For the second year running, the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter will recognize the contributions of a select few legislators. This year, the Club applauds nine individuals who introduced climate change or energy bills during the 2014 General Assembly Session.
For some of this year’s Legislative Leaders, bipartisan cooperation resulted in victories for the environment. Several important steps toward transforming Virginia’s market for clean, renewable distributed solar power were made under the leadership of Senator Emmett Hanger (R-24), Senator Chap Petersen (D-34), and Senator Tommy Norment (R-3). Other award winners changed the conversation around emerging issues in Virginia, including hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. Senator Richard Stuart (R-28) guided a directive to develop regulations to protect the surface and groundwater in the sensitive Eastern Groundwater Management Area successfully through the Senate with support from both parties. With strong support established in the Senate and troubling resistance in the House, this hot-button issue has made a strong debut on the stage of Virginia politics. Still other Leaders got the bureaucratic ball rolling on the hard work of planning for the incredible challenges climate change presents to our coastal cities and towns.
The following Legislators made major contributions to the character of the 2014 Legislative Session.
Senator Emmett Hanger (R-24) introduced a successful piece of legislation that eradicates a major barrier to distributed renewable solar energy. Until now, localities could tax solar panels as manufacturing equipment, making solar power prohibitively expensive. Senate Bill 418 extends a tax exemption available to landfill gas projects and wood mulching equipment as “pollution abatement equipment,” effectively giving solar businesses and consumers a useful workaround to address a tax problem that was stifling the market.
Delegate Ron Villanueva (R-21) is recognized as the patron of House Bill 910, an ambitious $10 million investment tax credit program for renewable energy projects, including solar, landfill gas, hydro power, biomass, wind and geothermal. The companion bill in the Senate, introduced by Senator Tommy Norment (R-3), was changed into a grant program and passed. The grant program will take effect in fiscal year 2015-2016, but remains to be funded in the budget. Senator Norment demonstrated leadership by successfully guiding this bill through several massive overhauls, and ultimately through the Legislature.
Senator Chap Petersen (D-34) successfully eradicated a legal barrier that prohibited some homeowners from installing residential solar power systems on personal property. Thanks to Senate Bill 222, Homeowner Association (HOA) bans on solar panels will be eliminated. HOAs may still impose restrictions on size and placement of solar panels, but outright bans will be prohibited.
Senator David Marsden (D-37) is honored with a Leadership Award for his work on Senate Bill 629, a bill to protect kayakers and boaters’ freedom to recreate and enjoy the natural scenic beauty of Virginia’s streams and rivers.
Senator Richard Stuart (R-28) is recognized for his leadership as the first Member to submit a bill to protect the Eastern Groundwater Management Area from the impacts of hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. Senate Bill 48 would have directed the Department of Environmental Quality to develop hydraulic fracturing regulations for the Tidewater region. Currently, there are no regulations in place to protect our surface and groundwater from the impacts of gas drilling.
Delegate Kaye Kory (D-38) is honored as the patron of a bill that would have pushed a regulatory agency to take a more active role when overseeing the operation of Virginia’s biggest polluters: power plants. House Bill 363 would have required the State Corporation Commission, the state agency that oversees utilities, to factor the impacts of electricity generating facilities on the health and welfare of residents, including carbon dioxide pollution. Currently, the State Corporation Commission does not effectively balance our need to protect the health and safety of Virginians most likely to be impacted by climate change with our desire for affordable, reliable electricity.
Senator Mamie Locke (D-2) and Delegate Christopher Stolle (R-83) worked together to introduce companion resolutions HR16 and SR3. Their leadership on adaptation of Virginia’s coastal communities to climate change is arguably the most important piece of legislation enacted during the 2014 Legislative Session. Rising sea levels threaten the prosperity of Virginia’s coastal communities, including Hampton Roads, ranked the second most vulnerable area nationwide to the impacts of a changing climate. The enacted resolution will establish a Joint Subcommittee tasked with making statewide recommendations for addressing recurrent flooding in the coastal areas of Virginia with short and long-term strategies.