High Stakes for Defending Climate Wins in Virginia

Legislative Director Blair St. Ledger-Olson reflects on the nomination of Trump EPA-appointee Andrew Wheeler
as Virginia Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources.

January 7, 2022

In 2021, Climate Cabinet Action endorsed 10 key climate champions in the Virginia House of Delegates and provided localized campaign resources for candidates and advocates across the state. Why? We knew that defending the pro-climate majority in the Virginia Legislature was key to protecting their climate leadership. Republicans unfortunately took back the House - along with gubernatorial positions - and we’re already seeing the impacts. 

When Gov-Elect Youngkin was elected as Virginia’s next Governor, environmental advocates hoped to find some common ground with the incoming administration in order to protect hard-earned recent climate legislation. But this week these hopes were dashed when Gov-Elect Youngkin announced his pick for the state’s Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources - former coal lobbyist and Trump EPA appointee Andrew Wheeler.  

With this move, Republican leadership is clearly hiding from the well established reality that the climate crisis is real and already at our doorsteps. Hampton Roads, Virginia is the second-most vulnerable area in the country to rising seas, behind New Orleans. Under Gov. Northam and the previous Democratic leadership in the Commonwealth’s General Assembly, Virginia passed a number of climate policy measures - committing the state’s electric grid to being carbon-free by 2045, joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative cap-and-invest market, uplifting environmental justice in their planning efforts and resource allocation, and adopting more stringent auto emissions standards. Virginia had established itself as a leader in the transition to a clean energy economy. 

While Virginia was making progress, Andrew Wheeler was overseeing the rollback of significant federal regulations that reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Instead of embracing the numerous health, climate, and economic benefits of clean energy, Wheeler worked to prop up an outdated coal industry that had already been rendered technologically obsolete. If his appointment as Virginia’s Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources is confirmed, he will bring that same strategy to the Commonwealth - undoing the critical clean energy leadership Virginia has brought to the South. 

Virginia’s state legislature must defend the progress it has made over the past two years by rejecting this nomination. All eyes will now turn to Virginia’s Senate, where Democrats have a narrow 21-19 majority. At Climate Cabinet, we know that states are critical to tackling the climate crisis, and we remain committed to electing climate champions to office to ensure an ambitious, pro-climate majority in both chambers of Virginia legislature.

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