By Blair St. Ledger-Olson, Legislative Director
March 18, 2022
After a 60 day legislative session, Virginia’s General Assembly is getting ready to wrap up. This session marked the first under the new Glenn Youngkin administration, combined with new Republican control over the House of Delegates. When Glenn Youngkin was elected in November 2021, environmental advocates hoped to find common ground with the incoming administration. That changed when Gov. Youngkin announced his pick for Virginia’s Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources - Trump EPA appointee Andrew Wheeler. Wheeler’s appointment went hand in hand with numerous attacks on the clean energy and climate progress made over the past two years.
Given this landscape, as Climate Cabinet’s legislative director, I spent the last two months walking the halls of the Virginia State Capitol working with coalition partners to stop these attacks. This was no easy task: no less than twenty different bills were introduced to rollback the economic, public health, and climate wins generated by the Virginia Clean Economy Act, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and the Advanced Clean Car Standards. As part of a strong state based coalition, Climate Cabinet combed through the thousands of bills introduced this session to identify all that represented a threat to these programs and worked with climate champions in the legislature to protect them.
The decision to carry such divisive legislation shows that Republican leadership is still hiding from the well established reality that the climate crisis is real and already at our doorsteps. Behind New Orleans, Hampton Roads, Virginia is the second-most vulnerable area in the country to rising seas. Republicans carried these legislative attacks in the name of fiscal responsibility, but the evidence is clear that not addressing this crisis is the far more costly choice.
Not only are these attacks out of step with the scientific and economic evidence, but they’re also out of step with voters who overwhelmingly favor climate action. According to the Wason Center for Civic Leadership’s recent “State of the Commonwealth 2022” report, 67 percent of voters support both the Virginia Clean Economy Act and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. With more than 70 percent of Virginia voters reporting that they’re seeing the impact of climate change in their daily lives, it’s no surprise that 66 percent of voters believe that addressing climate change should be a priority for Youngkin and the legislature.
The Democratic controlled Senate held the line against these legislative attacks and Wheeler’s appointment, but there is still work to be done. Both the House of Delegates and the Senate adjourned sine die on Saturday, March 12th, but there are still a handful of remaining bills that have been pushed to a to be determined special session, along with Virginia’s budget negotiations. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which just brought the Commonwealth another $74 million this quarter to support crucial energy efficiency and coastal resiliency investments, is in the crosshairs with Republicans pushing language in the budget that put the program in jeopardy.
75% of our country’s climate goals come down to state and local policy, so we’re building legislative capacity across the country - including in states like Virginia. State and local lawmakers are expected to be subject matter experts with extremely limited staff, especially in the case of part time legislatures. Working with state coalitions, we’re providing on-demand policy support to state and local lawmakers, helping advance bold climate policy solutions and tracking trends nationwide. Climate Cabinet Action remains committed to electing climate champions to office to ensure an ambitious, pro-climate majority in both chambers of the Virginia legislature, but in the meantime, Senate Democrats need to continue protecting these critical programs.