On Monday, April 9, while the public comment period on Virginia’s major climate proposal came to a close, Governor Northam vetoed an anti-climate bill that would thwart his ability to address climate change. The governor stated that Virginia is extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change and that in no way should the state be stripped of tools it can utilize to protect the environment and, in turn, Virginians.
Virginians are feeling the harmful effects of climate change. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), temperatures across the state are higher than normal and sea levels are rising at an alarming rate. Virginia’s beaches are being eroded, its lowlands are increasingly vulnerable and coastal flooding is exacerbated. Sea levels along the commonwealth’s coastline are expected to rise from 16 inches to 4 feet in the next century. Wetlands such as the North Landing River and Back Bay can’t survive an increase of 2 feet. And densely populated areas like Virginia Beach are extremely vulnerable to coastal erosion; oceanfront properties could soon be fully exposed to incoming storms as waves wash away barrier islands and open new inlets.
Meanwhile, smog exacerbated by warmer temperatures is taking over cities, severely impacting the health of Virginians. According to a 2015 report by Environment Virginia Research and Policy Center, Richmond residents breathed in elevated levels of smog 56 days out of the year. In the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, including Arlington and Alexandria, residents breathed in elevated levels of smog an alarming 99 days out of the year. Cutting pollution means we will see fewer premature deaths and asthma attacks.
Virginia’s state legislature has an obligation to cut carbon pollution, clean out the air and protect the health of its constituents. Climate change will severely alter Virginia’s landscape and present evermore serious health concerns as temperatures continue to rise. The dangerously misguided bill vetoed by Governor Northam was a direct threat to Virginia’s environment and its residents.
During the public hearings held in March by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Virginians demonstrated support for the climate rule and a strong desire for common sense climate reform as they packed public hearing rooms across the state and submitted hundreds of public comments. In total, the DEQ hosted six public hearings that had over 340 attendees and 160 people testifying on the rule. If enacted, this rule would allow Virginia to link with a successful regional, bipartisan partnership of nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which is aimed at capping carbon emissions.
In their testimonies, stakeholders highlighted that this standard should consider Virginia's untapped economic energy efficiency potential and all planned renewable energy developments in the state. We encourage Virginians to continue to defend their environment and never allow the negligence and the ignorance of a few to harm the health and stability of many. Combating climate change is not and should not be a partisan issue, regardless of whether the federal government decides to entertain climate change denialism or not. RGGI is a prime example of how states can work together across party lines to cut pollution and clean our air. We urge Virginia’s DEQ to officially issue a climate rule that cuts carbon pollution as much as possible, as quickly as possible to ensure a clean and healthy future for the commonwealth.