Can you believe it? The legislative session is already halfway over, and so much has happened. Our number one priority is to defend the progress we’ve made on climate while we wait out Governor Youngkin’s tenure. Last year, we beat back straightforward attempts to repeal our major climate victories. Now, we are facing a many-headed hydra of climate attacks that have surfaced in new and more nuanced form.
So far, we’ve successfully defended the Commonwealth’s core climate policies AND we have a real shot at passing bills for climate progress. But we need your help to get these bills over the finish line, even as we’re still fighting even more fossil fuel swindles. So while we’ve had a lot of wins, there’s still a lot to do!
Read on to see where the pieces have fallen at crossover.
Protecting Virginia’s Climate Policies
VICTORY: The Senate defeats Clean Cars rollbacks.
Republicans filed seven bills to repeal Virginia’s Clean Car Standards, a policy that will gradually shift new vehicle sales towards zero-emission cars. In the second week of session, the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources committee killed five of these repeal bills. While the other two passed the House, they will find themselves in the same Senate Committee that dispatched their unsavory brethren. Virginia’s Clean Car Standards survived and adoption of electric vehicles will officially begin with model year 2025.
VICTORY: No appetite for RGGI repeal.
While the Governor pursues his own illegitimate process to repeal the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) through the Air Board, one piece of legislation was filed to remove Virginia from the multi-state carbon market. This bill swiftly met its demise in the Senate Agriculture committee, and for the first time, one Republican declined to vote for repeal. This makes sense, because a plurality of Republicans (42% to 40%) prefer we stay in RGGI, and 66% of Virginians overall support the policy. Better luck next time, polluters!
VICTORY: VCEA attacks defeated and defanged.
Last year, the fossil fuel industry’s efforts to repeal the Virginia Clean Economy Act —mandating a shift to 100% clean electricity by phasing out coal and other fossil fuels — failed miserably. This year, fossil fuel interests introduced a laundry list of bills to weaken fossil fuel plant retirement mandates and define various carbon-emitting resources as renewable. Thanks to a unified effort by environmental groups, this sizable list has been whittled down, and those that remain have little political chance in the opposite chamber or have been rendered innocuous.
Moving Forward on Climate Progress
VICTORY? The SCC should regain power to adjust rates.
Thanks to decades of bad legislation handed down by Dominion Energy, our energy regulators – the State Corporation Commission – currently have little power to, well, regulate our energy rates. A simple, bipartisan bill (HB1604/SB1321) to restore that power, championed by VCEA favorites Delegate Rip Sullivan (D48) and Senator Jennifer McClellan (D9) – as well as Senator Ceigh Deeds (D25) and Delegate Lee Ware (R65) – passed both chambers with flying colors. Barring anything unexpected, our regulators will now be re-empowered to limit utility over-earnings and put money back in the pockets of Virginians!
VICTORY? Bus and pedestrian infrastructure to receive more funding.
Bus and pedestrian infrastructure is sorely lacking in many transit corridors. Luckily, a pot of money is available – the Transit Ridership Incentive Program (TRIP) – that could address this gap. Both the Senate and House passed twin bills (SB1326/HB2338) to allow TRIP funds to go towards bus and pedestrian infrastructure, as well as for guidance to transit agencies on fleet electrification. While changes could still happen to the legislation after crossover, we should see significant dollars head out the door for bus and pedestrian infrastructure this session.
KEEP WATCHING: Shared solar reform heads to the House.
Shared solar, which gives access to solar energy to people who cannot obtain rooftop solar, needs a makeover. The current Dominion program includes an unreasonably high minimum bill (over $55), making it unattractive to all but a class of customers exempt from the bill. Even worse, Appalachian Power customers have no shared solar program at all. After numerous weeks of constant negotiation, the reformed Dominion program (SB1266) passed 24-15, picking up three Republicans, and the bill creating the ApCo program (SB1083) passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, 35-5. Both now head to the House.
Fighting Continued Fossil Foolery
KEEP WATCHING: Gas industry pushes anti-electrification bill through House.
Methane gas, a.k.a. natural gas, is not a “bridge fuel” to clean energy. Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, has gotten wildly expensive due to geopolitics, and its combustion indoors leads to respiratory illnesses such as childhood asthma. So there are many reasons why localities might choose to mandate all-electric new buildings. HB1783 would prevent them from doing that by barring local ordinances that require new residential buildings to be fully electric. This bill, which has been pushed in dozens of states by ALEC and the American Gas Association, passed the House on partisan lines. We hope it will die in the Senate, as its companion did.
NOT GREAT BUT NOT OVER: Senate passes bill inflating Dominion profits while House version muddies climate progress.
And now for a spot of bad news. The Senate passed a bill (SB1265) that would increase Dominion’s allowable return-on-equity (i.e. profit), which will increase costs for ratepayers. While its initial House companion (HB1770) also contained this language, the measure was met with such hostility by House Republicans that it was removed from the House bill; however, the House bill adds bureaucracy and uncertainty to fossil fuel plant retirements. Fortunately, we have more opportunities to oppose these bad measures as they cross over to the opposite chambers.
NOT GREAT BUT NOT OVER: House kills bill to put EV chargers in rural, low-income localities.
Major manufacturers will soon transition to all electric fleets, necessitating a buildout of EV charging stations statewide. While Virginia has received $106 million in federal funding to set up charging infrastructure along major highway corridors, funds have not been set aside for EV charging stations in rural areas. HB1588 would have allowed up to $25 million per year to go towards setting up EV charging infrastructure in low-income and low-density localities. House Republicans, whose constituents would disproportionately benefit from the Fund, gave into partisan instincts and killed the bill. A companion bill (SB1466) survives, passing with full support from Senate Republicans, and will head to the House.
It’s been a busy couple of weeks, and we’re only halfway done. We’ve made great progress – with CCAN Action Fund supporters emailing, calling, and lobbying their lawmakers – but there’s still more work to do.
Want to get in on the action? Sign up to be part of our Climate Defenders Action Team today!
Photo at the top: A group of youth climate activists and our organizer, Elle, made waves at Conservation Lobby Day.