The Virginia State Capitol.. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)
By Christopher Leyen
A recent report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted that we will see as much sea level rise in just the next three decades that we’ve experienced in the last century. In Hampton Roads, which is already seeing the fastest rate of sea level rise on the East Coast, an extra foot-and-a-half of water by 2050 will completely transform a region already grappling with rising seas.
The truth is, climate change is a reality that we face on a day-to-day basis, whether it’s routine flooding along our coast, or extreme weather events causing property damage and loss of life throughout our state. And two-thirds of Virginia voters acknowledge this reality.
According to the Wason Center for Civic Leadership’s recent “State of the Commonwealth 2022” report, which polled 700 registered voters on a number of topics, recent attacks on the signature progress Virginia’s made to address climate change are starkly out of step with voters who overwhelmingly favor climate action.
Before he had even been inaugurated, Gov. Glenn Youngkin was pledging to repeal the Virginia Clean Economy Act, Virginia’s blueprint to 100 percent clean energy by mid-century, and to pull Virginia out of the multi-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative – issues he had been largely silent about while on the campaign trail.
According to the Wason Center, 67 percent of voters support both of these programs; similarly, 66 percent of voters believe that addressing climate change should be a priority for Youngkin and the legislature, and more than 70 percent of Virginia voters are seeing the impact of climate change in their daily lives, whether that’s rising seas or an uptick in dangerous, extreme weather.
But when they could be leading for all Virginians and addressing these very real issues, the Youngkin administration and the House of Delegates continue to play partisan games, showing just how out of step with voters they are on climate.
This legislative session, there have been no less than 10 pieces of legislation that passed the House of Delegates attacking the progress that Virginia’s made in cutting harmful carbon emissions from power plants and vehicles, expanding clean energy deployment — and the jobs and economic opportunities that come with it — and protecting vulnerable communities from the impacts of climate change.
In some cases lawmakers have attempted to weaken these laws around the edges; in others, they’ve attempted wholesale repeals.
Even the state budget that originated in the House includes language undermining Virginia’s membership in RGGI — a proven program that returned in just its first year more than $280 million to help lower energy costs for low-income families and to protect flood-prone communities from the growing impacts of climate change. Pulling Virginia out of RGGI means these localities will be left to fend for themselves, as will those households with the highest energy burden.
Fortunately, these attacks on our progress have so far failed to advance in the Senate of Virginia, which correctly sees the Virginia Clean Economy Act, advanced clean cars standards and membership in RGGI as some of the most monumental environmental policy victories in Virginia’s history — policies that are soundly supported by voters across the state.
With more attacks on the docket, and with budget negotiations likely coming down to the wire this year, the Senate of Virginia remains our best and only hope to maintain the gains we’ve made on climate action over the past two years, and Virginians are looking to them to hold strong and continue defeating attacks on our climate crisis.
Because of the gains we’ve made in recent years, Virginia is one of the fastest growing markets for clean energy in the nation, and our commitments to a sustainable future are a draw for companies who are committed to a lower carbon footprint for their operations.
We can’t afford to lose any time in this fight. Climate change is not a distant threat — it’s here and it’s only getting worse. It’s time for Gov. Youngkin to come to terms with this reality and prioritize solutions to address this crisis. As governor, he represents all Virginians, and it’s clear a majority of voters regardless of party want to see him take action.
Chris Leyen is the policy director for the Virginia League of Conservation Voters. Contact the writer at [email protected].
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