2023 Virginia Legislative Session

Chuck Epes

The 2025 Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint target is rapidly approaching, with much work remaining before the Chesapeake Bay is restored. We urge the Virginia General Assembly to accelerate efforts to reduce pollution, prioritizing the restoration of Virginia’s rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay, so that future generations can enjoy their beauty and bounty.

Fully Fund Programs to Achieve Clean Water

Here is what is needed in this year’s budget to support our waterways:

  • $237 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.
  • At least $137 million for the Virginia Agricultural Cost-Share program, which provides funding, technical expertise, and operational support to farmers who adopt sound, cost-effective conservation practices. These funds will support farmers who fence cattle out of streams, implement nutrient management plans on croplands, and adopt a host of other conservation practices. This amount builds on last session’s historic investment in our farming communities and will ensure funding continues to meet needs, despite the effects of recent inflation.
  • $50 million 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.
  • $100 million to assist the City of Richmond in upgrading its outdated combined sewer system. Richmond is one of three Virginia localities with antiquated sewer systems. When a heavy rainstorm comes, the existing sewer infrastructure cannot adequately handle the high quantities of water, forcing discharges of raw sewage into the James River.

Create a Special Fund for Grants to Incentivize Long-Term and Highly-Effective Conservation Practices

Legislators should create a special grant fund of $8 million to incentivize the adoption of the conservation practices most cost-effective at reducing pollution to the Bay and local streams: forested buffers, stream exclusion, and nutrient management plan adoption. Grants from this fund (which could be in addition to support from the agricultural cost-share program) will help farmers meet the existing July 1, 2026 deadline by when farmers with 20 or more cows must exclude their herds from perennial streams and farms of at least 50 acres of cropland must adopt an approved nutrient management plan. CBF supports $8 million for a grant program to help farmers meet this deadline and the funds will serve to incentivize the most effective long-term practices, like forested buffers.

Protect Solar Mitigation Analysis

In 2022, legislators amended earlier legislation relating to small energy projects to require, in some cases, mitigation of solar projects’ environmental impacts to forest and farmlands. The bill directed the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to develop regulations to administer this new program, first convening an advisory panel to assist in developing the guiding criteria. We urge legislators to refrain from amending this statute (HB 206, 2022) while the draft regulations are in development.

Support Cleaner Vehicle Emissions

CBF urges legislators to support the implementation of a low-emissions and zero-emissions vehicle program by the State Air Pollution Control Board. As of 2020, automobiles account for approximately 100 million pounds of nitrogen pollution deposited to the Bay watershed each year. By supporting more efficient vehicles, we can improve air quality, reduce pollution to the Bay, and decrease carbon emissions.

Enhance Climate Resilience while Protecting Water Quality

In the last several years, Virginia has taken a number of steps to enhance its resiliency in the face of more severe weather and a changing climate. Protecting these measures is a priority for the 2023 session.

Virginia should maintain its membership in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a market-based program to cap and reduce carbon emissions from power generators. This program supports the Community Flood Preparedness Fund (CFPF), 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. Remaining in RGGI will continue to bring millions of dollars to Virginia to help communities threatened by intense storms and rising seas. The current allocation of 45% of RGGI funds to the CFPF should remain untouched.

Virginia should support legislation that requires localities to consider resilience issues when developing their comprehensive plans.

In recent years, Virginia added important clarity to its tidal wetlands law, prioritizing living shorelines in shoreline management efforts, and to the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act, allowing localities to incorporate climate change factors in land-use planning. These advances are important measures to help Virginia residents safely address climate change impacts while protecting water quality in our streams and the Bay. None of them should be rolled back.

Support an Oyster Shell Tax Credit

CBF urges the passage of an oyster shell tax credit to encourage businesses and others to recycle oyster shells for restoration purposes. The number of shells available for restoration efforts is very limited, and baby oysters prefer to set and grow on hard surfaces such as other oysters and shells. This tax credit will encourage restaurants and others to recycle their shells. The credit would be $4.00 per bushel and capped at $1,500 per entity per year.

Assess the Bay’s Blue Crabs

Earlier this year, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources released the results of the 2022 Blue Crab Winter Dredge Survey, an annual estimate of the population of blue crabs in the Bay and its tributaries. This year’s survey estimated total crab abundance at 227 million—the lowest in the survey’s 33-year history.

Low numbers impact not only people who like to eat crabs, but also Virginia’s commercial blue crab fishery, which has an annual harvest value ranging from $22 to $38 million. Fisheries regulators and scientists must work quickly to identify the key ecosystem challenges influencing the survival of young blue crabs so they can be addressed to ensure a healthy blue crab population in the future. CBF asks legislators to appropriate $225,000 to VMRC so that it can conduct a more robust blue crab stock assessment.

Restore Freshwater Mussels

Freshwater mussels are an important part of Virginia’s natural heritage. They benefit streams and rivers by filtering water and removing pollutants. These valuable organisms have shown rapid decline, and investments and strategies are needed to protect and restore these populations. Last year, the General Assembly allocated funds for the development of a statewide mussel restoration plan. Legislators can further advance mussel populations by allocating $2 million to the Virginia Fisheries & Aquatic Wildlife Center to support its hands-on mussel replenishment efforts.

Keep Menhaden Management Effective

Recently, the General Assembly made the wise decision to transfer management of the menhaden fishery to the VMRC. This has helped ensure the health of the menhaden population and provided more certainty to the businesses that depend on menhaden. CBF urges the General Assembly to leave menhaden management decisions to the experts at the VMRC.

The Bay Needs You

The State of the Bay Report makes it clear that the Bay needs our support now more than ever. Your donation helps the Chesapeake Bay Foundation maintain our momentum toward a restored Bay, rivers, and streams for today and generations to come.

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