VAIPL 2021 Policy Priorities
All faith traditions, in some way, call us to care for our neighbors and honor our interdependence with the natural world. Our global extractive economies, the burning of fossil fuels for electricity and transportation, as well as the food production sectors are all pouring heat-trapping climate pollution into our atmosphere, damaging our climate and hurting our most vulnerable neighbors. In addition, these polluting industries often have a cumulative impact, creating environmental justice concerns for the frontline communities targeted for these projects.
During the 2020 General Assembly, Virginia emerged as a leader in the region by passing the Virginia Community Flood Preparedness and Clean Economy Act and the Virginia Environmental Justice Act both were the first steps to mitigate carbon emissions, protect our neighbors, as well as doing our part to fight climate change. In the 2021 General Assembly, we will continue to prioritize environmental justice and support common-sense just legislation to strengthen laws protecting the health of all Virginia’s residents and the environment to maintain our quality of life. To that end, we support the following policy goals:
- Protect Virginia’s water resources
- Strengthen environmental justice statewide and ensure all communities can access clean energy while also ensuring that no community is overburdened by polluting and extractive industries.
- Support the reduction of greenhouse gases in the transportation sector
- Support protections for our neighbors working outdoors.
The following proposals include several bills introduced to grow healthy communities and advance climate and environmental justice.
1) Support: Human Right to Water Resolution (HRTW)
A resolution that proposes that water is a human right. The realities of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated and amplified the critical importance of water as a quality of life issue. For some residents access to freshwater may be the difference between sickness and health or life and death. Virginians across the state have been and continue to be locked out of equitable water sources due to affordability challenges. With freshwater and groundwater increasingly threatened by storm surges, sea-level rise, and drought, the state of Virginia acknowledges its responsibility to protect its water resources and ensure equity for its residents to access and afford water for growing food, cooking, bathing, and drinking.
2) Strengthening the Environmental Justice in Virginia
Support: Omnibus Environmental Justice Bill and Environmental Justice Act Amendment
These bills amend the Virginia Environmental Justice Act of 2020 (§§ 2.2-234, 2.2-235). The proposed amendments clarify and expand the existing environmental justice policy, require state agencies to adopt agency-specific environmental justice policies, and further develop the Environmental Justice Interagency Working Group. This bill also requires additional considerations for new permit applications to the Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ) and requires local planning commissions to include an environmental justice strategy when developing a scheduled comprehensive plan.
Support: Racism a Public Health Crisis
House resolution HJ 537 recognizes that racism is a public health crisis. Many of the environmental burdens placed on communities of color result in health disparities. Passing this resolution would make clear the links between race and disproportionately negative long-term health trends.
3) Support: Equity in Public Transportation and Modernization Study
This bill will allow the Department of Rail and Public Transportation to conduct a transit modernization needs study. Right now systems across Virginia lack the necessary infrastructure to boost ridership, reduce traffic, and lower air pollution across the Commonwealth. DRPT would conduct an audit of a full array of transit necessities that today often aren’t in place. By conducting this modernization needs assessment, we could create a list of the investments required to create more mobile and resilient transportation systems throughout Virginia. Having a pre-prepared list of investment targets will also provide us with a strategy to best invest future infusions of money whether they be from the federal level or a regional source like TCI.
4) Support: Heat Stress /Farm Workers Protections
Climate impacts are around us already. It is important to make sure that we are adapting to these changes as well as mitigating carbon pollution. Virginians are already seeing warmer and more extreme heat with rising daily peak temperatures. Outdoor workers such as farmworkers and construction workers are a vulnerable population because they are at high risk of facing the health effects from working for prolonged periods in temperature extremes, such as heat stroke. We will support bills that would safeguard worker exposure to heat. This bill will require the Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board to create regulations on heat stress for outdoor workers. This bill would help farmworkers and other workers who work outdoors protecting them against the impacts of climate change.
6) Support: Reduce Energy Bills for Virginia Families
The faith community traditionally has helped families that struggle with paying electricity bills. Virginia should remedy the burden of high bills on Virginia electricity bill payers by expanding energy efficiency programs for underserved and low-income communities. For 75% of Virginian households, the amount of income spent on electricity is considered unaffordable by federal standards and Dominion Energy has overcharged Virginians by more than $1.3 billion since 2015, according to State Corporation Commission (SCC) reports. The bill would remove provisions that allow utilities to keep customer overcharges as bonuses and instead restores SCC authority to fully refund 100% of overcharges back to customers. This bill will provide important clarifications to state agencies as they lay out the foundation for a new Percentage of Income Payment Program (PIPP) for low-income families.
6) Support: Green New Deal Act
VAIPL supports GND priorities to include:
- Clean Energy Investments Directed to EJ Communities: Mandates that 40 percent of funding for programs directed at attaining annual clean energy goals be directed to investments in clean energy facilities in environmental justice communities.
- Fossil Fuel Moratorium: Establishes a moratorium, effective January 1, 2021, for any new fossil fuel investments.
Policy Fact Sheets
- Human Right to Water Resolution (HRTW) Fact Sheet
- Strengthening the Environmental Justice Act Fact Sheet
- Equity in Public Transportation and Modernization Study Fact Sheet
- Decreasing Energy Burden On Families Fact sheet
- Green New Deal Act