As Virginia legislators begin the legislative session, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) is highlighting key environmental policy decisions faced in Virginia.
This legislative session comes at a pivotal time. Virginia lags in meeting its Chesapeake Bay restoration commitments by a 2025 deadline. Flooding and extreme weather from climate change is increasingly threatening people, homes, and businesses. And Virginia experienced record turnover in the most recent election, with 37 percent of the General Assembly seats filled by new faces.
“We’re looking forward to working with both new and returning lawmakers as they strive to make investments for cleaner water in their communities, protect homes from flooding, and preserve habitats and wildlife critical to the environment that are enjoyed by the public,” CBF Virginia Executive Director Chris Moore said.
Legislation this session expected to affect the health of Virginia’s rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay include:
- Investing in Clean Water Programs: This year legislators are expected to vote on Virginia’s budget for the next two years. Key programs that reduce pollution to waterways include:
- The Stormwater Local Assistance Fund provides matching grants to local governments for projects that reduce polluted runoff. This program needs $50 million in new investment over the next two years.
- The Virginia Agricultural Cost-Share Program supports work by farmers to install conservation projects that prevent pollution to rivers and streams. To meet the needs of farmers, the agricultural cost-share program needs $462 million in new investment for the next two years.
- Wastewater Treatment Plant Upgrades: The modernization of sewage treatment facilities has significantly reduced pollution to Virginia rivers, but some plants still lag behind. To complete this work, Virginia should invest an additional $200 million over the next two years.
- Protecting Homes and Businesses from Flooding: Work under Virginia’s Community Flood Preparedness Fund—the only state program that funds flood protection projects—will end without new investment. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) had been the only source of funding for the program, and Virginia’s withdrawal from RGGI puts this work at risk. The Community Flood Preparedness Fund needs $200 million in new investment over the next two years.
- Banning Toxic Pavement Sealants: Toxic pavement sealants are still commonly used in Virginia to refinish driveways and parking lots. These contain high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which lead to cancer in children, adults, and wildlife. There are much safer types of pavement sealants available. Virginia should prohibit the sale and use of these toxic pavement sealants to limit pollution and protect public health.
- Protection and Restoring Key Species:
- Menhaden: Local research and data are needed to properly manage the menhaden fishery in the Chesapeake Bay—Virginia’s largest fishery. Menhaden are a critical food for striped bass, osprey, whales, and other species. Virginia needs more data on the Bay’s menhaden population to manage the fishery. Virginia legislators last session approved a study on the menhaden population, and should now fund the study with approximately $4 million over the two-year budget period.
- Oysters: The recently created Oyster Shell Recycling Fund will boost the number of shells available, which are key to rebuilding the Bay’s oyster population. Baby oysters attach to these empty shells to build and expand reefs. Investing $150,000 in the fund would incentivize restaurants, seafood companies, and people to recycle shells for oyster restoration.
- Freshwater Mussels: Freshwater mussels are among the most endangered organisms, and dozens of species filter water and create habitat in rivers and streams across Virginia. The Department of Wildlife resources needs $400,000 for mussel restoration planning and implementation, and the Harrison Lake National Fish Hatchery in Charles City needs $2 million in investment to streamline and expand operations.
- Paying for Outcomes: To accelerate progress toward meeting the Chesapeake Bay pollution reduction goals, CBF is urging legislators to make a $20 million investment to establish a Virginia Clean Water Outcomes Fund pilot program. By paying for measured outcomes, this program would encourage innovation and flexibility, engage the private sector in Bay restoration and provide enhanced assurance that investments are successful. Payments could be linked to how much pollution a project reduces in a nearby river or stream. Results would be verified by testing water quality both before and after project installation.
- Expanding Tree Cover: Virginia is losing tree cover at an alarming rate due to development, roads, energy infrastructure, and other causes. Legislators can help by:
- Enabling all local governments to set their own tree replacement requirements for development and establish a tree fund;
- Requiring the Virginia Department of Transportation to replace or replant forest lost due to roadway expansions; and,
- Allowing local governments to require developers to identify where high-value mature trees can be preserved and protected.
- Environmental Education: Human impact on the environment and the value of Virginia’s natural resources are essential parts of state education standards, but many school districts aren’t connected to the resources needed to offer the hands-on, inquiry-based learning opportunities that lead to successful environmental education. Legislators can broaden the reach of these resources with $1 million in funding for Meaningful Watershed Education Experiences, and $600,000 to a grant fund for the development of student environmental literacy planning.
“A healthy, more resilient Chesapeake Bay watershed means healthier, more resilient Virginia communities. We urge legislators to prioritize efforts to reduce pollution, support innovative conservative practices, and further protect Virginians from the threat of climate change,” Moore said.