Vivian’s Views: Environment
Nowhere is the health and well-being of future generations more at-stake than in our actions to protect the environment, invest in green energy and conservation, and preserve Virginia’s unique and irreplaceable natural heritage. Through well-reasoned policy decisions, we can strengthen Virginia’s economy as we conserve her resources.
I have priceless memories of extensive backpacking. I’ve snorkeled above sea turtles feeding on algae. I love the beauty and thrills of Virginia’s whitewater. I smile when trillium re-appear behind our house each spring. I was raised on a truck farm. I know and respect nature. Especially in times of great change, many of us reach to nature to regain our sense of stability.
But even as Virginia’s lush vegetation, stream valleys, and open waters can be a source of peace, they cannot endure like the ancient Appalachians without our help. We must take substantial, meaningful action. Reducing global warming is critical.
ENERGY AND CLEAN AIR
Wind Power I was introduced to Virginia’s unique potential for offshore wind power at least a decade ago at a Sierra Club meeting. I’ve been pushing for it ever since and construction finally started this spring. By 2026, 220 turbines 27 miles out will be generating 2,600 megawatts — enough to power 650,000 homes. This is double any other state, but it underscores the challenge to reach levels achieved in Europe over the last 20 years.
Solar The challenge of solar is modernizing Virginia’s power grid to capture and distribute energy from many sources — commercial rooftops, schools, parking lots, rural open space — instead of a grid that just distributes electricity generated by a few large power plants. It is a priority.
Carbon neutrality In 2000, coal produced 52% of the nation’s electricity; by April 2019, it produced only 20% while renewables such as wind and solar produced 23%. However, due to fracking, natural gas is now the nation’s number one energy source. This is not good news. Methane is far more potent in trapping heat in the atmosphere and accelerating global warming. I will continue to strongly oppose fracking and will support green energy, nuclear, and conservation to further reduce the use of coal.
Conservation Energy efficiency and conservation are important to saving the need to increase power generation. Many businesses and increasingly governments have realized the bottom line cost savings. More needs to be done to assist the general public in making smart energy decision. In addition, direct government and public utility programs are needed to assist poor communities and households, where energy loss and inefficiency is typically the greatest.
Transportation The central focus for Northern Virginia is to give people alternatives to the single passenger car. Every car that we can take off the road reduces pollution and congestion. Best of all, it can save folks money — in 2018, 55% of the users of the Beltway and I-95 Express Lanes rode free because they joined car pools or took the bus. In addition, electric grid restructuring may be necessary to support conveniently recharging electric vehicles.
Anything we do to reverse rising temperatures and acid rain will improve water quality worldwide. In Virginia, our extensive shore lines make major urban areas vulnerable to flood damage and sources of fresh water are in danger of salt water encroachment. The Chesapeake Bay is the source of 500 million pounds of seafood annually. Decades of effort to restore the Bay are undercut when weather extremes increase stream bank erosion and urban run-off and temperature rise increases the dead zone, since warm water doesn’t hold dissolved oxygen as well.
Under the Agreement between 6 states and D.C. to remove the Chesapeake Bay from the federal list of impaired waters, we made significant progress in reducing point pollution from sewerage treatment and industry since the 1980s. More recently, pollution from agricultural runoff is also being reduced. However, pollution from urban runoff — heavy metals from hard surfaces, sediment from stream bank erosion and construction, and landscape fertilizers — remains essentially the same despite requirements on new construction sites and Non-Tidal Wetlands Protection through on-site retention.
Other concerns include ground water contamination if bans on fracking and uranium mining are ever lifted, containment of poultry and other livestock waste, and groundwater contamination and transport spills from out-of-state trash being trucked into remote landfills. After years of effort, in 2019 we finally dealt with the long-standing hazard of coal ash toxic contamination to human water supplies and marine species from coal-powered electric generation plants. State law now requires that coal ash be removed from all unlined ground enclosures. At least 25% must be encapsulated into solid materials safe for re-use. The remainder must be moved to federally-approved lined storage enclosures.
As Secretary, I chaired an unprecedented regional effort of top local officials, staff, and citizens that brought land use and transportation plans together to create the first coordinated Northern Virginia Transportation Plan. As chair, I prevailed over VDOT’s objections and insisted that citizen participation be equal to technical staff input.
The key to preserving the integrity of designated growth areas and keeping the designation from being undercut by a court challenge is to establish defensible planning premises that can be documented using measurable factors. An inclusive public processes will help establish broad community acceptance of the principles and hopefully prevent electoral swings in philosophy.
OPEN SPACE AND LAND PRESERVATION
I helped preserve the Land Conservation Tax Credit from attempts to severely weaken it. It is highly successful in preserving land and is serving as a national model. It contains a provision that helps landowners — such as those I represent who back onto streams that are part of the Chesapeake water shed — to get immediate cash for the credit when their estate is too small to take full advantage of the tax relief. I support transferable development rights, but want to be sure that the sale of the development right is in perpetuity and cannot be reversed by a Master Plan change.
Virginia is dead last among all states in funding for parks and natural areas, which limits their use and proper care.