by Chris Le Menestrel
This week, two Democratic Virginia State Senators, Louise Lucas of Portsmouth and Lionell Spruill of Chesapeake, failed Virginia Democrats with their astounding, unconscionable NO vote on the VIRGINIA CLEAN ECONOMY ACT.
Sen. Jennifer McClellan’s SB 851, referred to as Virginia Clean Economy Act (or VCEA), patroned and co-patroned by no fewer than seven Senators, is by far the most reasonable, comprehensive, commonsense, compromise-driven and probably most consequential bill this year to set Virginia on the path to orderly and reliably transition to 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050. VCEA would also create tens of thousands of local jobs throughout the state, reduce electricity bills, and produce $70 billion in net benefits for Virginians.
By any standards, the VCEA is NOT an overly aggressive or bold legislative proposal. Many of its goals are, frankly, too weak and too slow – far from being aligned with what the scientists are telling us we must do to avoid catastrophic climate consequences. But it is a pragmatic, practical bill, which takes into account the many areas that need to be part of the solution, and perhaps most significantly which was designed *to pass* – even with the narrow (21-19) Democratic majority in the Virginia State Senate, and with many legislators friendly to special interests, such as Dominion Energy. For this bill to be voted down (although note: the bill is *not* dead, as the subcommittee simply made a recommendation to the full committee), so early in the process, was particularly disappointing and infuriating.
Again, it’s important to emphasize that, because the Senate Subcommittee on Energy *recommends* rather than decides, the VCEA bill is not dead – it will now move to the full Commerce and Labor Committee. But from there, it’s possible that the odds get worse: the bill could come to a floor vote in the Senate, but because of the razor-thin, 21-19 Democratic majority, and with widespread expectations that every Republican would vote against it, the bill could be killed there if those same two Senators stick with their incomprehensible opposition.
Through their baffling, conscienceless votes, Senator Lucas and Senator Spruill have failed every Virginia Democrat, starting with Governor Ralph Northam, whose recent executive order includes a 100%-carbon-free-energy-by-2050 goal, in exact alignment with the VCEA.
In addition, Senators Lucas and Spruill have failed their constituents, who in the Hampton Roads area are already among the most exposed in the country to the impacts of sea-level rise, and could also reap the most economic benefits of the future offshore wind industry.
Senators Lucas and Spruill also have failed the Democratic Party, whose official platform calls for “build(ing) a clean energy economy, and securing environmental justice”. And they have failed the Virginia Black Caucus, which unveiled on January 8th the environmental justice goals of “removing barriers to expanding renewable energy sources, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and introducing a mandatory clean energy standard”.
Senators Lucas and Spruill have failed the overwhelming majority of Virginians, who have in poll after poll overwhelmingly supported expanding renewable energy and taking action on climate change. And they have failed our children, as they will be the ones who will be dealing with climate chaos for the rest of their lives.
Senators Lucas and Spruill have failed the broad alliance of organizations and companies members of the Advanced Energy Economy coalition, which had spearheaded the crafting of this legislation, and the many experts, legislators and advocates who had relentlessly and meticulously worked for more than a year to develop and finalize this exemplary but complex proposal.
Finally, Senators Lucas and Spruill have failed all the Democrats who had come out in droves, for once, in an off-off year election, and the thousands of volunteers, indivisible groups, scientists, neighbors, poll greeters, door-to-door canvassers, who worked month after month to turn Virginia blue, take the majority, and had the highest hopes that Virginia would finally take the first step and do its fair share to address the biggest, most important story of our times.