Issues

13 Ways I Will Fight For Virginia’s Environment

Climate change is an existential threat to Virginia. Without dramatic action, huge portions of our coastline will vanish under rising sea levels that threaten our agricultural, fishing, and tourism industries. This isn’t theoretical — Virginians are already feeling the economic and ecological impacts in the form of higher flood insurance premiums, eroding coastal property, and severe drought.

Our state’s leaders must have the political courage to stand up to electric utilities and major developers. That’s why I am the only candidate for Governor to oppose two proposed fracked gas pipelines, and I am the only candidate from either party who has refused to accept contributions from state-regulated utility monopolies like Dominion Power.

Yet, Donald Trump and Republicans in the General Assembly continue to lack the courage to face these threats, much less muster solutions. Instead of taking critical action in the face of climbing temperatures and erratic weather patterns, Trump has proposed cutting funding for the Environmental Protection Agency and is actively trying to roll back current environmental protections. As governor, I will act as a firewall against the Trump Administration’s disregard for the environment and use every measure at my disposal to continue the important work of protecting Virginia’s natural resources and halting the devastating effects of climate change.

Preserving our environment and natural heritage has been a defining aspect of my career. As a Congressman representing a largely rural district, I backed public policies to help our working farmers sustain their livelihoods and continue to serve as good stewards of Virginia’s land. I opposed uranium mining and spent months with leading experts to draft a blueprint for making southside and central Virginia a center of the new energy economy. I voted in favor of aggressive climate legislation and pushed for the Obama Administration’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that included the largest single clean energy investment in American history.

I’m also aware that any serious plan to invest sufficiently in a clean energy economy requires an honest discussion about race. When it comes to questions of environmental justice, our most underserved communities, people of color and low-income Virginians, are most likely to suffer. Every Virginian deserves a clean and healthy environment, regardless of race or socioeconomic status. Policies around transportation have deep structural connections to issues of race, as increasingly do issues of flooding and resiliency planning. As governor, I will stand up to the entrenched interests of the dirty energy economy and center my agenda around the need for environmental justice.

To celebrate Earth Day, here are 13 ways I’ll prioritize environmental protection in Richmond:

1. Rejecting Campaign Contributions from State Regulated Monopolies

Virginia will only lead on clean air, clean water, and clean energy jobs if we also lead on clean governance. That’s why I’ve refused donations from Dominion and Appalachian Power, and will fight to ensure that our Commonwealth protects our people and not powerful interests. For decades, efforts to foster renewable energy, energy efficiency, and decentralized energy production in Virginia have been blocked by corporate utilities who profit off the status quo and regulators stuck in the past. When I made this promise, I said the next generation of solutions should be determined not by the size of the campaign contributions but the quality of the ideas. Fortunately this message is already taking hold. Just this week, over 50 candidates running for the General Assembly also took pledges to reject contributions from Dominion and Appalachian Power.

2. Saying No To Fracked Gas Pipelines

If elected governor I will use all available powers to prevent the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipeline projects from proceeding. These pipelines pose immediate harm as well as serious risks to communities across Virginia. The construction process will require seizing private property through eminent domain for corporate gain, and the pipeline will leave 21 counties vulnerable to devastating leaks. Wasting billions on capital investments in pipelines will just lock us into the use of outdated fossil plant technology and limit our energy options for decades. In an era when climate change is a real and very present threat, it makes no sense to sign up for another generation of dirty fuel instead of looking for real solutions.

3. Standing Up to President Trump’s Toxic, Pro-Pollution Agenda

My decision to enter this race was prompted by my belief that Virginia’s next governor will be called on to actively resist the harmful impacts of President Trump’s policies on our commonwealth. Trump’s EPA has already begun rolling back important environmental protections. We must recognize the unprecedented threat posed to our health and natural resources by the Trump administration’s regressive policies on climate change and environmental protection and commit at the state level to fighting these dangerous and misguided efforts. As governor, I am prepared to mount and sustain a bold campaign of resistance, using all of the legal and policy tools at my disposal, including holding Virginia’s industries to a higher, cleaner standard. I will insist that climate considerations — both mitigation and resilience — be incorporated into all relevant offices of state government.

4. Creating Clean Energy Jobs and Savings

We live in a state where a publicly regulated utility that relies heavily on fossil fuels for energy generation is also the largest corporate contributor to state politicians. Not coincidentally, Virginia seriously lags behind our Southern neighbors in renewable energy production and jobs. Virginia has failed to develop a single megawatt of offshore wind, despite having the highest-potential offshore wind project in the country. We must remove the barriers our legislature has created for renewable energy at the behest of energy monopolies and press Dominion to make productive use of its offshore wind lease. As governor, I will call for reforming state laws that have deliberately held back development of solar and wind energy and push for reforms that embrace net metering, third-party power purchase agreements, and true community solar.

5. Protecting the Chesapeake Bay

The Chesapeake Bay Program is a national example of how states and the federal government can work together to clean up polluted natural resources, and yet that effort is now threatened with a 93% federal funding cut under President Trump’s proposed budget. The Bay is an environmental treasure for the state and also an economic engine that supports thousands of jobs in fishing, tourism, and other industries. As governor, I will retain state funding for the cleanup program, preserve our involvement with other bay states in the program, and support farmers to reduce agricultural runoff that contributes to algal blooms.

6. Upgrading Critical Water Infrastructure

The all-too-recent lessons of Flint, Michigan, require us to rebuild and repair our aging water infrastructure and ensure that future generations of Virginians have access to clean water. The American Society of Civil Engineers has pointed out that Virginia will need $6.1 billion in critical water infrastructure spending in the next 20 years to maintain current levels of infrastructure and preserve drinking water quality. I will work with localities and the General Assembly to fund clean water infrastructure and expand statewide water quality testing for drinking water sources and Virginia’s natural waterways.

7. Protecting Virginia’s Lands and Natural Resources with Local Communities

As I travel to every corner of our state, I consistently hear citizens express frustration that developers and utility companies are attempting to ignore or override local preferences on land use. As governor, I will work with the General Assembly to ensure that the localities retain their ability to make decisions on development and land use. Further, I will support and, where possible, expand the use of the Land Preservation Tax Credit and Purchase of Development Rights programs to prevent our commonwealth’s farmland and open spaces from being permanently lost to development. Whether the issue is pipeline construction, siting of high power lines or the creation of sustainable agricultural systems, citizens deserve the ability to determine what development happens in their own communities.

8. Creating an Environmental Justice Advocacy Council

I have worked on transitional justice processes around the world and intend as governor to explore ways to apply lessons from those efforts to racial healing and transformation within Virginia. Racism and economic inequality have led to those without privilege bearing the brunt of Virginia’s past disregard for the environment. Whether discussing the location of coal-fired power plants or the layout of urban public transportation systems, we cannot talk about environmental stewardship in Virginia without addressing both the historic and future implications of environmental degradation on these communities. I will commit to the creation of an Environmental Justice Advocacy Council, with members drawn from the environmental justice community and subject matter experts. This group will advise on and coordinate statewide policies aimed at beginning to correct historic environmental injustices and creating a future that protects our state’s resources for all Virginians.

9. Reducing Carbon Emissions and Mandating a Renewable Portfolio Standard

In Congress, I voted in favor of cap-and-trade climate legislation that would reduce carbon pollution and increase support for locally produced wind and solar energy. I believe a similar effort at the state or regional level could allow us to reduce our contribution to climate change, help impacted communities adapt, and support new clean energy jobs in growth industries for affected workers like coal miners. As the Trump Administration rolls back environmental protections, I will explore executive actions to cap carbon emissions, including supporting a mandatory Renewable Portfolio Standard in Virginia.

10. Stopping Coal Ash From Entering Our Waters

I was pleased to see Governor McAuliffe’s successful amendment to extend the moratorium on permits that would allow big polluters to cap coal ash ponds. This was an attempt to shirk responsibility for a major source of toxic pollution affecting Virginia’s waterways, and I’m proud of the bipartisan effort to reject this approach. As governor, I will push to continue the moratorium on the dumping of coal ash into our lakes and rivers and require that polluters pay for the removal or recycling of this ash.

11. Addressing Rising Sea Levels

Climate change is real, and it’s hurting Virginia right now. Hampton Roads already experiences routine flooding as a result of rising sea levels, a situation that will get worse and require significant investments in the coming years to build dikes and wetlands and repair and replace roads. The flooding may also eventually dislocate residents. Continued failure to address these problems will hurt Virginia’s economy and leave our coastal communities vulnerable to the type of crisis Louisiana experienced in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. I will collaborate with localities, business leaders, and environmentalists to plan and pay for sea level rise, adaptation, and resiliency infrastructure projects.

12. Investing in Sustainable Public Transportation

On transportation, my priority will be to support denser urban development through investment in public transit, including new transit authorities where local jurisdictions choose to form them. We have an obligation to the working parents of Northern Virginia to alleviate road congestion that keeps them on the highways and away from their families, but the solution is not constructing an outer beltway or more tunnels financed through tolls that wreak havoc on small communities and the working poor. I support reducing traffic congestion and carbon emissions by providing a high-quality public transit system that entices commuters out of their cars and into our rail, bus and bike networks, combined with long-term smart growth policies.

13. Promoting Sustainable, Local Agriculture

Most food in the U.S. travels an average of 1,500 miles from farm to table. The shipping process by which most people get their groceries is fossil fuel intensive, contributing to climate change. Farmers markets support and promote local agricultural providers, selling goods transported much shorter distances and often produced using organic and environmentally sustainable methods. As governor, I will support statewide efforts to promote sustainable agriculture, such as local production and farmers markets, particularly in urban and rural food deserts most in need of local, sustainable food sources.