2018 General Assembly
In Virginia, our work to save the Bay shifts into high gear every January. The General Assembly commences, and legislation that has major impacts on local water quality comes at a furious pace. Through it all, CBF staff meet with legislators to discuss bills, speak in front of legislative committees, and organize members to advocate for clean water policy.
During the 2018 session, CBF stayed engaged on dozens of legislative proposals, supporting those that are good for water quality and opposing harmful bills. Here are some of the results.
Investing in Clean Water Programs
CBF supported budget proposals for strong investment in programs that restore our rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay.
The final Virginia budget approved by the General Assembly for the next two fiscal years supports:
- agricultural best management practices such as fencing cattle out of streams and planting cover crops and streamside trees, which are cost-effective ways to keep valuable nutrients and topsoil on the farm and out of our waterways. Virginia’s agricultural cost-share program, including technical and related services, will receive approximately $40 million total over the next two years. By contrast, the FY18 appropriations were approximately $17 million;
- Virginia's Stormwater Local Assistance Fund (SLAF), which supports one of the state's most vexing water quality problems by providing matching grants to localities for projects that treat polluted runoff from our roofs, sidewalks, and roadways. SLAF will receive $20 million in the first year. The last time the General Assembly added new money to this program was in 2016.
- oyster restoration to build sanctuary reefs and oyster replenishment to boost harvests by hardworking watermen. Oyster replenishment and restoration together will receive $2.75 million in the first year and $3 million in the second year. Currently, oyster replenishment is funded at $2 million annually. We are thrilled that, for the first time, the General Assembly has invested in oyster restoration.
House Bills 1307 and 1308 (Hodges) had their genesis in General Assembly 2017, which approved a year-long stakeholder study (in which CBF participated) of possible changes to the stormwater management program for the rural coastal communities of Eastern Virginia. In view of the area's low development rate and unique hydrology, the bills are expected to protect water quality at a lower cost. CBF and many other stakeholders supported these bills, which passed the full House and Senate.
House Bill 801 (O'Quinn) would have prohibited the State Water Control Board from adopting any regulation or standard relating to stormwater that is inconsistent with or more stringent than any federal requirement or guidance. CBF strongly opposed this bill, which would prevent Virginia from responding to local challenges with innovative programs that protect our waterways. On the floor of the House, Delegate Bulova gave impassioned testimony about why this bill would harm Virginia's waters. Watch the video (starting at 1 hour and 7 minutes). Fortunately, HB 801 was then rereferred to a House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources subcommittee, which ended consideration of this bill this session.
House Bill 1566 (Hodges) would have weakened Virginia's statewide stormwater management program by allowing localities across the Commonwealth to avoid the responsibility of reviewing plans, accepting instead the work of developers' retained engineers on plans for large developments. Because this bill would undercut Virginia's ability to enforce stormwater rules on developments larger than one acre, CBF strongly opposed the bill. Ultimately, the legislator sponsoring the bill moved to strike it, ending further consideration.
House Bill 1004 (Byron) would have required localities to exempt airports from paying stormwater utility fees for their runways and taxiways to help localities manage polluted runoff and Senate Bill 367 (Newman) would have allowed localities to create such an exemption. We worked hard against both bills, which would have undermined local stormwater management programs. Del. Byron ultimately struck HB 1004 and SB 367 was "passed by for the year," ending further consideration.
House Bill 805 (O'Quinn) and Senate Bill 507 (Carrico) would have restricted the application of modern, effective stormwater management rules to the Chesapeake Bay watershed, relegating Virginia's non-Bay watershed regions to the outdated and ineffective stormwater management rules that were in effect before 2014. CBF—believing that all parts of the state deserve clean water—worked and testified in hearings against these bills, which were both defeated.
Trees and Wetlands
House Bill 494 (Hodges) supports increased tree cover by affording localities across the Chesapeake Bay watershed the authority to expand tree planting and preservation requirements for new development. Only localities with a high population density currently have had this authority. Recognizing that increasing tree cover can reduce the polluted runoff that enters waterways, CBF worked with the bill sponsor and other stakeholders, and testified to the committee in support of this bill. We are very pleased that this bill passed the House and Senate.
House Bill 400 (Keam) was similar to HB 494 discussed above, but would have gone further, allowing localities to require tree planting and preservation at any level, without any upper limits. CBF testified in support of the legislation, but the bill did not advance.
House Bill 447 (Hope) would have required the State Water Control Board to adopt regulations for localities to encourage and promote preservation of mature trees as a stormwater management tool in Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act areas. CBF testified in support of the legislation in subcommittee, but the bill did not advance.
Preventing Other Sources of Pollution
House Bill 1475 (Poindexter) and Senate Bill 344 (Peake) will facilitate the implementation of new water quality standards for ammonia in fresh water streams. CBF, which has been closely involved in the development of these criteria, worked with other stakeholders and legislators to ensure that the final bill will implement these important standards without delay. The bills were amended and passed both the House and Senate in much stronger form.
Senate Bill 951 (Surovell) would have prohibited fracking in the Taylorsville basin, in Virginia's coastal plain. Recognizing the dangers fracking presents to the Bay and supporting localities in the affected region, CBF and other conservation groups testified in support the bill. It passed out of the Senate Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee as a four-year moratorium on fracking, but unfortunately was defeated in the Senate Finance Committee.
House Bill 675 (Hodges) would have reduced the effluent standards for septic systems. CBF opposed this bill, working with Del. Hodges and other delegates. An amended and improved bill was approved by the full House, but thankfully did not advance in the Senate.
House Bill 1150 (Wilt) would have prohibited the use of toxic coal tar sealants in Virginia. These sealants have high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which are harmful to humans and wildlife under certain conditions. The Chesapeake Bay Program has prioritized PAHs as the second most important toxic contaminant. PAHs are known to cause cancer, birth defects, and mutations to aquatic life. CBF worked closely with Del. Wilt, in support of this potentially groundbreaking legislation. While Del. Wilt ultimately withdrew the bill, we will work to get the bill reintroduced next year.
House Bill 192 (Yancey) promotes the use of rainwater harvesting by requiring the Virginia Department of Health to develop a more extensive regulatory program on the use of rainwater and gray water. CBF testified in committee in support of the bill, citing our own Brock Center to illustrate the innovative possibilities for use of rainwater and graywater. We are pleased that this bill passed the House and Senate.
House Bill 822 (Knight) would have adopted into Virginia law recent updates to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's (ASMFC) menhaden management plan, which provided both ecological and economic benefits. This common-sense legislation is needed for Virginia to remain in fisheries compliance, and CBF has worked hard with legislators, the Northam Administration, and other stakeholders on this issue.
This modest compromise bill was not heard before the legislative crossover deadline. It was then reintroduced at the request of Gov. Ralph Northam as House Bill 1610 (Knight). While that version passed the House Agriculture Committee, it was referred back to committee before it could be voted on by the full House, effectively killing the bill this session. CBF hopes a path is found for Virginia to remain in compliance with the ASMFC.
House Bill 1488 (Helsel) would have removed a longstanding provision in the Virginia Code that prohibits carrying oyster dredge gear onboard a vessel while crossing an oyster sanctuary. In force since the 1950s, this prohibition is intended to prevent oyster poaching from sanctuaries, one of the Commonwealth's most serious natural resources violations. CBF strongly opposed this bill and worked hard with legislators, who ultimately decided to "pass the bill by indefinitely," cutting off further consideration.
Senate Bill 950 (Hanger) provides new environmental protections from the impacts of any future interstate pipelines that cross Virginia. In particular, this bill ensures that the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality will not certify a proposed pipeline as protective of water quality unless and until it develops and implements an individual water protection permit that protects every stream and wetlands area to be crossed by the pipeline. Recognizing the bill as an important step forward, CBF worked with Sen. Hanger and other stakeholders to make it as strong as possible. Fortunately, the bill passed both the Senate and House.
More information on the policies needed to reduce pollution, restore our iconic fisheries, and strengthen local communities is available below.
Fortunately, Virginia is largely on track to achieve its Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint goals for reducing pollution. Moving forward, the Commonwealth needs to continue investing in programs that reduce runoff from agriculture and developed communities.
The recovery of oysters, crabs, and other Bay fisheries will support Virginia's once-legendary seafood industry and the thousands of jobs that rely on it. To flourish, these fisheries need clean water, healthy habitat, and sound, science-based management.
Virginia's rivers and the Bay are economic assets supplying jobs in tourism, seafood, and outdoor recreation industries. Fully implementing the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint would increase the value of Virginia's natural benefits by $8.3 billion annually.
* Poll conducted by the Wason Center for Public Policy and the Virginia Environmental Endowment. The poll focused on environmental attitudes, concerns, and policy preferences. It is based upon interviews of 826 registered Virginia voters conducted between January 29 and February 12, 2017, including 382 landline interviews and 443 cell phone interviews. The survey has a margin of error of +/- 3.7% at the 95% level of confidence.
Photo credits (from top): Bobby Whitescarver, Chesapeake Bay Program, CBF Staff