This article was originally published as a commentary in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on February 2, 2024.
When it comes down to it, environmental policy is about people.
Take, for example, the person searching for some green shade on a blazing Richmond summer day.
The Hampton Roads school administrators who cancel classes due to flooded roads.
The parents who aren’t even aware that the new sealant on their driveway could cause cancer in their children.
With an unprecedented number of new legislators this year, the General Assembly has an unprecedented opportunity to enact legislation that benefits our environment, our economy and the well-being of every Virginian.
When it comes to the budget, legislators should increase investment in successful state programs that support farm conservation projects, manage polluted stormwater runoff from developed areas and reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from sewage treatment plants.
How do we protect Virginians from damaging weather driven by climate change? Invest in Virginia’s Community Flood Preparedness Fund, the only state program that pays for flood prevention projects. Virginia’s withdrawal from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative will cause these funds to dry up without new investment.
In an increasingly digital world, how do we prepare students to think critically and face tomorrow’s challenges?
Invest in environmental education opportunities. Research shows that outdoor learning leads to higher test scores, stronger engagement and improves problem-solving skills.
How do we rebuild populations of keystone species vital to thriving waterways and local economies?
Bring back oyster reefs, which filter water and create homes for fish, crabs and other aquatic life, by investing in the Oyster Shell Recycling Fund.
And fund a study on the menhaden population approved during the last legislative session. Menhaden, a small fish that plays a key role in the Chesapeake Bay’s food chain, are the target of Virginia’s largest fishery. More data is needed to manage this fishery and ensure enough menhaden remain in the water.
Dozens of species of freshwater mussels, many of them endangered, filter water and create habitat in rivers and streams across Virginia. Investment is sorely needed for mussel restoration.
Many environmental policy issues would improve Virginians’ quality of life. Toxic pavement sealants, which contain high levels of chemicals that cause cancer in children, adults and wildlife, are still commonly used to refinish driveways and parking lots. Banning the sale of toxic pavement sealants would prevent pollution and protect public health.
Virginia’s tree canopy loss due to development, road construction and other causes should concern everyone. Trees reduce pollution, alleviate flooding, create cooling shade and beautify neighborhoods. Legislators should ensure Virginia localities have the tools to protect and expand tree cover.
To better learn which pollution reduction projects are most effective, legislators can launch a pilot pay-for-outcomes program. Water quality testing in a nearby river or stream before and after the pollution-reduction project would provide measured outcomes and determine payment to farmers and others who install these projects.
In 2024, our elected officials can leave a legacy of supporting a healthier environment and improving Virginians’ well-being.
For more on Virginia's 2024 legislative priorities, visit our Legislative Session web page.