The sun sets over a hazy mountain ridge in Highland County. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)
By Jolene Mafnas
With early voting beginning later this month in the gubernatorial primary, candidates for Virginia’s highest political office are already off to the races. As candidates work to carve out a niche for themselves among the crowded field, they are turning to climate change to make their boldest proposals.
A few weeks ago, my organization, Food & Water Watch, was proud to co-sponsor one of the first debates between candidates, the Virginia People’s Debates. All Democratic candidates for the role, save one, came to speak candidly on their policies, using the opportunity to speak to engaged constituents about the greatest converging existential threats of our time: climate change and environmental justice.
In a refreshing departure from previous administrations, all the candidates that came to the event pledged not to accept any campaign donations (direct or indirect) from Dominion Energy or any other state regulated corporations. All candidates also pledged to support a moratorium on new fossil fuel infrastructure and to halt new permits for pending fossil fuel projects.
These bold commitments dovetail nicely with recent headlines about fossil fuel companies’ financial and legal battles. Virginia Natural Gas withdrew their Interconnect pipeline proposal one week, and then sued C4GT over another fossil fuel infrastructure project the next. While fossil fuel companies fight amongst themselves, the financial viability of their work continues to decline. A March study from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis found that the financial rationale for yet another pipeline project, the Mountain Valley Pipeline, has all but evaporated.
As we watch fossil fuel companies struggle to get their projects off the ground and we hear candidates make sweeping promises, it remains incumbent on all of us to ensure that Virginia’s next governor is a true climate champion. What does this mean?
Our next governor must commit the commonwealth to a rapid and just transition that transforms our energy infrastructure to 100 percent renewables by 2030 and stops all new fossil fuel infrastructure development. They must also take bold steps in reversing the environmental injustices that fossil fuel companies have committed. And lastly, they must stand up to Dominion Energy, whose corporate monopoly and legislative enablers have held up true climate progress for far too long.
Virginia’s leaders have only recently begun taking steps to confront the reality of a warming climate and the impacts of flooding, sea level rise and the accompanying health issues linked to fossil fuels. Past attempts like the problematic 2020 Clean Economy Act were written mostly to accommodate corporate specifications, leaving expansive fossil fuel loopholes that passed costs onto ratepayers, set unambitious goals and failed to truly enact a just transition for workers and frontline, mostly minority, communities.
Our next governor must do better. Many candidates have pledged to move us swiftly to a cleaner, greener and more equitable future that keeps fossil fuels in the ground. Virginia needs comprehensive plans and courageous leadership that will stop the buildout of fossil fuels, protect the communities that will be impacted by this change and rebuild our economy on the back of a just transition. Virginia needs a climate champion governor.
Jolene Mafnas is a Virginia Organizer with Food & Water Watch. She lives in Alexandria.
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