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Virginia Energy Policy Needs To Be Scrapped and Rewritten, Not Played With At the Margins, As Sen. Barbara Favola’s New Bill Does


by A Siegel

Every day seems to bring another dire, science-based report about the ever-mounting urgency for climate action. And every day has reporting about real-world climate change impacts. Actually…”climate change” was always a mild term (which is why Republican operative Frank Luntz promoted it) for what humanity was doing to its future prospects. As the 25th Conference of Parties (COP) of the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is underway in Madrid, the terms “climate catastrophe,” “climate crisis” and “climate emergency” barely do justice to the imperative and urgency for serious climate action.

Virginia shouldn’t be fossil foolish

Having liberated control of the Virginia legislature from the climate-science-denying Republican Party, the newly-elected Democratic House and Senate majorities have not just the opportunity, but the obligation, to introduce climate sanity into Virginia law.  A core place to start would be the current, legal definition of Commonwealth Energy Policy (§ 67-102). Even the most superficial look at this “Code” makes clear the incompatibility of 67-102 with a prosperous, climate-friendly future for Virginians.  The existing “Commonwealth Energy Policy” is, simply stated, fossil-foolish, with many direct calls for investment in and promotion of fossil-fuel projects.  These include:

5. “Ensure the availability of affordable natural gas throughout the Commonwealth by expanding Virginia’s natural gas distribution and transmission pipeline infrastructure; developing coalbed methane gas resources and methane hydrate resources; encouraging the productive use of landfill gas; and siting one or more liquefied natural gas terminals”

7. “Facilitate the development of new, and the expansion of existing, petroleum refining facilities within the Commonwealth”

To be clear, these legal mandates to push new fossil fuel projects are *completely incompatible* with “serious climate action” in Virginia. And, to top it off, they will hurt Virginia’s economy in the years ahead (due to higher costs of fossil fuel compared to clean energy options and mounting risks of “stranded asset” costs).

With the above in mind, it is clear that Virginia’s Democratic legislators should tackle 67-102 starting with a clean sheet — eliminating outdated and misguided fossil-foolish mandates; introducing aggressive clean-energy priorities; mandating climate-sensible policy; introducing requirements for fully-burdened analysis (that reflects, for example, productivity and health impacts as part of planning); etc.  Presumably, environmental organizations are working on such a clean-sheet rewrite, as we approach the January 8, 2020 convening of the new Virginia General Assembly session.

Given the imperative for urgent climate action, the opportunity that the new Democratic Party majorities provide, and the fossil-foolish nature of the existing Commonwealth Energy Policy, I am simply scratching my head in confusion as to Senator Barbara Favola’s just-introduced legislation to amend the Commonwealth Energy Policy.

In her legislation, Sen. Favola provides some sensible, climate-wise language and objectives:

13. Establish greenhouse gas emissions reduction standards across all sectors of Virginia’s economy that target net-zero emissions carbon by mid-century;

14. Enact mandatory clean energy standards and overall strategies for reaching zero carbon in the electric power sector by 2040;

15. Incorporate requirements for technical, policy, and economic analyses and assessments that identify pathways to zero carbon that maximize Virginia’s economic development and create quality jobs; and

16. Minimize the negative impacts of climate change and the energy transition on disadvantaged communities and prioritize investment in these areas.

Now, we can quibble over specifics here, such as setting targets 30 years out, while not setting aggressive interim targets for 2025, 2030, etc. Still, the four items I just listed are a reasonable place to start the discussion. The core problem – and, sadly, it’s a big one! – with Favola’s legislation, however, is not what the Senator proposes to add, but what she fails to remove: namely, the existing fossil-foolish language and imperatives in the Code.

For starters, if seeking to “target net-zero,” it make no sense whatsoever – in fact, it completely contradicts the objective – to invest money in new fossil-fuel infrastructure on the path to “net zero.” Even worse is that much of this new fossil-fuel infrastructure will likely have to be shut down well before a full commercial life, thus raising financial costs to and hurting the Virginia economy.

At the minimum, Sen. Favola’s proposed legislation is internally contradictory. At worst, it reflects a badly misguided approach to addressing the climate crisis and the opportunity for Virginia to move quickly to a 100% clean-energy economy. Frankly, it would be better to simply delete this bill from the legislative agenda than to use it for any serious consideration in Richmond during the upcoming session. We can, and must, do a lot better than this ill-conceived, ill-informed energy, sloppily drafted bill by Sen. Favola.


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