Virginia’s 2020 Environmental Wins

When it comes to protecting our air, water, and the places we love, it was a big year for Virginia.

At the beginning of 2020, we outlined three main priorities for Environment Virginia: 1. Protecting Virginia’s Waterways and Wildlife by banning single-use polystyrene containers, 2. Codifying our Commitment to 100% Carbon Free Electricity, and 3. Joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). 

When it comes to protecting our air, water, and the places we love, it was a big year for Virginia. Here’s a list of our environmental victories:

Almost Banned Foam

Our bill to ban polystyrene cups and takeout containers (HB533) passed out of the Virginia House of Delegates and nearly made it through the State Senate. In the eleventh hour, several senators added an amendment that requires the bill pass again next year before it becomes law. One thing is clear: there is a groundswell of public support for banning foam, and that’s visible with the 50,000 petitions we collected and delivered to our state legislature.

100% Renewable Energy 

In April, Virginia became the first southern state and the seventh in the U.S. to pass a law that commits to providing 100 percent carbon-free electricity by mid-century. The Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) removes barriers to solar and wind, and establishes a mandatory target for utilities to reach 100% renewable energy by 2045 and 2050.

Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

In July, Virginia became the first southern state to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which is a consortium of mid-atlantic and northeast states working together to successfully cut pollution from power plants. 

Offshore Wind Projects

In a show of bipartisan support for renewable energy this fall, Governor Northam joined the governors of Maryland and North Carolina to create a partnership to develop offshore wind. The collaboration, known as the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic Regional Transformative Partnership for Offshore Wind Energy Resources (SMART-POWER), will work to expand and promote wind energy in these states.

Atlantic Coast Pipeline Cancelled

Dominion Energy and Duke Energy announced in July that they are pulling the plug on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. After  many legal setbacks and delays, they have abandoned the heavily-opposed 600-mile pipeline. The pipeline would have been built through some of our most iconic landscapes, and would have tied the region to fossil fuels for decades. The move indicates Dominion Energy and other Virginia utilities are shifting away from fossil fuels after the passage of the VCEA.

Central Virginia Transit Authority

HB 1541 created the Central Virginia Transit Authority (CTVA) at the beginning of the year. CTVA promises to impact climate emissions in the central part of the state, and established a revenue stream for local transportation projects through raised fuel taxes and sales taxes in the region.

Electrifying school buses

Dominion Energy’s electric school bus program began phase one during 2020 by starting to bring 50 electric school buses (ESBs) to school districts in Northern Virginia, Central Virginia, and Hampton Roads. The program can continue to bring up to 200 more ESBs per year over the next five years if the legislature agrees on the best way to implement this program. This is just one way climate activists are looking to transition our school bus fleets.

The Transportation and Climate Initiative

While Virginia was not ready to commit fully to the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) this year, we were one of eight states that issued a statement this month about plans to continue working with Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and D.C. on the regional effort to clean up our transportation sector. TCI works to cut carbon dioxide emissions and smog-forming pollution from our vehicles at the regional level.

Virginia Bans Offshore Drilling

Governor Northam signed legislation in March that bans oil and gas drilling and infrastructure in the coastal waters of the Commonwealth. The bill also removes policy statements that supported the Trump administration’s efforts to promote oil and gas drilling off the Atlantic shoreline, joining Florida, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, New Hampshire, and Maine in the effort. 

Record Funding for the Bay

The EPA announced in September a record $18 million in grants to, “Support the restoration and conservation of the Chesapeake Bay watershed in six states and the District of Columbia.” The funding will go towards cleaning up waterways, habitats, and iconic landscapes here in Virginia.

Localities Can Tax Plastic Bags

At the beginning of the year, the Virginia General Assembly gave localities the authority to tax disposable plastic grocery bags. The legislation gives a local option of a five cent tax on these bags, allowing us the reduce some of the millions of pieces of disposable plastics we throw out every day. Due to the pandemic, a delayed enactment has been set to January 1, 2021. 

During a year of seemingly insurmountable challenges, many of us are looking ahead to 2021. While looking back at this year comes with a (very big) grain of salt, we can also celebrate many environmental victories in our nation

We’ve permanently funded the Land and Water Conservation Fund through the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act. We’ve made sweeping progress towards phasing out fossil fuels as numerous communities have committed to renewable energy. From states to universities, the movement to reduce single use plastics has grown with plastic bags and polystyrene bans. In Virginia, and across the country, we’ve accomplished a lot, and that’s something to celebrate.


Elly Boehmer

State Director, Environment Virginia

A former canvass director and organizer with Impact, Elly now directs Environment Virginia's efforts to promote clean air, clean water and open spaces in Virginia. Elly lives in Richmond, Virginia, where she enjoys gardening, photography, hiking and rollerblading with her dog.