From the Sierra Club, Virginia chapter:
We sent each gubernatorial candidate a special questionnaire along with a note that the responses would be delivered directly to the 20,000+ Sierra Club members in Virginia and beyond. Our goal is for you to see the approach to governing demonstrated by each candidate.
We are thrilled to have responses that you won’t see anywhere else from candidates Jennifer Carroll Foy, Jennifer McClellan, and Terry McAuliffe. Please note, if you do not see a candidate’s response, it is because they did not respond to the questions.
Question #1: The Sierra Club Virginia Chapter and legislative allies championed the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) (HB 1526 and SB 851). This landmark omnibus bill set Virginia on the course to a clean energy future and ordered the closure of all coal-fired power plants in Virginia by 2045. Among its many components, the VCEA also established the Percentage of Income Payment Program to address the energy burden crisis facing Virginia families. The VCEA also calls for a large investment in solar, wind energy, and battery storage development. As Governor, do you vow to veto any legislative effort to weaken the VCEA? In addition, please discuss ways in which you plan to build upon the Clean Economy Act to continue clean energy and energy efficiency advances that lower costs.
Jennifer Carroll Foy:
Yes, and in addition to that, I will hold the State Corporation Commission accountable for ensuring that utility companies follow the letter and spirit of the VCEA. I was proud to chief co-patron the VCEA in 2020. While I support the heavy focus on renewable energy and ratepayer protections, we must go further to protect our communities and the environment. We must reach 100% clean generation by 2035. To do this, I will institute a moratorium on fossil fuel projects while ensuring protections for transitioning workers, ratepayers, and communities harmed by environmental injustice. Last summer, I worked with leaders of the Green New Deal of Virginia to build out this legislation.
As Governor, I will ensure that the General Assembly passes this bill as well as Green New Deal legislation, which consists of principles and policies to create renewable energy jobs and increase investment in green energy infrastructure while protecting disproportionately impacted communities.1 To maximize job creation, I will direct funding to Solar Hands-On Instructional Network of Excellence (SHINE) and other environmental programs to expand education and training opportunities for workers interested in solar careers. I will work with Virginia’s community colleges to secure the capital needed to fund workforce development credits on a full-time equivalency basis for solar and offshore wind workforce programs.
I am proud to have drafted the Virginia Clean Economy Act and carried the legislation in the Senate during the 2020 General Assembly session, and thankful for the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter’s support, partnership and guidance. The VCEA is a historic law that made Virginia the first southern state with a 100% Clean Energy Standard, and makes Virginia a national leader in clean energy by moving us to 100% clean energy by 2045. It establishes energy efficiency standards for electricity providers, advances offshore wind, solar, and distributed generation, and requires the State Corporation Commission to consider the social cost of carbon. As the patron of this legislation and a life-long champion for environmental justice, I would absolutely veto any effort that seeks to weaken the VCEA. Instead, as Governor, I would work to build on the successes of the VCEA by ensuring it is enacted equitably and fairly across the Commonwealth. This would include using the law and working with local and statewide partners to support the creation of good-paying jobs in the fast-growing clean energy industry, further democratize solar installation, fully implement VCEA initiatives, and ensure Virginia is a competitive hub for clean energy business growth. During this wholesale energy transition, it’s critical that we ensure low-income ratepayers see their bills stay the same or decrease. As Governor, I will implement stronger requirements with an energy efficiency standard, and create a low income bill assistance and weatherization program in order to increase the safety net for all customers, especially low-income customers.
Under the leadership of Governor Northam and the Democratic majorities in the legislature, Virginia has taken critical steps in addressing climate change, including setting Virginia on the path to a 100% clean energy standard. Not only will I protect the progress we’ve started with the VCEA, I will drastically strengthen the legislation, setting even more aggressive and binding energy efficiency standards and accelerate Virginia’s path to 100% clean energy by 2035. I will aggressively pursue every federal dollar available and leverage funding from President Biden’s American Jobs Plan to get this done. I will also restructure Virginia’s regulatory system to ensure that investor-owned utilities are moving the Commonwealth forward in this transition without passing the costs off to consumers. Additionally, I will work with local school divisions, community colleges, workforce training centers and institutions of higher education to build the clean energy workforce of the future so Virginians are prepared to step into high-demand, good jobs of the future. I know we can make tremendous progress now because we’ve done it before, even in the face of an extreme, obstructionist Republican legislature.
As the 72nd Governor of Virginia, I grew solar energy jobs by 65% in 2016 alone, grew solar energy production by 8,000%, and secured the first and only lease in federal waters for wind energy research, which is set to be home to the largest offshore wind project in the nation. I vetoed every Republican attempt to extend or reinstate costly and ineffective coal tax credits, and I took executive actions that have allowed Virginia to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Virginia has the ability to be a national leader in the transition to clean energy, and as Virginia’s next governor I will make that happen.
Q #2: President Biden and a coalition of organizations, including Sierra Club, are pushing to enact sweeping policy changes intended to rebuild our country’s infrastructure in a way that addresses our nation’s infrastructure needs to build resilience against the effects of climate change and supports Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) and communities disproportionately affected by both climate change and existing polluting infrastructure. This will require intergovernmental cooperation at levels not currently seen. How would you coordinate local and state efforts with the federal government AND ensure that BIPOC communities receive equitable treatment during the planning and implementation process of large intergovernmental infrastructure projects?
Jennifer Carroll Foy:
We cannot leave anyone behind in our transition to clean energy. The VCEA moves us forward by setting clean standards for Virginia’s electric grid, keeping electricity bills in check, especially for low- and middle-income families, and expanding opportunities for large-scale and rooftop solar. As Governor, I will support legislation that allows more Virginians, especially from underserved areas, to access and afford to make the switch to alternative energy. I am hopeful that the Build Back Better plan passes Congress so that we can make even larger investments. On the jobs side, I’ve committed to funding education and workforce programs that train individuals (including retiring and transitioning workers) interested in solar careers. I will partner with our HBCUs to support the next generation of Black solar entrepreneurs.
We must look to short-term measures to help the communities most affected by climate change right now, especially in the Hampton Roads and Tidewater areas. As Governor, I will dedicate funding and resources to ensure effective site preparation and resilience strategies for our most vulnerable regions and work with local governments to do what we can to block sea-level rise to the extent possible through reforestation measures and levees.
My administration will push progress in expanding our broadband, electric vehicle charging, and transportation infrastructure with a focus on rural and at-risk communities. I’ve pledged that 97% of Virginians will have access to high speed internet by the end of my term, which will help farmers access agricultural technology and adopt methods to beat climate change. We will prioritize greener solutions to traffic and commuter congestion, beginning with passenger rail infrastructure.
Lastly, change begins with leadership. I am proud of the work done to establish a Director of Environment Justice at the DEQ. As Governor, I will continue to fund this position to ensure the fair and meaningful involvement of all Virginians and that the most vulnerable and marginalized communities are not disproportionately impacted by pollution and climate change.
I am dedicated to addressing issues of environmental justice and doing so through critical investments in our infrastructure, but my dedication goes beyond just rhetoric; I have the record to prove it. To effectively reform a system, public engagement and elevating voices that have too often been left out of the discussion are essential. Building on some of the work from the 2020 session, including the passage of the Virginia Clean Economy Act, the Environmental Justice Council was codified, but we should go further by creating standards for community input and participation in that council and codify a requirement for how many members of the council must be citizens, especially from impacted communities. This must include diverse, inclusive and robust community input on large infrastructure projects. We must also review the power and authority of these councils with regard to implementing final recommendations on all projects so that efforts and priorities are not stymied based on the administration in power, at either the federal or state level. During the 2021 session, I advocated for a plan that would have required those seeking environmental permits to first engage in community outreach prior. Though this bill did not pass, I will work to ensure a similar bill is introduced and does pass during a McClellan Administration. As Governor, I will ensure that these councils and workgroups formed to address the transition of energy include citizen and consumer advocates that represent BIPOC communities. I would also increase educational outreach and transparency around utility fairness in environmentally oppressed communities by funding consumer advocate outreach and prioritizing the hiring of consumer advocates that come from within said communities.
We must act now to prevent future damage and lift up the communities that have been hit the hardest by climate change, primarily Virginia’s BIPOC and low-income communities. My plan to fight climate change will draw down critical federal dollars from President Biden’s American Jobs Plan to assist Virginia in building resilience and the clean energy economy
that will benefit the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable communities, and those communities deserve a seat at the table. It is essential that communities that have been left behind in the past are front and center in the just transition to a greener, more resilient Commonwealth.
That is why as Virginia’s 72nd Governor, I created the Council on Environmental Justice, which was recently codified by Governor Northam and Democratic leaders in the legislature. When then-President Trump pulled us out of the Paris Climate Agreement, I joined Virginia in the U.S. Climate Alliance and committed to upholding the Paris Climate Agreement. I took executive actions that have allowed Virginia to join RGGI and I also secured a $120 million grant to fund the Ohio Creek Watershed project, which will combat flooding in two predominantly Black communities in Norfolk. Virginia needs a leader who will hear all of our communities’ needs and will take action to protect them. As the next Governor of Virginia, I will ensure that all of our communities are heard so that no one gets left behind during Virginia’s transition to a clean energy future.
Q #3: The Mountain Valley fracked-gas pipeline remains among the most controversial projects threatening Virginia’s environment and climate due to its massive scale and vast impact on our natural resources. The Mountain Valley Pipeline carries an immense risk to our waterways, as its route will traverse steep, highly erodible terrain, harming streams, polluting groundwater resources and drinking water wells, and degrading the quality of public water supplies downstream. The massive build-out of fracked-gas infrastructure undermines our state initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas pollution including carbon and methane. Please discuss your position on the Mountain Valley Pipeline and how your administration would work to protect our environment from this and other fracked-gas projects.
Jennifer Carroll Foy:
I have been a vocal advocate against fracked gas pipelines since the start of my political career – writing letters, joining rallies, and lending my voice to amplify this serious issue. Pipelines pose environmental and economic challenges to the Commonwealth and disproportionately affect poor and minority communities. Last year and working with Sierra Club leaders, I submitted a letter to Governor Northam, urging him to oppose the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines, arguing that “they served as a $13 billion investment in fossil fuels at a time when… we need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.” Since then, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project has been canceled, but we must continue to press for the cancellation of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. As Governor, I will work to end our addiction to fossil fuels.
Moreover, I know what it’s like to fight against polluting practices that hurt vulnerable communities. While running for office in 2017, I knocked on the door of a constituent named Patty. Patty shared that her drinking water had been contaminated with lead, arsenic, and mercury for decades. She also told me that many of her family members had been diagnosed with cancer. Patty lived next to a Dominion Energy location where the company had been storing coal ash, the byproduct of 30 years of excess coal that had been used to power their station, and it had been seeping into the groundwater. At that moment, I vowed to pass legislation to force Dominion to clean up the coal ash. For the next two years, I led a bipartisan effort to do just that. In 2020, I passed another bill to clean up the remaining coal ash pits in Southwest Virginia. As Governor, I will ensure safe, clean drinking water for all Virginians. I was proud to work with the Sierra Club to pass these critical bills.
I oppose the Mountain Valley Pipeline and I oppose any project that would threaten the well being of the environment, pollute water, contribute to climate change and hurt under resourced and under-represented communities. I will use all the tools within my legal authority as Governor to prevent new pipelines or fossil-fuel projects in Virginia throughout my tenure. We are in the midst of a climate emergency and when I’m elected, I will conduct a statewide climate action review to identify where we need to focus greater investment in terms of infrastructure and emergency services. Like so many of the issues we encounter, none of these topics are siloed; for instance, you can’t improve health care without ensuring clean air and clean water. And you can’t tackle structural inequity without tackling environmental racism that disproportionately impacts Black, Brown and Indigenous communities. Equitable enactment of the VCEA will be crucial to this effort, and one that I will proudly undertake as Governor.
I recently announced a bold plan to build on my record as Virginia’s 72nd Governor and secure Virginia’s clean energy future by 2035, a 15-year acceleration from the current standard. I’ll do this by partnering with President Biden and drawing down critical federal dollars that are expected to flow into states to support clean infrastructure investments as part of his American Jobs Plan. This transition is the future of infrastructure in Virginia – it’s going to create thousands of good clean energy jobs and save Virginians money, and as governor I’ll make this clear to business leaders. As Virginia transitions to a clean energy future, I’m going to ensure that consumers are fiercely protected by restructuring Virginia’s regulatory system to an outcomes-based approach and empowering the SCC to serve as a watchdog and fight back against predatory practices. And I will invest dramatically in energy efficiency technologies that reduce energy consumption and lower utility bills.
This plan will not only secure Virginia’s transition to a clean energy future. It will also finally and aggressively fight back against the effects of climate change that climate-denying Republicans have ignored for far too long. My plan will protect Virginia’s vital coastal communities and better prepare us for the increasing threat of severe weather and storms. During my administration, I will secure federal funding for and conduct a full coastal study, develop climate-resilient shelters, and address racial disparities that put Black and Brown communities at increased risk from climate threats.
I’m confident that these goals can be achieved with the Democratic majorities we hold because as Virginia’s 72nd Governor I made significant progress despite Republican obstructionism. I was proud to run as the climate candidate in 2013 against extreme climate denier Ken Cuccinelli who even grabbed national attention for attacking a University of Virginia climate scientist at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars to the school. During my administration, I fought tirelessly to take action on the climate crisis against a climate denying-Republican legislature that refused to step up. When President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, I joined the U.S. Climate Alliance made up of governors committed to upholding the agreement. I advanced those goals by expanding solar production by nearly 8,000% by the end of my term and grew solar jobs by 65% in 2016. Additionally, I appointed Virginia’s first Chief Resilience Officer and established the Climate Change and Resiliency Update Commission and the recently codified Virginia Council on Environmental Justice. I also aggressively sought out funds to fund climate action including securing a $120 million HUD grant used to mitigate flooding in two predominantly Black neighborhoods in Norfolk and a $50 million settlement from DuPont over mercury spills used to restore and protect the environment.
Q #4: Efficiency means using less energy to accomplish the same result—heating, cooling, or lighting a building, lighting highways and other outdoor areas, and operating appliances or machinery. Efficiency programs have tangible benefits that address energy burden (percentage of income used to pay energy bill) along with environmental benefits. Investing in energy efficiency improvements will save customers money and reduce pollution of air, land, and water. Please discuss how you would use your authority as governor to upgrade the efficiency of state facilities, support energy efficiency legislation, and/or make increasing building efficiency a top priority of the Department of Housing and Community Development.
Jennifer Carroll Foy:
As Governor, I will fight to expand efforts that promote sustainability in our buildings and infrastructure. I plan to invest $3 million to spearhead a tax credit for commercial buildings that go green, including non residential buildings or interior buildings. In my Jobs & Economy Plan, I announced my commitment to ensuring all new buildings are to be certified LEED silver or higher. My administration will also continue to provide funding for green renovations to existing government buildings, roadways, bridges, and schools. These types of retrofitting and clean construction projects will create jobs for Virginians in every region of the Commonwealth. These projects should use union labor and project labor agreements, thus ensuring that they are creating family-sustaining jobs.
I support and will work to get all state facilities energy efficient by the end of my term as Governor. We can, we will and we must increase energy efficiency across the board while still reducing the energy burden on low-income communities, keeping their power bills low and doing away with unnecessary, tacked-on charges. With the VCEA I fought to pass during the 2020 Session, we have established robust state-wide energy efficiency standards to assist homes, businesses, and state facilities in lowering energy bills, cutting down on waste and reducing pollution. As I’ve mentioned previously, fairly and equitably enacting this law, holding statewide leaders to these standards and working closely with the Department of Housing and Community Development will help us achieve this ambitious goal in every corner of the Commonwealth. Additionally, during the 2020 special session, I introduced legislation that would have required utilities to offer repayment plans for anyone in arrears. While this bill didn’t ultimately pass, the language was included in the final budget that was signed into law. As Governor, I will continue to make protecting low-income consumers, not energy conglomerates, while increasing overall energy efficiency, a top priority.
The importance of energy efficiency cannot be overstated. Virginia has the 7th highest electric bills in the nation and is ranked as the 5th worst state in the country for energy efficiency. If we can reduce our energy consumption by just 2% over the next ten years, Virginians could see a 12% reduction in their energy bills and a 35% reduction in our carbon emissions. However, Virginia’s current regulatory system guarantees a 10% profit to Investor-Owned Utilities (IOUs) on all projects declared “in the public interest.” On top of that, the energy efficiency resource standards codified in the Virginia Clean Economy Act intended to lower Virginians’ utility bills were not binding.
As Virginia’s next governor, I will restructure Virginia’s regulatory system to an outcomes based regulatory framework that will incentivize IOUs to meet targets such as energy efficiency, reliability, decarbonization, and lowering cost burdens for consumers. I will also set binding energy efficiency standards that hold investor-owned utilities accountable to meet a 7% Energy Efficiency Resource Standard by 2026, and I will set new binding targets every year after, though 2030. My plan also calls on leveraging federal funds proposed by President Biden to equitably deploy energy-efficient technologies such as electric heat pumps, smart thermostats, and LED light bulbs throughout the Commonwealth. Additionally, I will work with the Department of Housing and Community Development and all stakeholders to improve Virginia’s building codes to promote energy-efficient development going forward. The changes I am proposing represent an opportunity to achieve a 100% clean economy by 2035 while also addressing the immediate and long-term needs of all Virginians.
Q #5: A top priority of our organization and many partners in the Virginia environmental movement is climate action that centers and prioritizes environmental justice to ensure clean air, clean water, and to reduce the harmful effects of climate change that have disproportionately burdened the financial and social health of BIPOC communities. Please discuss what makes your vision to address environmental justice in Virginia and ability to implement that vision unique among the candidates seeking office.
Jennifer Carroll Foy:
Communities of color and poor people are more likely to live where garbage is dumped, where coal ash ponds are stored, and where fossil fuel burning plants are located. That is unacceptable. Very simply, my approach to policy-making (and my philosophy for running for Governor) is that communities that are closest to the pain must be prioritized in our decisions moving forward. Environmental justice means ensuring that everyone has a voice in the decision-making process when it comes to our environment. It is also intrinsically tied to how we live and provide for our families. As Governor, I will change the soft power structures that have allowed the “Old Virginia Way” to persist at the expense of vulnerable communities across the Commonwealth. For too long, legislation was written by Dominion and special interest groups versus the environmentalists. Moving forward, I will ensure that grassroots organizations, local environmental justice groups, and advocates have a seat at the table. I will appoint cabinet members who understand the urgency in battling climate change and its dangerous effects and share our vision for ensuring that no one gets left behind while we do it. I will also pass bills significantly limiting the influence of special interest groups in Richmond. I will work to increase transparency concerning lobbyists disclosure, close the revolving door for legislators interested in lobbying work, and increase funding for legislative research staff to decrease the reliance on lobbyists.
Moreover, I will make sure that we reach zero carbon emissions by 2035. I will continue to stand up for our marginalized Virginians who are burdened by pollution and harmful corporate practices, our coastal communities facing climate-related emergencies, and communities experiencing disparate access to green space and clean air.
I not only have a bold and inclusive vision for addressing environmental justice in Virginia, I also have the record to prove it. It is essential that we continue to fight to protect our shared environment, reverse the damaging effects of climate change, increase access to clean energy jobs and protect our BIPOC communities by building upon the progress we made together when we passed the Virginia Clean Economy Act. Making environmental justice a cornerstone of every government action is critical to this endeavor. This includes fully funding and supporting the Environmental Justice Council, ensuring that all regulatory decisions take environmental justice and equity into account, and evaluating and vetting the impact of development decisions on communities of color and low-income communities. This would also include a plan that would require those seeking environmental permits to first engage in community outreach. I carried similar legislation last session, and it’s time to finally pass it into law. As Governor, I will also empower local governments to center environmental justice in their land-use and environmental related decisions. From my support for the Clean Energy and Community Flood Preparedness Act to the Solar Freedom Act that I carried and passed, I have the progressive record and practical experience to effectively, quickly and equitably make environmental justice not just a priority, but a reality.
Every Virginian deserves to live free from environmental hazards and contaminants, and yet underserved communities continue to face the greatest disparities related to climate change and its effects. As Virginia’s 72nd Governor, I secured $120 million in federal funding for the Ohio Creek Watershed project to address flooding in two predominantly Black neighborhoods in Norfolk. As Virginia’s next governor, I will ensure that environmental justice is a top priority in my administration’s work and projects by accelerating Virginia’s path to a 100% clean energy standard, combatting the effects of heat islands and ensuring that communities of color have access to safe, and welcoming green spaces. I will also ensure that these communities have access to electric public transit and electric vehicles, and that EV charging infrastructure is located in areas that are accessible. In considering new projects of any sort, I will ensure that my administration considers the potential environmental impacts for underserved communities. I am committed to fighting for policies that prioritize and address access, equity, and diversity in transportation, land use, green spaces, the clean energy workforce, and more. I encourage you to learn more about how I plan to address environmental justice by exploring my Lifting Up Black Virginians and Climate Change and Clean Energy plans which discuss this issue more thoroughly.