The first southern state with carbon-free energy goals

Virginia has become the first southern state to establish carbon-free energy goals by the year 2045. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed into action the Virginia Clean Economy Act that will require such utility powerhouses as Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power to transition to carbon free operations. Read More.
The following article is reprinted on our webpage from the Washington Post written by Gregory S. Schneider.
Virginia becomes the first Southern state with a goal of carbon-free energy
By Gregory S. Schneider
April 13, 2020 at 9:26 p.m. EDT
RICHMOND — The coronavirus is scrambling Virginia’s budget and economy, but it didn’t prevent Gov. Ralph Northam (D) from signing legislation that makes it the first Southern state with a goal of going carbon-free by 2045.
Over the weekend, Northam authorized the omnibus Virginia Clean Economy Act, which mandates that the state’s biggest utility, Dominion Energy, switch to renewable energy by 2045. Appalachian Power, which serves far southwest Virginia, must go carbon-free by 2050.
Almost all the state’s coal plants will have to shut down by the end of 2024 under the new law. Virginia is the first state in the old Confederacy to embrace such clean-energy targets.
Under a separate measure, Virginia also becomes the most Southern state to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative — a carbon cap-and-trade market among states in the Northeast.
The actions “will create thousands of clean energy jobs, make major progress on fighting climate change, and break Virginia’s reliance on fossil fuels,” state Sen. Jennifer L. McClellan (D-Richmond), a sponsor of the omnibus bill, said in an emailed statement.
Democrats promised to do more to protect the environment during elections last fall in which they won control of the state legislature for the first time in a generation.
They used their new power to pass a mountain of ambitious legislation in this year’s General Assembly session, and Northam had until midnight this past Saturday to sign bills into law, suggest amendments or veto them. He proposed delaying some actions — such as raising the state’s minimum wage — and freezing all new spending in anticipation of the impact of the pandemic, which is likely to cost the state about $3 billion over the next two years.
But Northam cast the energy legislation as an antidote, saying in a statement that it would prove “that a clean environment and a strong economy go hand-in-hand.”
In addition to the clean-energy goals, the legislation sets energy efficiency standards for the state’s electricity providers, mandates the development of offshore wind energy and opens the door to more rooftop solar.
Some consumer advocates have criticized the legislation for continuing to allow Dominion Energy to pass costs along to customers and insulating the giant utility from regulatory oversight of its rates. Dominion is the most influential corporation in Richmond, and many of the Democrats who won last year had promised to disrupt the utility’s special status.
Although Dominion participated in crafting the legislation, it was not the driving force. Instead, a coalition of alternative-energy companies and advocacy groups worked with lawmakers on the idea.
Many environmental groups praised Northam for signing it.
“This is undoubtedly the boldest climate action legislation ever to come out of the South,” Southern Environmental Law Center lawyer Will Cleveland said via email. “We look forward to continuing to work together to ensure the best possible implementation of this groundbreaking legislation and to ensure that this transformation of our energy landscape benefits all Virginians equally.”
Gary Moody, director of state and local climate strategy at the National Audubon Society, said that the legislation “shows the success of a pragmatic, market-based approach in achieving state economywide solutions.”
Plus, he said, it’s good for the birds. “Even in this time of uncertainty, both threatened communities and vulnerable birds like cerulean warblers and saltmarsh sparrows will have a fighting chance against climate change.”

Backyard Talk

Vulnerability to Pollution and Susceptibility to Covid-19

A new screening tool is now available that identifies populations across the country that are most vulnerable to severe complications following exposure to the coronavirus and development of covid-19. This community vulnerability map which was developed by Jvion, a health care data firm, in collaboration with Microsoft. Jvion uses socioeconomic and environmental factors, such as lack of access to transportation, exposure to pollution, unemployment and mortality rates at the census block level to identify communities vulnerable to severe effects of covid-19.
In an article about his new mapping tool in Grist magazine, Jvion is described as using “machine learning to analyze block-level data from the U.S. Census to identify ‘environmental health hazards’ as one key socioeconomic factor that makes a population more vulnerable  to severe covid-19 outcomes, based on the health effects of polluted air, contaminated water and extreme heat. They also factored in how chronic exposure to outdoor respiratory air pollutants such as fine particulate matter can increase the risk of cancer, respiratory illness and cardiovascular disease – preexisting conditions that make exposure to the novel corona virus more severe and fatal.”
This interactive and searchable map differs from others available on the internet in that it identifies the populations that once infected will likely experience severe outcomes ranging from hospitalization to death.
This vulnerability map can be used together with the USEPA’s EJScreen, an Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping tool. The EJScreen uses 11 environmental and health indicators and standard demographic data to identify communities most susceptible to air quality pollution. The EJ screen specifically includes a cancer risk and respiratory hazard index that is provided as a percentile in the state or nationally.
When the vulnerability mapping tool is matched with the EPA’s EJ Screen, the results are astounding. The relationship between a community’s proximity to industrial facilities and the projected risk of severe covid-19 outcomes is very clear and very strong. The areas of high vulnerability identified on the Community Vulnerability map match well with areas with high pollution from industrial facilities identified by the EJScreen, painting an all too familiar picture of communities suffering disproportionately from multiple and cumulative risks.
The preexisting respiratory and other health conditions that African Americans suffer from living in the shadows of industrial facilities in sacrifice zones across the country contribute significantly to their susceptibility to the lethal effects of covid-19. This reality isn’t an accident, but the result of economic and environmental conditions imposed on people of color over the long history of discrimination in this country.
In spite of these obvious disparities and the growing threat that people of color and African Americans in particular face from covid-19, EPA announced this month that it has stopped enforcing regulations that hold corporate polluters accountable for releasing toxic chemicals into the air we breathe. This is another outrage. Sign our petition to demand that the government reverse this disastrous decision.