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What’s at stake for the environment at Virginia’s General Assembly

A Dominion Energy solar farm in Sussex County. (Photo by Katherine Hafner)
A Dominion Energy solar farm in Sussex County. (Photo by Katherine Hafner)

Dozens of proposals at this year’s General Assembly session could change the way Virginians interact with and impact the environment.

WHRO looked through legislation dealing with flooding, wildlife and just about every type of energy. 

Here is a non-exhaustive roundup of the major environmental themes playing out in Richmond.

Energy in Virginia

  • Re-entering the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative: Virginia’s participation in the regional carbon market has been one of the hottest-button environmental issues in the state in recent years. The General Assembly voted to join the market under Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, but Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin vowed to reverse that as soon as he took office. Virginia left RGGI at the end of last year without a vote from the legislature, a move Democrats say is illegal because it was originally approved by lawmakers. Democrats have now introduced budget amendments that would return Virginia to RGGI. 
  • Electric vehicles: A proposed program would help developers build electric vehicle infrastructure in rural communities. They also introduced bills that would require Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power, in the western part of Virginia, to help customers with distribution when they install their own charging stations and to allow cities to require developers to include EV charging stations in certain projects. 
  • Solar: There are several efforts to incentivize more solar panels in Virginia – including in parking lots, through tax credits for individuals buying solar equipment and requiring more solar-ready or “cool” roofs, which reflect sunlight to reduce heat.
  • Energy efficiency: Many lawmakers want the state to be more energy-efficient, through both more stringent standards at the local level and more help for communities to implement energy-efficient measures when renovating or constructing public buildings. Other bills would expand the state’s definition of energy efficiency to include switching gas home appliances and HVAC systems to electric, and require the state to monitor federal loans and grant opportunities for energy efficiency. One resolution would even create an annual Energy Efficiency Day on which Virginians are encouraged to take action to cut energy use.
  • Geothermal energy: One bill would make geothermal energy systems – heat pulled from the earth through underground water or steam — compliant with renewable energy requirements for utilities. It would also create a work group to study using geothermal heating and cooling systems in Virginia. 
  • Offshore wind: One bill would create a competitive procurement process for offshore wind energy in Virginia. Another bill would also cap Dominion Energy’s ability to charge customers for costs related to offshore wind leasing.
  • Halting fossil fuels: One ambitious bill would put a moratorium on approving any new fossil fuel-related projects, like pipelines and natural gas plants. It would also create job training programs to transition workers from the fossil fuel industry to renewable energy.
  • Methane capture: A Republican-sponsored bill would create a pilot program for capturing methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from coal mines to repurpose for electricity on the grid. In Hampton Roads, the regional trash authority is working on its own methane capture project, converting it into renewable natural gas. Virginia officials are also likely to focus on methane capture in a climate action plan they’re due to submit soon to the federal government. 
  • Energy-intensive data centers: Politicians across Virginia have been talking about the environmental effects of data centers where large computers, storage and hardware systems live. These centers use massive amounts of energy for operations and temperature control. Some new proposals would try to keep associated energy costs down, require that energy come mostly from renewables or link tax exemptions to energy efficiency measures.

Republicans wanted to repeal many renewable energy standards under Northam, including a “clean car” mandate modeled after a California law. Democrats have already shot down those bills.

Flooding and resilience

  • Boosting real estate disclosures: Norfolk Del. Phil Hernandez is proposing to expand Virginia’s real estate disclosure laws about flood risk. This would require home sellers to reveal a lot more about a home’s flood history to prospective buyers and renters. 
  • Statewide resilience office: Lawmakers are proposing a new statewide resilience office to serve as a central clearinghouse for local governments that need data, funding and other information on resilience work. This would include a cabinet-level Chief Resilience Officer reporting directly to the governor. The proposal draws from a work group that recently submitted recommendations to the legislature. The group said many localities currently lack the capacity to address these issues.
  • Funding to replace RGGI: Virginia’s withdrawal from RGGI leaves the Community Flood Preparedness Fund, a grant program that gives local governments money for flood projects, without a future funding source. Lawmakers have proposed using a Green Infrastructure Bank to promote investment in projects that cut greenhouse gas emissions and center equity in climate-affected communities. There’s also a proposed Local Environmental Impact Fund to give money to residents or local businesses for energy efficiency, and a Climate Innovation Authority to finance and oversee clean energy projects. One lawmaker also wants to require that a new resilience loan fund created by Gov. Glenn Youngkin prioritizes projects in low-income areas, as RGGI funds did.

Related:  Democrats propose budget language to return Virginia to carbon market


  • More trees: Several bills would expand the authority of local governments to require conserving or planting trees on any new developments. Another bill directs the state to develop a forest conservation plan.
  • Menhaden: Sportfishers and conservationists have been pushing Virginia to ban controversial menhaden reduction fishing by Omega Protein in the Chesapeake Bay, alleging impacts to the rest of the food chain. Omega points to scientific assessments that say the overall menhaden population is perfectly healthy. A new bill would prompt a highly-watched three-year study by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science looking in greater depth at how menhaden are doing in the bay specifically. VIMS previously reported to the state what such a study would look like, including a price tag of $2.7 million. 
  • Invasive species: Some lawmakers want to make invasive plants more conspicuous when up for retail sale. New legislation would require a large sign reading, “Plant with caution” next to such plants, encouraging customers to seek native alternatives.
  • Wildlife corridors: A proposed Wildlife Corridor Grant Fund would give money to infrastructure projects that make efforts to conserve or enhance wildlife corridors. That includes things like building tunnels or bridges for animals to migrate across roads.
  • Oysters in the Lynnhaven River: One Virginia-Beach specific bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Bill DeSteph would bar the Virginia Marine Resources Commission from permitting any new oyster aquaculture, including floating cages, in the Lynnhaven or its tributaries.

… and more

  • Recycling: A proposed Virginia Recycling Development Center would work on improving the recycling market, including giving localities money to invest in recycling and working with plastics producers to boost their recycling capabilities.
  • Environmental justice: One bill from Norfolk Del. Bonita Anthony would create a task force on environmental justice in the Commonwealth. Environmental justice often focuses on rectifying the effect of pollution from facilities like coal plants that are often constructed in low-income communities of color.
  • "Forever" chemicals: Many proposed bills target a class of harmful man-made chemicals known as PFAS, common in firefighting foams and consumer products like nonstick cookware. The proposals would require production facilities that knowingly use PFAS or operators of waste management authorities to monitor PFAS levels and for the state to in some cases create an action plan to address contamination in drinking water.
Katherine is WHRO’s climate and environment reporter. She came to WHRO from the Virginian-Pilot in 2022. Katherine is a California native who now lives in Norfolk and welcomes book recommendations, fun science facts and of course interesting environmental news.

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