2024 Virginia Legislative Session

Chuck Epes

Updated on March 11, 2024

Throughout the 2024 Virginia legislative session, lawmakers showed historic support for critical environmental issues, including bills that conserve trees, ban toxic products, and strengthen climate resiliency. Read on for the details of these historic clean water wins and how CBF played a critical role in advocating for them.

Fully Funding Programs to Achieve Clean Water

We are pleased that the state budget included funding for key programs that will reduce pollution and runoff entering our waterways, including:

  • $200 million to upgrade aging municipal sewage treatment plants. This funding provides cost-shared grants to help wastewater facilities reduce the nutrient and sediment pollution that causes dead zones in our rivers and the Bay, while protecting ratepayers from absorbing all the costs.
  • $231 million for the Virginia Agricultural Cost-Share program, to build on last year’s historic investment in our farming communities. Robust and reliable funding is essential for meeting water quality goals. This program provides technical expertise and operational support to farmers who adopt sound, cost-effective conservation practices.
  • $1 million over the biennuim for oyster replenishment activities. This funding is vital to thriving waterways and local economies that until recently had long-suffered from overharvesting, pollution, and disease.

In addition to these key investments, CBF urged legislators to support robust investments in a pay-for-outcomes pilot program, which encourages innovative best management practices to reduce pollution from agricultural land. We are pleased that legislators included an initial investment of $20 million, which will allow pollution reduction projects with verified, successful results to be implemented.

Unfortunately, legislators did not include funding for the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund (SLAF) to help cities and counties reduce polluted runoff from urban and suburban lands. SLAF provides matching grants to localities for projects such as wetland construction, living shoreline installation, and stream restoration work. We hope to see adequate funding for these locality projects in the future to slow the increase of pollution coming from urban and suburban sources.

Banning Toxic Pavement Sealant

CBF urged the General Assembly to support House Bill 985, introduced by Delegate Tran, which will prohibit the sale and use of toxic pavement sealants in Virginia as a cost-effective way to prevent toxic pollution from entering our waterways and harming our children and wildlife. This type of sealant typically contains about 1,000 times more polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) than sealant products with an asphalt base. PAHs are known to cause cancer, birth defects, and mutations to aquatic life. For the first time since being introduced three years ago, this bill successfully passed both chambers and now awaits the Governor’s signature to become state law.

Preserving and Expanding Virginia’s Tree Canopy

Virginia continues to lose tree canopy at an alarming rate due to development, road expansions, energy infrastructure, and other causes. To stem the loss, CBF supported several successful legislative initiatives:

  • Providing additional local authority. Many local governments have expressed the desire to expand their tree canopy to cost-effectively reduce flooding, manage stormwater, and reduce the health impacts of urban heat islands and air pollution to their residents. Unfortunately, localities have limited authority to require developers to preserve existing mature trees or replace a higher percentage of trees that are cleared for construction. CBF supported House Bill 529, introduced by Delegate Hope, and HB1100, patroned by Delegate Carr, to ensure these authorities are available statewide. These bills were approved by both chambers of the legislature.
  • Providing incentives to preserve mature trees and add flexibility for tree funds. CBF supported Delegate Sullivan’s House Bill 459 and Senator Subramanyam’s Senate Bill 121, which will provide local governments with the option to incentivize developers to conduct a stand assessment—before a site plan is submitted for approval—and take necessary precautions to preserve existing healthy trees on site. These bills both passed the senate and house, and upon signing by the governor will also expand the use of a locality’s tree fund to not just plant new trees, but also maintain newly planted trees on public and private property.
  • Creating a roadmap for forest management. The Forest Conservation Act, introduced by Delegate Hope in House Bill 309 and Senator Marsden in Senate Bill 461, will enable Virginia to determine how many acres of the Commonwealth’s forests are healthy, how many acres are being lost and why, how to reconnect forest fragments and identify opportunities for further conservation efforts. These bills successfully passed both chambers as well.
  • Mitigating tree loss due to road construction. Much of Virginia’s tree canopy is destroyed as we expand our roadways. CBF urged legislators to direct the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to study the loss of forest and urban tree canopy due to road construction, determine what acreage can be replanted, and create a restoration plan to mitigate lost acreage. While funding for this study was not included in the budget this year, CBF will continue collaborating with VDOT on opportunities to address tree loss due to road construction.

Creating a Climate-Ready Commonwealth 

We strongly supported budget amendments from Delegate Herring (item 366 #1h and item 114 #1h) and Senator Surrovell (item 4-5.12 #1s) that direct Virginia to rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a market-based program to cap and reduce carbon emissions from power generators. Virginia was a member until recently. Proceeds from RGGI participation support the Community Flood Preparedness Fund, which provides grants to localities across the state—from Winchester to Hampton, Danville to Fairfax—to build desperately needed resilience against coastal and inland flooding. This language was included in the final conference report of budget amendments approved by both chambers and awaits the Governor’s action.

We also encouraged legislators to unify state agencies’ climate change resources by supporting House Bill 1458, introduced by Delegate Hernandez. We’re pleased that this critical legislation was approved by the senate and house and now awaits the Governor’s signature. Once signed into law, this legislation will create the Office of Commonwealth Resilience, increase transparency and oversight over the distribution of resilience funds, and ensure local and state officials can maximize federal, state, and private flood mitigation funding opportunities.

Defending Wetlands

Virginia lacks a comprehensive strategy to protect tidal and nontidal wetlands from impacts due to human activities and climate change—as well as to restore or create additional wetlands to achieve our Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint goals. CBF urged the establishment of a work group to develop strategies for protecting the existing tidal and nontidal wetlands of the Commonwealth. House Bill 357, introduced by Delegate Simonds, would have developed plans for wetland restoration to address adverse impacts from human activities and climate change. Unfortunately, this bill was defeated in committee hearing.

Curtailing Harmful HOA Legislation

Currently, Virginia code allows Property Associations to require the use of turf-grass and restrict the use of low-impact landscaping designed to reduce stormwater runoff and provide other ecological benefits. Homeowners living in community associations should have the option to install conservation landscaping to improve water quality, provide wildlife habitat, and mitigate climate change. CBF encouraged legislators to support Delegate Krizek’s House Bill 528, which aimed to ensure homeowners have the right to plant gardens and yards with trees, shrubs, and perennials that provide benefits for pollinators and clean water. This bill has been continued to 2025, which will provide additional time for stakeholders to improve the bill before it is considered again.

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