Opinion

Virginians Stand Up for Climate Action

Recently, when the public comment period on Virginia’s major climate proposal came to a close, Gov. Ralph Northam vetoed a bill that would limit his ability to address climate change. The governor stated that Virginia is extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change and that, in no way, should the state be stripped of tools it can utilize to protect the environment and, in turn, Virginians.

Virginians are feeling the harmful effects of climate change. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, temperatures across the state are higher than normal, and sea levels are rising at an alarming rate. Virginia’s beaches are being eroded; its lowlands are increasingly vulnerable, and coastal flooding is exacerbated.

Sea levels along the commonwealth’s coastline are expected to rise between 16 inches and 4 feet in the next century. Wetlands around the North Landing River and Back Bay can’t survive an increase of 2 feet. And densely populated areas like Virginia Beach are extremely vulnerable to coastal erosion; oceanfront properties could soon be fully exposed to incoming storms as waves wash away barrier islands and open new inlets.

Meanwhile, smog exacerbated by higher temperatures is taking over cities, severely impacting the health of Virginians. According to a report by Environment Virginia Research and Policy Center, Richmond residents breathed in elevated levels of smog 56 days out of the year in 2015. In the Washington metropolitan area, including Arlington and Alexandria, residents breathed in elevated levels of smog an alarming 99 days out of the year. Cutting pollution means we will see fewer premature deaths and asthma attacks.

Virginia’s state legislature has an obligation to cut carbon pollution, clean out the air and protect the health of its constituents. Climate change will severely alter Virginia’s landscape and present ever-more serious health concerns as temperatures continue to rise. The dangerously misguided bill vetoed by Northam was a direct threat to Virginia’s environment and its residents.

During the public hearings held in March by the Department of Environmental Quality, Virginians demonstrated support for the climate rule and a strong desire for common sense climate reform as they packed public hearing rooms across the state and submitted thousands of public comments. In total, the DEQ hosted six public hearings that had over 340 attendees and 160 people testifying on the rule. If enacted, this rule would allow Virginia to link with a successful regional, bipartisan alliance of nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states aimed at capping carbon emissions: the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

In their testimonies, stakeholders highlighted that this standard should consider Virginia’s untapped economic, energy efficiency potential and all planned renewable energy developments in the state. We encourage Virginians to continue to defend their environment and never allow the negligence and the ignorance of a few to harm the health and stability of many.  

Combating climate change is not and should not be a partisan issue, regardless of whether the federal government decides to entertain climate change denialism or not. RGGI is a prime example of how states can work together, across party lines, to cut pollution and clean our air.  We urge Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality to officially issue a climate rule that cuts carbon pollution as much as possible and as quickly as possible to ensure a clean and healthy future for the commonwealth.

 

Lindsey Mendelson is a global warming solutions advocate for Environment Virginia and works to build public support for regional and state climate policies.   

Mariana Egea is a global warming solutions intern for Environment Virginia and a senior at American University in the School of International Service.

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