Daily Press (Sunday)

Youngkin’s policies and budget won’t fix flood needs

- By Skip Stiles Skip Stiles, of Norfolk, has spent more than 40 years working on environmen­tal policy and advocacy at the local, state and national levels. Email him at skipstiles­49@ gmail.com.

This time a year ago, Virginia had an elegant approach to dealing with our flood problems.

We had guaranteed funding from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a carbon offset auction market wherein Virginia’s electricit­y generators have to buy credits to offset their emissions of carbon dioxide. The money came back to Virginia automatica­lly after every auction, with 45% going toward flood fixes, generating $372 million in flood protection funds for the state so far.

This money then goes into the Community Flood Preparedne­ss Fund (CFPF), a statewide meritbased, independen­t system for awarding flood funds, with a set aside for low-income communitie­s struggling to get up to speed.

This combinatio­n of guaranteed funding and competitiv­e awards was designed to avoid the ups and downs of appropriat­ed funding and employ a transparen­t award process, free from political manipulati­on.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s decision to leave RGGI and his proposed budget has changed all of that.

Removing Virginia from RGGI, calling it, “a regressive tax on families and businesses,” he left it to the legislatur­e to appropriat­e flood funds (derived from state taxes on families and businesses). In leaving RGGI, he cut us off from a program that automatica­lly delivered $132 million for flood protection in 2023, proposing to replace that with $100 million in appropriat­ed funds next year and nothing in 2026.

On a separate line, the budget proposes to send Norfolk $73.9 million for its storm surge barrier, funding coming outside of the CFPF. With this earmark, someone somewhere decided that Norfolk gets money while Hampton, Portsmouth, Accomack, Roanoke and Mathews get nothing. There is no transparen­cy to that selection process, and by earmarking flood money outside of the CFPF, Youngkin is sending signals to every locality that hiring lobbyists is more important

than hiring flood experts.

Worse, the budget also authorizes a loan to Norfolk for another $21 million to match federal funds for its flood wall but the funding is, “contingent upon the city applying revenues generated by a casino gaming establishm­ent.”

What Norfolk’s flood wall has to do with a casino is a mystery. Yes, the casino will generate additional revenue, some of which, in theory, could be used for the flood wall. But Norfolk’s voters were told the money was dedicated to public education, as Mayor Kenneth Alexander promised in 2020: “Our city will potentiall­y benefit from millions of dollars in new tax revenue that will be committed to public education.”

By stepping into local government decisions in this way,

Youngkin risks putting the state’s resilience funding at the mercy of some politician’s unrelated beef with flood-prone localities.

Bad LGBTQ stance? No flood funds for that city. Aggressive policing? Your county gets a goose egg. Placing unrelated conditions on flood funding is a departure from sound public policy, sending a message more appropriat­e to a street hustle.

Without assured funding generated by RGGI, Virginia’s flood money competes with a long list of other state needs, making the funding unreliable and dependent on Virginia’s annual fiscal health. Sea level rise and increased rainfall don’t care about state balance sheets or whether a city has a casino. Virginia’s flood problem is

constantly growing as should be our response.

For local government­s struggling to deal with increased flooding, assured funding is essential. Getting ahead of climate change is a long, hard task and for those localities just starting out, especially smaller, rural localities, getting up to speed is a multi-year effort.

The magnitude of the challenge facing Virginia is huge, from flood-prone mountain valleys to low-lying coastal shorelines. Wetlands Watch has estimated the coastal adaptation needs alone are a minimum of $40 billion. We need every dollar we can find and we need a steady stream of funding.

We need the RGGI funding, plus the proposed flood money (without the casino hook), plus whatever couch cushion change we can find. All of that funding should all be going toward flood protection next year, awarded transparen­tly based on merit (not on some politician’s whim) with a special focus on low-income communitie­s, especially in rural areas.

Legislatio­n is pending to restore the RGGI funding and Youngkin’s budget is under review. It is time to return our flood funding to the system we had before.

 ?? STAFF ?? Flooding is a recurring problem in Hampton Roads. In this 2019 photo, vehicles are stuck in Newport News.
STAFF Flooding is a recurring problem in Hampton Roads. In this 2019 photo, vehicles are stuck in Newport News.

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