Yes, Virginia, There is an Environment


    imageThink about it: 2013 started with the Democratic leader of the Virginia Senate, Dick Saslaw, proclaiming his support for uranium mining here with the argument that, centuries into the future, when radioactive waste will remain a hazard, “I’m not going to be here…I can’t ban something because of something that might happen 500 or 1,000 years from now.”

    2013 ends with Virginia Uranium Inc. currently giving up the fight to overturn the state uranium mining ban.

    What’s behind this extraordinary turnaround — and what does it signal about where Virginia is headed?  Is the Commonwealth, years behind national trends on energy, the environment and sustainability, about to catch up?

    That will depend on those of us who care about these issues raising our voices and holding public officials’ feet to the fire.  But there’s increasing evidence that we — finally, finally! — have the wind at our backs.

    Consider these factual morsels:

    *For all that the left loves to bash Terry McAuliffe, the fact is that he ran and won on progressive positions — including on energy and climate change.  He skillfully took advantage of Ken Cuccinelli’s extremist attack on Professor Michael Mann by campaigning with Mann and proclaiming that we must respect scientists and their findings if we want to move Virginia forward.

    *Several environmental groups joined in the battle, including the Virginia League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club. Most impressively, Tom Steyer’s NextGen Climate Action invested a stunning $8 million in the race, including (per Politico) “$3.1 million in TV advertising, $1.2 million in digital ads, 12 different pieces of campaign mail [and] a field program that hit 62,000 households on get-out-the-vote weekend.”  Beyond the successful impact on the governors’ race, think about the value of all that outreach in educating the Virginia electorate about climate change.  

    *While you may not have thought about the Hampton Roads area as a hotbed of environmental activism, that may be changing as the region faces environmental hazards on two fronts: potential uranium mining on one side, and a rising ocean on the other.  Combine those threats with the promise of light rail and maybe the area is moving in the green direction.  And maybe that’s one reason why Terry McAuliffe swept the major mayoral endorsements in the area, including the Republican mayor of Virginia Beach.

    *Meanwhile, environmental activism seems to be on the rise in the state.  The first indication of this was the spring uprising against the hybrid tax, led by Del. Scott Surovell and Sen. Adam Ebbin, who gathered nearly 7000 signatures to petition Gov. McDonnell to eliminate it from the transportation bill before signing it.  While McDonnell did not get rid of the annual fee, he did reduce it from $100 to $64.  That’s what you call a partial victory — and an invitation to keep fighting until this lousy policy is repealed.  

    *More recently, activist A. Siegel (who posts on BV from time to time) posted an online petition asking Governor-elect McAuliffe to redirect donations to his inaugural committee from fossil fuel companies to purchase solar panels for the Virginia Governor’s Mansion — and impressively for such a low-profile issue, gathered 1,781 signatures in 10 days.  

    Put all the pieces together, and what do you see?  A Virginia poised to move out of the ranks of Alabama and Mississippi when it comes to energy and the environment, and reposition itself to compete with the leading states on these issues.

    We gained the upper hand in the uranium battle because, this time, environmentalists played the political game effectively and got powerful voices on our side — local officials including some Republicans, and most importantly our Governor-elect.  

    Just think about how much more we can accomplish in the next 4 years — and then, let’s get started.


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