Environmental groups are praising Gov. Northam’s “new steps to fight climate change, ocean acidification” (see press releases, below).
The first problem is, looking closely at what Northam’s administration is touting, there’s almost no “there there.” For instance, joining the Transportation and Climate Initiative sounds nice, but without strong, binding legislation – for instance, putting a serious price on carbon and/or a massive push to reduce Virginians’ reliance on gasoline-powered transportation – it’s basically meaningless.
As for joining the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification, again it’s mostly meaningless without serious legislation by the Virginia General Assembly (e.g., an aggressive, mandatory Renewable Portfolio Standard; a massive push for energy efficiency) to slash our carbon emissions. Anyone seeing anything like that?
And third, developing “a framework for limiting methane leakage from natural gas infrastructure and landfills” is nice, except that by FAR the vast majority of Virginia’s methane emissions are essentially “outsourced” to other states, particularly West Virginia and Pennsylvania, via the fracking process by which natural gas destined to/through Virginia is produced. By the way, there’s a whopper of a claim in Northam’s press release, namely the totally discredited notion that natural gas is some sort of “bridge fuel” to renewables. That’s utter nonsense. In fact, natural gas is a “bridge fuel to nowhere,” for several reasons, including that natural gas is a fossil fuel whose primary ingredient is “methane, a greenhouse gas about four times more powerful at trapping heat than CO2.” Oh, and when it’s burned, natural gas releases a lot of CO2 – half as much as coal, but that’s still a lot of CO2, especially when you add in the highly potent methane leakage aspect of this dirty fossil fuel. As David Roberts of Vox wrote recently, “Natural gas simply isn’t compatible with a net-zero-carbon future unless a massive infrastructure is built to capture and bury its carbon emissions. Until and unless that happens, natural gas must eventually be eliminated.”
Finally, it’s worth reiterating that the steps announced by Northam’s administration are utterly swamped by the two new fracked-gas pipelines being rammed through, as they constitute the greenhouse gas equivalent of 45 new coal-fired power plants (“New analysis: Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast Pipelines are Climate Disasters: Controversial pipelines pushed by Trump a risk to West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina and the planet.”). Think about that last number for a second, and imagine the uproar if the Northam administration were pushing to build 45 new coal-fired power plants all across Virginia. Yet that’s essentially what’s going on here, except in gaseous form, via pipeline as opposed to via power plant. Does that make it any better?
In sum, it’s hard to see the measures announced yesterday by the Northam administration as much more than “greenwashing” – “a form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organization’s products, aims or policies are environmentally friendly.” Or as one environmentalist friend of mine put it yesterday, “OMG, there’s so much spin in there I think I’m going to vomit. Bottom line: in no way can he claim to be a leader, because Virginia is already miles behind and digging in deeper with pipelines. “
UPDATE: One more point I forgot to make initially is that a serious press release – as opposed to the “greenwashing” we got – would have said something like, “Gov. Northam plans to introduce – and fight HARD for – legislation in the 2019 Virginia General Assembly to push for a mandatory, aggressive RPS; strong energy efficiency measures; the Virginia Alternative Energy and Coastal Protection Act; etc.”
UPDATE #2: I find it a fascinating “coincidence,” by the way, that Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Matt Strickler was at the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco this week. So…looks like they felt the need to announce SOMETHING, even if it was completely meaningless drivel, and also coordinate enviro groups hosannas to the nothingburger. Great job, huh?
Northam Administration Takes New Steps to Fight Climate Change, Ocean Acidification
RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam this week announced a series of actions to help Virginia better address the impacts of carbon pollution from fossil fuels. Governor Northam has directed the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to identify ways to improve environmental protection in the Commonwealth.
As the leaders of U.S. states and other countries gathered at the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco this week to work on climate solutions, Virginia committed to:
- Join the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) to work collaboratively with Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states on reducing carbon pollution from the transportation sector.
More than one third of all carbon pollution comes from transportation. In Virginia, transportation is the largest contributor of greenhouse gasses, in addition to being a large source of nitrogen oxides and ozone pollution, which directly impact public health.
Virginia is already working with this group of states as we prepare to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), and this effort will extend our collaboration from electric generation to transportation. TCI is a forum for exchanging ideas, sharing best management practices, and collaborating on initiatives to reduce transportation’s carbon footprint.
- Join the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification and develop and Ocean Acidification Action Plan.
The oceans are our largest carbon sink, storing approximately 93 percent of all carbon dioxide on the planet. As human carbon emissions have increased, the oceans have taken up more carbon dioxide, which makes seawater more acidic. This has negative implications for shell building marine life like corals, oysters, clams, and some plankton that form the base of ocean food chains.
Joining the OA Alliance signals that Virginia is serious about tackling a problem that presents an enormous threat to the Commonwealth’s shellfish aquaculture industry, commercial and recreational fisheries, and the recovery of the Chesapeake Bay. Through the OA Alliance, Virginia will develop an Ocean Acidification Action Plan and work with other governments to raise the visibility and importance of the ocean acidification issue in public discourse and policy development.
- Develop a framework for limiting methane leakage from natural gas infrastructure and landfills.
Natural gas has significant potential as a bridge fuel to help us reduce carbon pollution that drives climate change while we transition to solar, wind, and other clean energy sources. The relative climate benefits of natural gas compared to other fossil fuels are well documented, but we only realize those benefits if we prevent natural gas from leaking into the atmosphere before it is burned. For that reason, and due to inaction at the federal level, Virginia must take action to limit methane pollution within its borders. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) will lead this effort, and will establish a workgroup of environmental, academic and business stakeholders within the next 120 days to support DEQ in its collection and evaluation of data to inform the regulation development process.
“I am committed to ensuring that Virginia is a leader in developing solutions to prevent the worst impacts of a warming climate and changing ocean chemistry, and doing more to reduce carbon pollution,” said Governor Northam.
Speaking at the Global Climate Action Summit, Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew J. Strickler said, “The twin threats of climate change and ocean acidification pose massive challenges for our economy and way of life in the Commonwealth. We are already starting to feel some of those impacts and Governor Northam and I are committed to collaborating with other states and countries in addressing them.”
In addition to these three actions, Governor Northam has taken a leadership role in climate-related initiatives in Virginia by:
- Working to finalize a regulation that would reduce carbon pollution from large power plants by 30 percent over 10 years.
- Negotiating and signing the Grid Transformation and Security Act of 2018 to commit regulated electric utilities to 5,000 MW or solar and wind over the next decade and more than $1 billion in energy efficiency investments.
- Awarding a $14 million contract from the Volkswagen mitigation settlement fund to EVgo to begin building out Virginia’s electric vehicle charging infrastructure, the first state to do so.
- Permanently authorizing Virginia’s Coastal Zone Management Program.
Walton Shepherd, Virginia Policy Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council:
“Cleaner cars, cleaner oceans, and cleaner air: those are the economy-boosting benefits of taking climate action here in Virginia. So it is good news for all Virginians when Governor Northam shows the serious, focused Virginia leadership it will take to overcome the reckless polluter giveaways from Trump that drive climate chaos on our shores.”
Michael Town, Executive Director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters:
“Today’s announcements further demonstrate that even as things worsen at the federal
level, Virginia remains committed to climate action and advancing a clean energy economy.
By addressing both our largest and most dangerous contributors to global warming, Northam is following through on a promise he made to Virginia voters to act on climate change and protect our public health and safety.”
Harrison Godfrey, Executive Director of Virginia Advanced Energy Economy:
“We are thrilled to see the Northam Administration embrace advanced transportation through TCI. Advanced transportation, such as electric vehicles, can help Virginia consumers and commuters save time and money.
The advanced energy industry stands at the ready to help the Administration implement future emissions regulations in an economic, cost-effective manner. Advanced energy employs almost 100,000 people across Virginia and 3.4 million throughout the United States. Advanced energy technologies can help to transform wasteful methane emissions into productive resources.”
Southern Environmental Law Center:
“We applaud the administration for taking the bold step to address methane emissions from natural gas infrastructure. From cradle to grave, fracked natural gas contributes substantially to climate change. Methane emissions from the infrastructure that transports natural gas are a large cause of that.
We also applaud the decision to join 11 other states and the District of Columbia in the Transportation and Climate Initiative, an effort to reduce carbon emissions from vehicles and develop the clean energy economy by advancing electric vehicles and other alternatives. Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas pollution in the Commonwealth.
These steps expand Virginia’s commitments to addressing climate change and should send a strong signal that the Commonwealth’s energy future does not lie in carbon intensive fossil fuels like natural gas and oil.
We look forward to working with the administration to ensure that the methane regulation is as strong and broadly applicable to natural gas infrastructure, both new and existing, as possible. We also look forward to working with the administration to pursue further steps to reduce tailpipe pollution.”
Kate Addleson, Director of the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter:
“As Virginians prepare for a superstorm fueled by the climate crisis, Gov. Northam’s administration took another strong step towards being a climate leader today. These initiatives begin to tackle climate change with the multi-pronged approach necessary, including reducing both carbon dioxide and methane pollution.
By putting forward and committing to binding plans of action, Gov. Northam is taking seriously the threats that the climate crisis brings Virginia. Climate change knows no borders, and by collaborating with other states and local governments in our region, we can ensure we find innovative, practical solutions to address our shared burden on the air, water, and planet we rely on.
We look forward to working with Gov. Northam and his administration to ensure these measures are implemented strongly and that continued steps are taken to slow the worst effects of climate change.”