Virginia’s environment wins big in 2021 General Assembly
Environment Virginia works to champion the environmental values we share and to protect our air, water and special places. Every new year kicks off with the legislative session of the Virginia General Assembly.
Environment Virginia works to champion the environmental values we share and to protect our air, water and special places. Every new year kicks off with the legislative session of the Virginia General Assembly. In even numbered years, the legislature meets for 60 days and in odd numbered years typically for 46 days, making Virginia’s session one of the shortest in the nation.
During these quick weeks, Environment Virginia works to pass legislation that advances our priorities to create a greener, cleaner Virginia. Over the past couple years, Virginia has taken big steps to become an environmental leader with the passing of a major bipartisan coal ash clean up bill in 2019 as well as the Virginia Clean Economy Act last year committing the Commonwealth to 100% clean energy by 2045.
The 2021 Virginia General Assembly convened on January 13th and we were ready to get to work but things looked quite different this year. The House of Delegates met virtually aside from Speaker Filler-Corn who was the sole lawmaker in the chamber during floor sessions. This meant committee hearings, floor debate, votes, etc. were all done using Zoom. You could submit online written comments as well as sign up to testify virtually from anywhere.
The Senate met at the Science Museum in Richmond where they could safely social distance (there are only 40 senators compared to 100 delegates). While the Senate mostly met in person, it too only used virtual testimony. Both chambers expanded public video streaming with each floor session, committee and subcommittee meeting available to watch live online and as a recording after the fact.
Although things were different, we adapted as we have all learned to do and were able to secure monumental wins for our environment and further cement Virginia’s position as a leader for the environment.
Here are some of the 2021 Virginia General Assembly’s big green wins:
We did it! Virginia has voted to ban single use foam cups and takeout containers in an amazing victory for our environment. Environment Virginia talked to tens of thousands of Virginians from the suburbs of DC to the tidewater region to Shenandoah. We collected over 50,000 petitions calling on our leaders to put Wildlife Over Waste and this year they listened. Expanded polystyrene foam is one of the most dangerous single use plastics. It breaks apart easily and never biodegrades. Nothing we use for 5 minutes should pollute our environment for generations to come. Virginia is just the 6th state to pass this ban statewide. We thank Delegate Betsy Carr of Richmond for championing this bill and for our many canvassers, organizers, members and volunteers who made this happen.
Our second plastics priority bill passed as well! HB 2059 bans the intentional release of balloons. Balloons are litter and should be treated as such. They are one of the most dangerous types of plastic to wildlife and until now, it was completely legal to organize balloon releases (as long as no one person released more than 50 balloons). This was a widely popular bill spearheaded by Delegate Guy and the Virginia Aquarium with support from Senator Kiggans, both from Virginia Beach. We are excited at the big impact this will have on our wildlife and special places.
This is a huge win for our climate. This bill establishes a Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) and Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandate. This requires a certain percentage of vehicles sold in Virginia must be low or zero emissions which means more carbon free options for Virginians. Transportation is the largest source of transportation emissions and personal vehicles are the biggest chunk of that. In passing this bill, Virginia has doubled down on its climate leadership and is just the 5th state to establish LEV and ZEV mandates as well as codify a commitment to 100% clean energy.
Electric Vehicle Rebate program established in Virginia
EV Rebates incentivize and accelerate electric vehicle adoption. This program will make it far easier for people to afford an EV and continue to create more and more demand and feasibility in Virginia. The Clean Car Standards create these mandates and an EV rebate program would ensure they are sold and on the road as fast as possible. This program is not just for brand new cars though which means the used car market for EVs will increase as well. Unfortunately, this program passed but was left unfunded. We will try again in future sessions and identify as many funding sources as possible.
In order to have these clean car programs make the meaningful impact they are designed to make, Senator Boysko and Delegate Sullivan introduced and passed two key pieces of legislation. First, Boysko’s bill (SB 1223) requires each new administration to incorporate electrification to be included in their Clean Energy Plan. Delegate Sullivan’s bill (HB 2282) requires the SCC to consider how to accelerate electrification as well through regulations and oversight.
Increasing walking, biking and public transportation in Virginia
In addition to these big wins for transportation electrification, it is important to remember that it is just part of the equation. We must increase public transit as well as make biking and walking as safe and convenient as possible. A few bills worked towards these goals. The Virginia General Assembly passed the Bicycle Safety Act, commissioned a crosswalk study and expanded on previous legislation that encourages transit oriented development.
Wildlife corridors in Virginia
Wildlife corridors are extremely important in protecting migratory animals. Last year, the General Assembly passed the Wildlife Corridor Action Plan which identifies habitat connectivity in Virginia to determine where corridors are needed. Senator Marsden’s bill (SB1274) builds off of this and ensures that wildlife corridors will be included across Virginia department and agency planning.
This is what I like to call a no brainer bill. Last year, we passed a 100% clean energy bill as well as joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). While we are reducing our carbon output through RGGI, we are increasing renewable energy. The goal in this is to decarbonize Virginia. This is pretty hard to do without knowing how much carbon and other greenhouse gases we are putting into the atmosphere. Senator Morrissey’s bill (SB1282) requires the Department of Environmental Quality to conduct an inventory and make emission projections so we really know how much more work we need to do.
Funding Chesapeake Bay Restoration
The Chesapeake Bay is one of Virginia’s greatest shared assets. The regional approach to cleaning up the Bay has been a great success but there is still a lot of work to be done to protect this natural wonder. Although the session is over, legislators will return for a virtual session to adopt a final budget after Gov. Northam reviews and amends the version passed by the General Assembly.
These are just a few of the dozens of environmental bills passed this session. While we have taken time to celebrate these huge wins, we are always focused on what’s next. Environment Virginia will continue to fight to protect our air from dirty fossil fuels, our water from pollution and chemicals and our special places and wildlife from development and single use plastics. We could not do any of this without the support of our wonderful members. Thank you for making it possible for Environment Virginia to champion the environmental values we share.
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.