2014 Session: Pursuit of Common Sense Policies

While Democrats swept the Virginia Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General seats for the first time since 1989, Democrats in the House of Delegates still face a Republican super majority. Election day netted Democrats a total of only one seat, moving the chamber from 68-32 to 67-33. In this partisan atmosphere, it’s difficult for environmental legislation to move forward, especially when every House Committee is split 15-7 for the GOP.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats will be struggling with the fallout from the Attorney General recount when they come back into Session. Control of the Senate is uncertain, even with Lieutenant Governor-elect Ralph Northam at the helm. As things stand today with two vacant Senate seats, Republicans hold a 20-18 majority. The Governor will likely call a special election for Northam’s District 6 seat in December or January, which could narrow the gap to 20-19. But as the recount drags on, Herring’s District 33 seat is unlikely to be filled before the beginning of Session, leaving Democrats one seat short of the 20-20 tie they need to take control of the Senate.

With our allies in both houses outnumbered, the Sierra Club faces an uphill battle in 2014’s General Assembly Session. We’ve chosen to focus on supporting small business, job creation and cutting taxes—sound familiar? It’s no joke! Last year, 1 out of every 213 new jobs were created by the solar industry. This is the fastest growing industry in the nation, and we don’t want Virginia to be left behind in a cloud of smog.

By supporting policies that favor clean energy, Virginia could grow our small clean-energy businesses, create jobs AND reduce our carbon footprint, all at the same time! We’re lobbying the GA to pass the following fixes: allow community net metering, or solar gardens, so that neighbors can share the electricity generated by solar panels; overturn Home Owner Association bans on solar panels, give solar panels an exemption from the Machinery and Tools Tax; offer a rebate, or financial incentive, to customers who invest in clean solar power.

We’ll also be pushing for a repeal of the unfair tax on hybrid vehicles to the tune of $64 per year.  In recent weeks, several legislators from both sides of the political aisle have publically supported repealing the tax.

In the wake of gift-gate, ethics reform will likely steal the headlines this winter, and Sierra Club will be right there pushing for more transparency and more accountability in government.

Another bill would require the State Corporation Commission to take into account the negative external health and carbon costs of electricity generation. Electricity generated using fossil fuels, like natural gas and coal, harms our health and the planet—and these impacts should be considered when utilities petition to build more electric generation.

To become involved or just keep informed during this legislative Session, contact Susan Stillman at stillman.susan@gmail.com, or call (703)623-1422. Susan Stillman is the Virginia Chapter Legislative Chair.

About the Author

Corrina Beall is the Legislative Coordinator for the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club.