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. While an important moment in Bay restoration, 2025 is a deadline, not a finish line—all Bay jurisdictions and the federal government must use the lessons learned to redouble their efforts, achieve the Blueprint targets as quickly as possible, and create a healthy, resilient watershed for all.

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

We are pleased that Governor Youngkin has included funding for key programs to reduce polluted runoff in his proposed budget. Both the House and Senate also included these in their respective budgets:

  • $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.
  • $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.
  • $100 million to assist the City of Richmond in upgrading its outdated combined sewer system. During heavy rains, the existing sewer infrastructure cannot adequately handle the volume of water, forcing discharges of raw sewage into the James River.

We are grateful for the Governor’s proposed budget and legislators for the ample, needed funding for these programs. But the Commonwealth needs additional investments to achieve clean, healthy waterways and a restored Chesapeake Bay.

Getting Cost-Effective Conservation Practices on the Ground Faster

Both Senator Hanger and Delegate Bulova introduced budget amendments to establish a pilot program to incentivize the adoption of proven, cost-effective conservation practices: forested buffers, stream exclusion, and nutrient management plans.

Concurrently, two bills proposed to extend to 2030 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 contends that extending the deadline for these priority practices will hamper achievement of Virginia's Bay goals. After lengthy negotiations, the stakeholders reached a compromise on SB 1129, which moves the deadline to 2028 and requires annual reporting of progress, such as the number of stream miles from which livestock have been excluded.

The Senate budget, recognizing the need to accelerate nutrient reduction from the agricultural challenges faced by the agricultural community due to COVID and supply chain issues, wisely included the $12.9 million for a grant program to help farmers meet this deadline and incentivize the most cost-effective long-term practices.

To further accelerate reductions from agriculture, CBF supports budget amendments 373 #1h (introduced by Delegate Bulova) and 373 #1s (introduced by Senator Hanger), which would create a workgroup to develop and implement new programs to speed up nutrient reductions through verified outcomes. The goal of the workgroup is to consider “pay for performance” options for funding agricultural practices that result in the highest pollution reductions at the lowest cost. This budget amendment was adopted in both the Senate and House budget bills (SB 800 and HB 1400 respectively).

Support Cleaner Vehicle Emissions

CBF urged 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. All bills to repeal the Clean Car standards have failed in the Senate and have been passed by the House. We will continue to encourage the Senate to protect these standards when the repeal bills come over from the House.

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.

Multiple bills attempted to pull Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a market-based program to cap and reduce carbon emissions from power generators. 45 percent of the proceeds from this program go to 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. These bills passed the House, but now come over to the Senate which has killed similar RGGI repeal bills in committee in the past.

In addition, CBF supported Delegate Bulova’s HB 1634 and Senator Lewis’ SB 1187, which encourages localities to consider resilience strategies during the development of new comprehensive plans. These bills have passed both chambers.

Tackling Stubborn Stormwater

As land use changes continue, nutrient reductions from the stormwater sector are increasingly difficult and expensive to achieve. The House proposes an additional $10 million, and the Senate seeks an additional $20 million, for the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund (SLAF) which provides grants to localities for projects that reduce polluted runoff. These amounts will be negotiated in conference and would be in addition to the $25 million appropriated for SLAF in 2022.

Support Oyster Shell Recycling

Senator Monty Mason and Delegate Tim Anderson introduced legislation (SB 997 and HB 1438) to create an oyster shell tax credit to encourage businesses and others to recycle oyster shells for restoration purposes. The Senate Finance committee offered substitute language, converting the recycling tax credit to a grant program. CBF will be working to support the proposed “Oyster Shell Waste Diversion Fund” to incentivize keeping shells out of landfills. Additionally, the Senate’s budget proposes $100,000 for oyster shell recycling.

Help Create a Fishery for Blue Catfish

CBF supports Delegate Hodges HB 1664 and Senator Stuart’s SB 897 to create an Infrastructure Grant Program to help process and flash freeze blue catfish. Creating a fishery for these invasive species could help curb their populations in the Rappahannock, James and York rivers. The House and Senate both proposed $2 million to capitalize this fund.

Improve Our Knowledge of Menhaden

Senator Lynwood Lewis’ SB 1388 directs the state to study the ecology, fishery impacts, and economic importance of menhaden populations. This bill passed the Senate and is now on its way to the House. Other bills that sought to impose additional restrictions on menhaden harvests were defeated.

Reducing Toxins in Our Waterways

CBF supported HB 2209, introduced by Delegate Kathy Tran, which would allow localities to ban pavement sealants that contain Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs). PAHs can cause cancer, birth defects, and mutations to aquatic life. Coal tar sealants contain 1,000 times more PAHs than similar asphalt-based products, and there are alternative sealants that are less toxic and no more expensive. Unfortunately, this bill was defeated in a vote on the House floor.

Protecting Forests and Wetlands

The Senate’s budget includes $500,000 for the Virginia Department of Forestry to conduct a technical study of changes in forests and tree canopy as well as a study on oak wilt. This study will help Virginia and its localities protect and enhance forests and tree canopy, which are essential for healthy streams and the Chesapeake Bay. The House budget provides funding for a new staff policy analyst to help address the agency workload.

CBF also opposed SB 1152, introduced by Senator John Cosgrove. This bill sought to exempt the military from having to obtain wetlands permits. CBF helped to amend the bill toe ensure that the work of the military and federal agencies will be adequately reviewed by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.

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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