RICHMOND, VA—The Virginia House Democrats’ numerous measures to combat climate change will go into effect on July 1. Most notably during the historic 2020 legislative session, House Democrats voted to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), passed the Virginia Clean Economy Act, and pushed for the Commonwealth to publicly pledge to fight climate change. These commitments make Virginia the most environmentally progressive state in the South.
“In 2020, House Democrats made historic progress for our Commonwealth and the world around us,” said Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn. “Not only have we made Virginia a leader on carbon reduction, we have given unprecedented support for renewable energy sources and our critical fight against climate change.”
House Democrats’ major legislation promoting clean energy and making Virginia a player in the fight against climate change, which goes into effect on July 1, includes:
- HB 1526 – The Virginia Clean Economy Act puts Virginia on the path toward a 100 percent renewable-energy electricity supply by 2050. The law creates schedules for Dominion Energy Virginia and American Electric Power to retire their fossil fuel plants and ensure generating capacity powered by sunlight or onshore wind by 2045 and 2050 respectively, while also setting requirements for Dominion Energy Virginia’s investment in offshore wind energy projects. Historically economically disadvantaged regions and areas once economically tied to the coal mining industry in Virginia will be considered in the development of energy programs, job training programs, and placement of renewable energy facilities. Virginia is the first state in the South to make such a commitment towards renewable energy. House Democratic Caucus Chair Rip Sullivan sponsored the Virginia Clean Economy Act.
- HB 981 authorizes the Commonwealth to join RGGI, a market-based cap-and-trade program to limit carbon dioxide emissions released by electric generation facilities. Virginia is the first Southern state to join the initiative. The law also creates the Virginia Community Flood Preparedness Fund, a low-interest loan program to help inland and coastal communities that are subject to recurrent or repetitive flooding, and designates a portion of the revenue raised through RGGI emissions allowances to go into the Fund. House Democratic Majority Leader Charniele Herring introduced this bill.
- HB 1164 expands the Department of Environmental Quality’s statement of purpose to include addressing both climate change and environmental justice as priorities of the Department. Environmental justice relates to the DEQ’s fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all Virginians, no matter their race, color, national origin, faith, disability, or income, with respect to administration of environmental laws. Delegate Alfonso Lopez served as the patron for this bill.
- HB 714 amends the Commonwealth’s energy policy objectives to acknowledge that implementing a low-carbon energy economy to address climate change as a pressing issue will benefit the health, welfare, and safety of Virginians. It establishes requirements for the Virginia Energy Plan to target net-zero carbon emissions by 2045, while minimizing the harmful effects of both climate change and the energy transition on minority or economically disadvantaged communities. Delegate David Reid introduced this legislation.
- HB 528 directs the State Corporation Commission to determine when electric utilities should retire coal-fired or natural gas-fired electric generation facilities. Delegate Suhas Subramanyam sponsored this bill.
- HB 706 bans granting of a lease, easement, or permit for offshore drilling, while also removing policy language supporting federal efforts to permit oil and gas drilling 50 miles or more off the Atlantic shoreline. The bill was patroned by Delegate Mark Keam.
- HB 1664 authorizes a major development of offshore wind energy production, which is projected to be one of the largest in the country. This project is the first big step in Virginia moving closer reaching its new renewable energy goals. Delegate Cliff Hayes filed this legislation.
“House Democrats sought to make the Commonwealth a better place to live, work, and raise a family for all Virginians, and that has to start with the air we breathe,” said House Democratic Majority Leader Charniele Herring, who served as the patron of HB 981 which adds Virginia to the list of states participating in RGGI, and HB 1042 which codifies the Virginia Council on Environmental Justice. “Creating a cleaner environmental future for Virginia means we have to put in the work today. It’s about time that the Commonwealth prioritizes climate change and does its part to address this global issue. This includes acknowledging and addressing the racial disparities related to our environment here in the Commonwealth.”
In addition, House Democrats raised drinking water quality standards, further regulated the containment of hazardous coal ash, and passed legislation promoting and expanding access to the use of electric vehicles and protecting wildlife populations.
As part of their mission to identify and combat systemic injustice towards communities of color, the House Democrats also backed several bills now becoming law that address environmental justice and seek to prevent risks or disproportionate impacts of environmental pollution or environmental policies on minority communities.
“The environmental fate of future generations of Virginians relies on the decisions we make today, including the choices we make regarding clean energy investments,” said House Democratic Caucus Chair Rip Sullivan, who patroned the Virginia Clean Economy Act (HB 1526), which puts the Commonwealth on the path to 100 percent carbon-free emissions and economic growth in the renewable energy space. “The 2020 legislative session was characterized by Democrats bringing fresh ideas to tackle urgent issues. Our accomplishments this year — including passage of HB 1526 — show that we have started a new chapter in the Commonwealth in which we are prepared to take control of our environmental future.”
House Democrats worked diligently to remedy the failure of past House Majorities to address the adverse impacts of fossil fuels on public health and the physical environment. Likewise, there was much work on other political, economic, and social issues for House Democrats to undertake after taking the majority for the first time in more than 20 years. During the historic 2020 session, House Democrats successfully passed comprehensive gun safety reforms, reduced voter suppression, completed the ratification process for the Equal Rights Amendment, and enhanced rights for victims of sexual and domestic violence. Also going into effect on July 1 are new anti-discrimination protections for racial minorities, women, and LGBTQ+ Virginians.