by Jolene Mafnas, Virginia Organizer at Food & Water Action
While many in Virginia celebrated Governor Northam signing off on the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA), we must remember that there’s still a lot of work to get done if we want a clean, equitable energy transition in our state. Although the VCEA began circulating important ideas, what it amounts to is an insufficient piece of industry-led legislation. VCEA’s sponsors characterized it as a “hallmark” solution because it was a bill Dominion could get behind. But last week, Dominion—one of the prime stakeholders in helping shape the VCEA—revealed in its Integrated Resource Plan that fracked gas will still play a strong role as the company fulfills Virginia’s electricity demand for the next 15 to 25 years. Clearly, Dominion was never serious about prioritizing the climate crisis, and catering an omnibus climate bill like the VCEA to their interests in hopes they would act in good faith has proven naive.
While the coalition and drafters behind the VCEA were writing and pushing a bill that Dominion and its political supporters would allow to happen, grassroot groups were fighting hard for the real climate solution Virginia needs: the Green New Deal Act. HB77 was the only bill that provided a realistic way to tackle the climate crisis we face, because it closely followed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s recommendations to stave off climate disaster. The IPCC states that, to prevent irreversible climate damage, we have until 2030 to drastically reduce our total greenhouse gas emissions – and getting our grid to 100% clean renewables by 2035 is the quickest way to get there.
The VCEA also leaves loopholes open for forms of energy development that are neither green nor clean. It fails to put an immediate stop to the development of dirty fossil fuel infrastructure, like the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines, and the Transco Southeastern Trail Expansion and the Virginia Header Projects. Instead, under the VCEA, all companies can continue to develop fossil-fuel infrastructure—like pipelines and compressor stations—and non-Dominion and Appalachian Power companies can still construct fossil-fuel power plants (which the major companies might buy power from). The VCEA doesn’t make explicit prohibitions against carbon capture and offsets, nuclear, and biogas, all of which may parade as climate solutions but ultimately fall short when we dare to envision a truly clean and equitable renewable energy transition.
Lastly, the VCEA doesn’t place enough emphasis on equitability, and without clear instructions on how to make a transition just as well as effective, those communities already most burdened by climate change and the fossil fuel industry are likely to fall by the wayside. On top of that, the VCEA fails to enact strong ratepayer protections, and instead gives industry the ability to push the majority of the costs onto Virginian families.
We need to make clear provisions for clean energy jobs that transition fossil fuel workers into well-paying clean energy work. We need to do away with RGGI, which is shown by a Food & Water Watch study to actually increase emissions into low-income communities of color without meaningfully reducing carbon emissions overall. We need to ensure a democratization of energy by acknowledging that industry shouldn’t have a hand in shaping policies meant to regulate them. We must promise to Virginians that the transition will help their pocketbooks instead of wasting their tax dollars where fossil fuel corporations could be picking up the tab.
COVID-19 will have profound impacts on our state and economy for years to come. Already, it is decimating the fossil fuel industry. We have to be the leaders here — and not let polluting corporations be the ones who guide our energy path. We have to ask ourselves, if we’re not pushing companies like Dominion past the thresholds they agreed to on their own, are we really thinking big enough?
For years, Dominion has ripped off Virginia’s communities, siphoning off profits from ratepayers that even the courts find questionable. Our shared interests in a 100% renewable energy transition and a more just and democratic energy economy must be the driving force. We can’t just settle for the ways in which Dominion is willing to cater to us. We have to push our legislators to refuse industry interests, and if they don’t, we have the power to elect those who will.
The time for meeting halfway is over. We must pave the way for a clean energy transition, the way we envision it, beginning now.