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.”


Supreme Court Decides to Uphold Virginia’s Uranium Mining Ban

Last Monday, the Supreme Court ruled on Virginia Uranium vs. Warren, a case questioning whether Virginia had the authority to ban Uranium mining, the New York Times Reports. The justices were deciding whether the Atomic Energy Act, a federal law regarding Uranium, would overturn Virginia’s decision to ban the practice after a fierce battle beginning in the 1970s, when Uranium was first discovered in the state.
The Supreme Court upheld Virginia’s right to ban Uranium Mining, with Justice Neil M. Gorusch (joined by Justice Thomas and Justice Kavanaugh) stating that states should have the authority to regulate their own policies on mining. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (joined by Justice Sotomayor and Justice Kagan) wrote a second opinion, agreeing with much of Gorusch’s analysis but stated that Gorusch’s opinion discussing the perils of questioning the motives of legislation “sweeps well beyond the confines of the case”.
Chief Justice Roberts, along with Justice Breyer and Justice Alito, offered a dissenting opinion. <Read more>


BREDL Calls for Investigation of VA Governor Around Environmental Justice

Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League called upon Virginia Inspector General Michael Westfall to investigate the firing of two State Air Pollution Control Board members by Governor Ralph Northam.   The request also cites threats by the state attorney general to disband the Governor’s Advisory Council on Environmental Justice.  The request centers on a proposed natural gas pipeline compressor station air permit.

Sharon Ponton, BREDL’s Stop the Pipelines Campaign Coordinator, stated, “Governor Northam’s actions to replace Rebecca Rubin and Sam Bleicher are unethical and corrupt.”    The letter of request written by Ponton to the IG details events she observed during the last few weeks.  She concluded, “We believe that when the Governor sees a decision being made he doesn’t like, he puts his thumb on the scale to ensure Dominion Energy gets its way.”
Lou Zeller, BREDL’s Executive Director stated, “Governor Northam, throughout the pipeline permitting process in Virginia, has tried to straddle the fence, but his true position has been made clear in the last few weeks.  He is disregarding the environmental racism being perpetrated on the freedmen community of Union Hill.”  BREDL has a case on the compressor station now before the Virginia Supreme Court, with arguments set for December 4.
Ponton’s request to the IG also pointed to recent actions by Northam to dismiss the findings of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Environmental Justice.  She said, “We have asked the Inspector General to complete a thorough investigation into the Governor’s actions.  We believe the Governor abused his power, corrupted the permitting process, and broke with the public trust,” Ponton concluded.
The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League is a Virginia corporation with members and projects throughout the state.  Its chapter in Union Hill, Virginia, Concern for the New Generations, was founded in 2016 to oppose the natural gas pipeline and compressor station proposed by Dominion Energy.

Backyard Talk News Archive

Citizens Take A Stand — While Governors Turn Their Backs

The governor in Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia are whining about how they would stop the Mountain Valley or Atlantic Coast pipelines if they could. . . but they can’t.  Their hands are tied.  It’s a lie and they know it.
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Theresa "Red" Terry has planted herself in a tree in Southwest Virginia to protest construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Must credit: Washington Post photo by Michael S. Williamson
Theresa “Red” Terry has planted herself in a tree in Southwest Virginia to protest construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Must credit: Washington Post photo by Michael S. Williamson

Of course, they can stop a pipeline and the U.S. Supreme Court just ruled they can – again.  On April 30, 2018 the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Constitution Pipeline Co’s bid to challenge New York state’s refusal to issue a needed water permit for their project; a proposed natural gas pipeline running from Pennsylvania to New York.
Partners in the 125-mile Constitution pipeline includes Williams Cos Inc, Duke Energy Corp, WGL Holdings Inc and Cabot Oil & Gas Corp.
While the Governors whine, the citizens take a stand. Theresa Red Terry and her daughter have been living in a tree platform for four weeks. They have been enduring snowstorms, bitter cold, heavy winds and torrential rains. The land was granted to Theresa’s husbands family by the King of England in Colonial times. (Photo credit
Police are charging the Terrys with trespassing on their own land. Waiting at the base of the trees are police ready to grab them when they come down. Food and water is no longer allowed to be provided to either woman.
A company (EQT) is seeking eminent domain to seize a 125-foot-wide easement from the family. EQT has successfully petitioned for a “right to early entry” for tree felling. The company wants the court to levy stiff fines or get federal marshals to bring them down. The judge has ordered the Terrys to appear in court. She’s not leaving the tree to go to court.
Equally disturbing, EQT will locate the noisy polluting compressor station in Union Hill, VA a historical African American community. A former “Slave Cemetery” is located in the path for destruction.
The Terry family is not alone.  Property rights advocates, environmentalists and faith leaders to name a few are standing with them. But time, food and water are running out.
Virginia’s governor Northam, has the authority to protect clean water and his Department of Environmental Quality can halt pipeline construction if standards have not been met, based on a law he signed this year.
However, his own Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has deferred to the Trump administration’s misuse of a “nationwide” Clean Water Act permit allowing the pipelines to alter more than 1,000 streams and rivers.
The governor could make one phone call to his DEQ director and halt the project. But he has not. Instead the “salt of the earth” American family will go to court and maybe jail for defending their rights to their land, trees and environment. [/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

Backyard Talk

Environmental Justice Concerns for Dominion’s ACP Pipeline

In the wake of the Paris agreements, alternative energy is first on the minds of many environmental activists. As we consider the impacts of fossil fuels on the environment, it’s critical to also recognize the environmental justice implications of our extractive energy industries. Across Virginia, opposition is growing in response to a proposed pipeline project that would carry natural gas across the center of the state. In addition to promoting natural gas drilling, the pipeline project carries a host of environmental and social justice concerns.

Dominion Power, under a subsidiary company,  is planning to construct an interstate pipeline for natural gas, dubbed the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The pipeline would carry gas from West Virginia  to North Carolina, cutting a line across the middle of Virginia. Currently, the company is surveying land along the proposed route. In late October they submitted route changes to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, addressing concerns that were brought up with respect to the environmental impact statement on the project. Environmental groups, mobilizing together as the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance, have opposed the pipeline given its potential to endanger water resources.
In addition to impacts to the natural environment, the pipeline project carries profound environmental justice implications. The project proposal involves placing a natural gas compressor station in Buckingham County near Charlottesville, VA, and community activists have raised concern that this compressor station, in addition to the pipeline itself, will mostly impact elderly African American residents. Friends of Buckingham County, a group opposing the pipeline, has been conducting surveys to better assess the demographics of the affected areas, and determine if historic African American communities in the area will be adversely impacted by the pipeline.

The environmental concerns associated with this pipeline are only a portion of what must be considered in the planning stages of this project. As the company’s survey work moves forward and environmental and EJ groups continue to mobilize against the plant, I will continue to follow this story, so stay tuned. In the meantime, you can read about Friends of Buckingham County’s efforts to oppose the pipeline at their website and Facebook page.