Daily Press (Sunday)

Virginia’s climate action is on the ballot this fall

- By Andria McClellan

It’s official. We just experience­d the hottest summer on record, with July being the hottest month ever recorded.

This isn’t normal, and we shouldn’t be tricked into thinking it is. Evidence of the climate crisis is all around us, and we need to continue taking strong action as a Commonweal­th and as a city.

This fall, voters will cast ballots in pivotal elections for the General Assembly that will determine the trajectory of environmen­tal policy-making at the state level for at least the next two years.

The decisions of the General Assembly members elected this November could set us back decades or keep us on a trajectory toward bringing more clean energy jobs to Hampton Roads and continuing to cut pollution that threatens our health, warms our planet, and causes sea level rise and massive precipitat­ion events.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin made it a day-one priority to begin repealing some of our best climate policies in Virginia, and his political machine is working to fill the legislatur­e with like-minded allies opposed to climate action.

Youngkin has been particular­ly focused on eliminatin­g our state’s best dedicated funding stream to protect communitie­s like Norfolk from harmful flooding. To date, our participat­ion in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) has brought $730 million to our state, divided between advancing flood preparedne­ss and energy efficiency programs that reduce the energy burden for low income residents — all while lowering our state’s biggest and dirtiest power plants’ carbon emissions.

The General Assembly voted to join this compact in 2020, and Youngkin attempted to side-step our legislatur­e and the law of the commonweal­th with a flawed regulatory process to take Virginia out of the program — efforts that have rightly been challenged in court.

With a voting majority in the legislatur­e, Youngkin wouldn’t have to jump through hoops to get rid of our state’s best tools to combat climate change. He would simply introduce a bill.

To date, that tactic has been unsuccessf­ul thanks to the Virginia Senate, where attack after attack on climate action and our environmen­t have been defeated, including bills to roll back the Virginia Clean Economy Act, our state’s plan to reach 100% carbon-free electricit­y generation by mid-century, and our state’s Advanced Clean Cars Standard, which is working to cut tailpipe pollution by bringing high-in-demand electric vehicles to our state. Together these policies are helping address nearly 80% of our state’s carbon emissions, while leading to clean energy investment in our state.

Sadly, from his words and actions, it’s clear that Youngkin does not care about our children and grandchild­ren and the increasing­ly devastatin­g climate crisis they will face.

On the other hand, here in Norfolk — where sea levels are rising at the fastest rate of anywhere on the East Coast — we simply can’t afford not to take action. We are taking this very seriously and investing significan­t funding for both protection­s from major storms and improved stormwater infrastruc­ture to mitigate “sunny day flooding.” We are the first (and still only) city in Hampton Roads to create a Climate Action Plan, and we are committed to both mitigating and adapting to climate change.

While I’m proud of the work we’ve done here in Norfolk, we can’t do it alone; we need a strong partner in Richmond to ensure the legislatur­e continues to recognize the immense challenge that climate change poses to coastal communitie­s, and the impact that continued reliance on fossil fuels is having on our health and our future.

Climate change is on the ballot in a big way this fall. I hope that voters in Hampton Roads recognize how high the stakes are, do their research, and vote this fall like our future depends on it. Because it does.

Andria McClellan has served on the Norfolk City Council since 2016. She is the coauthor of Norfolk’s Climate Action Plan (2019) and has served on the Virginia Joint Subcommitt­ee on Recurrent Flooding since 2020. Email her at andria.mcclellan@ norfolk.gov.

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