for violations on fracked-gas pipeline construction (HB643 and HB644) made it out of the House, but failed in the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources.
    • The Green New Deal Act (HB77) was left in House Appropriations after it was left off the docket for the committee’s last meeting. It would have established a fossil fuel moratorium for new electric generation effective January 1. It also had ambitious targets for renewable energy and energy efficiency as well as job training programs, transition assistance and environmental justice protections.

    What will we be keeping tabs on?

    • The Heat Worker Protection bill (HB805/SB411), which would have helped to ensure outdoor workers have access to shade and water, was continued to next year as the governor’s administration is in the process of contemplating new rules. VAIPL plans to follow this process closely.
    • VAIPL is very excited about the progress made on environmental justice. We will be keeping close tabs on the Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice established through budget language this year. Its purpose is to further environmental justice within the Commonwealth through the work of the state agencies in the executive branch. A report on environmental justice planning and program cost is due from this body to the chairs of Finance and Appropriations at the end of the year.

    What hopes do we have for next year?

    • Although VAIPL ended up being neutral on the Virginia Clean Economy Act (HB1526/SB851), we will work to further strengthen environmental justice and energy burden protections moving forward in climate legislation. The Virginia Clean Economy Act reduces overall carbon pollution in the VA power sector to zero by 2045, prioritizes investment in energy efficiency by creating the Commonwealth’s first Energy Efficiency Resource Standard (EERS), removes barriers to rooftop solar and enacts a statewide Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) under which Virginia will make meaningful investments in onshore wind, offshore wind, and solar energy.
    • This year, VAIPL has laid a great foundation for environmental justice with the establishment of vital definitions, the policy of the Commonwealth, and an Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice. Next year we hope to ensure that state agencies are living up to their responsibilities to ensure an equitable Commonwealth by urging them to establish internal policies and procedures.
    • VAIPL supported the Clean Energy and Community Flood Preparedness this year. Next we would like to continue pushing equitable climate adaptation forward by looking into efforts to subsidize the purchase of flood insurance by low-income Virginians.
    • Next year would also be a great opportunity to build on the wins of the Solar Freedom bill to open up even more solar projects to nonprofits, including congregations and other faith communities.

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Green New Deal