Virginia's General Assembly is more than halfway through its legislative session — and state lawmakers are considering several important bills that would address environmental justice, pipelines, climate change, and public health. If passed, these bills will establish lasting environmental, health, and climate change protections for Virginia and its communities. The bills we're watching would:
- Turn the Commonwealth’s stated environmental justice goals into a reality
The Omnibus Environmental Justice Bill (House Bill 2074 and Senate Bill 1318) would direct Virginia’s state and local agencies to adopt agency-specific environmental justice policies by October. Specifically, it would require agencies to evaluate the consequences of covered actions (such as approving a new natural gas pipeline or granting a permit to construct one) on low-income communities and communities of color, which face disproportionate harm from polluters.
The bill would also require agencies to consider the cumulative impact of their actions on “frontline” workers and communities on the “fence line” of polluting industries and give these historically disenfranchised groups ample opportunity to participate in agency decision-making processes.
- Increase oversight and accountability for pipeline companies
Virginia’s pipeline companies have a history of violating federal water quality standards when building new pipelines. Senate Bill 1265 would give Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) more authority to halt pipeline production when oil and gas companies adversely impact the environment and violate the law. It would also give DEQ authority to inspect smaller pipelines than current law allows.
Senate Bill 1311, meanwhile, would create a process whereby DEQ and Virginia’s State Water Control Board, which oversees water quality, can improve or revise plans for large interstate pipeline projects like the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Such plans may relate to failed erosion, sediment control, stormwater management, and other environmental concerns. The bill would also give DEQ authority to revise water quality certification standards for pipeline projects. Ultimately, these bills would ensure that Virginia has the regulatory flexibility it needs to protect water quality when pipeline companies violate environmental laws and regulations.
- Increase access to renewable energy sources
We won’t be able to rely on renewable energy on a grid-wide basis without the ability to store it properly. California, for example, could cut carbon dioxide emissions — a leading cause of climate change — by 90 percent if it built an adequate supply of energy storage facilities, a recent study found. Without this infrastructure, the Golden State could lose nearly one-third of the renewable energy it produces.
While the Commonwealth has fairly aggressive plans to expand its renewable energy storage infrastructure, its slow permit approval process is delaying progress. House Bill 2148 would ensure that energy storage projects follow the expedited approval process that applies to solar and wind energy projects. This would ensure that Virginia meets its renewable energy storage goals, along with over $3 billion in related energy infrastructure investments.
- Modernize energy efficiency standards
Constructing energy efficient buildings is a key part of our solution to climate change. Nationwide, buildings account for more than 38 percent of our overall energy consumption and more than 76 percent of our electricity consumption. Virginia’s energy efficiency building code is much weaker than its federal counterpart and should be stronger. House Bill 2227 and Senate Bill 1224 would bring Virginia’s building code in line with national standards to ensure that future homes and buildings reduce energy consumption, air pollution, and carbon emissions, and help curb climate change.
- Fund research on toxins in Virginia’s drinking water
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a family of synthetic chemicals commonly found in products meant to repel water, heat, and oil, such as nonstick cookware, stain and water-resistant fabrics and carpets, food packaging, and firefighting foam. These substances are linked to numerous health hazards and have been found in Virginia’s groundwater and drinking water.
Consuming PFAS is associated with higher cholesterol and blood pressure levels and increased risks of cancer, thyroid disease, pregnancy complications, and lower infant birth weight. Two budget amendments would provide Virginia’s Department of Health with $120,000 over the next two years to continue to study the extent of PFAS contamination in public sources of drinking water.
CPR is following these urgently needed bills as they move through the general assembly this session, which will adjourn on Feb. 27. For updates, check back here, subscribe to our newsletter, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. And, if you live in Virginia, add your name in support of environmental justice legislation, water protection legislation, and research on PFAS.