Dan Holmes

Take Action to Support Conservation Funding

Take Action to Support Conservation Funding

At this point in the 2021 Virginia General Assembly, the House and Senate versions of the budget have passed their respective chambers and a conference committee has been assigned to work out the differences. While we believe many of our conservation funding priorities are well-positioned, we’re making a final push to help ensure they make it into the final budget. 

And that’s where you come in. The budget conferees are on an abbreviated timeline to work out any differences and decisions will be made swiftly. Now is the time for you to show support for funding that Virginia relies on to protect natural resources and farmland, and expand public access.

Though it’s always helpful for people to contact their own delegate/senator, this week the focus is on communicating with the General Assembly members in the budget conference committee. See the list below for contact information.

PEC Budget Priorities

Below is the short list of amendments/asks that PEC is focused on. For a longer list of funding priorities that our partners in the conservation community are working on, scroll down to the bottom of this page.

  • SUPPORT senate amendment 385 #1s Historic Properties Catalogue – $250,000
    This amendment by Senator McClellan provides $250,000 for the purpose of surveying of historic properties related to untold histories, providing for a more inclusive state database of historic properties.

  • SUPPORT full funding for the Farmland Preservation Fund – $2 million
    Delegate Gooditis placed an amendment in the house for $2 million. It was included in the house budget at an additional $1 million (but the senate version provides no increase). This program supports local purchase of development rights programs with matching funds.

  • SUPPORT full funding of the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation
    Full funding of this program would be $16 million according to state code. Though given the need, one could argue for even greater levels. The introduced budget contained $10 million and the house kept that amount. However, the senate budget took $3.5M out and placed a hold on an additional $5M for two specific projects.

    Ultimately, whatever the amount determined, we should not encourage the use of those funds for projects picked by the legislature (the $5M). This ignores the purpose of the independent VLCF Board appointed to make those decisions using an established criteria. If it is the will of the committee to fund the projects specified in the senate budget, then it should be accomplished through a specific allocation.

  • SUPPORT $40 million for multi-use trails in senate budget (from CARES Act)
    This funding was a welcome surprise. While the full amount is already allocated for specific projects, we welcome this infusion. This provision recognizes the importance of trails and shines a spotlight on the need for future funding.

  • SUPPORT full funding for Agricultural Best Management Practices (Ag BMPs) – $100 million
    While the house budget funded Ag BMPs at a higher level than the senate, the actual needs assessment calls for $100 million per year. This funding is critical if we are to hit the targets called for in the Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) for the Chesapeake Bay. 

  • SUPPORT $250,000 to study the health and environmental impacts of gold mining
    The house budget includes $250,000 to study the health and environmental impacts of the mining of gold, pursuant to House Bill 2213. This effort is essential if we are to ensure regulations adequately protect the public health and environment. 

Contact the Budget Conferees

Members of the House/Senate budget conference committee will ultimately decide which amendments/initiatives move forward. Please contact the conferees below to express your support for conservation funding, especially if your own delegate/senator is one of them.

House Budget Conferees

Del. Luke Torian52(703) 785-2224DelLTorian@house.virginia.gov
Del. Mark Sickles43(703) 922-6440DelMSickles@house.virginia.gov
Del. Betsy Carr69(804) 698-1069DelBCarr@house.virginia.gov
Del. Roslyn Tyler75(434) 336-1710DelRTyler@house.virginia.gov
Del. David Bulova37(703) 310-6752DelDBulova@house.virginia.gov
Del. Barry Knight81(757) 426-6387DelBKnight@house.virginia.gov
Del. Terry Austin19(540) 254-1500DelTAustin@house.virginia.gov

Senate Budget Conferees

Sen. Janet Howell32(703) 709-8283district32@senate.virginia.gov
Sen. George Barker39(703) 303-1426district39@senate.virginia.gov
Sen. Louise Lucas18(757) 397-8209district18@senate.virginia.gov
Sen. Mamie Locke2(757) 825-5880district02@senate.virginia.gov
Sen. Creigh Deeds25(434) 296-5491district25@senate.virginia.gov
Sen. Tommy Norment3(757) 259-7810district03@senate.virginia.gov
Sen. Emmett Hanger24(540) 885-6898district24@senate.virginia.gov
Sen. Dick Saslaw (advisor)35(703) 978-0200district35@senate.virginia.gov
Sen. Stephen Newman (advisor)23(434) 385-1065district23@senate.virginia.gov

Conservation funding priorities for Virginia’s environmental community

*List pulled together by our partners at the Virginia League for Conservation Voters.

Chesapeake Bay Cleanup

  • $100 million per year for the Virginia Agriculture Cost Share program.
  • At least $80 million per year for the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund.
  • At least $55 million per year to upgrade wastewater facilities.

Land Conservation

  • $20 million per year for the Virginia Land Conservation Fund.
  • Full funding of the Farmland Preservation Fund of $2 million.

Outdoor Recreation

  • $5 million for multi-use trail development.
  • $40 million for a statewide multi-use trail initiative.

Environmental Enforcement

  • Re-allocation of $12 million for the Department of Environmental Quality.
  • Full funding of Governor Northam’s proposed budget for all other natural resources agencies.

Specific Budget Amendments:

  • Budget item #307 #1s: $60,000 in FY22 for PFAS (per and polyfluoroalkyl substances) Drinking Water Study.
  • Budget item #124 #1h: $250,000 to study the health and environmental impacts of gold mining.
  • Budget item #385#1s: $250,000 to expand Virginia’s historical property catalogue to include underrepresented African American and indigenous communities.
  • Budget item #125 #1h: $5 million the second year from the general fund for the Electric Vehicle Rebate Fund consistent with the provisions of House Bill 1979.
  • Budget item #442 #2h: $500,000 for DRPT to study the Commonwealth’s current public transportation system focusing on the equitable delivery of transportation services and the modernization of transit in the Commonwealth.
  • Budget item 442 #3s: provides $5 million in federal funds to the Transit Ridership Incentive Program.
  • Budget item 443 #1s: provides $137.6 million from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Act to extend intercity passenger rail service from Roanoke to the Blacksburg-Christiansburg area and increase passenger rail service along the I-81/Route 29 Corridor from Washington, D.C.
  • Budget item #376 #1h: “Advanced Recycling Study” directs the Department of Environmental Quality to study Advanced Recycling, and report its findings to the Chairs of the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources and Senate Agriculture, Conservation, and Natural Resources Committees by December 31, 2021.

View even more budget issues/bills that the environmental community is paying attention to this session on the Virginia Conservation Network’s website vcnva.org.

Action Alert: Protecting Farmland Now and For the Future

Action Alert: Protecting Farmland Now and For the Future

Farmland lost is farmland lost forever. Budget amendment 97 #2h (Gooditis) would provide an additional $2 million to the Farmland Preservation Fund grant program (current funding is only $250,000), providing much-needed matching funds and encouraging other localities to adopt Purchase of Development Rights programs of their own.

Support SB 1199 and Reject the Proposed Floor Substitute

Good news! On Tuesday, January 26, Senator Stuart’s attempt at a floor substitute for SB 1199 was defeated. This allowed the bill that came out of full committee to proceed to a floor vote. On Wednesday, January 27, SB 1199 was read a third time and passed the Senate on a 25-14 vote. You can see the full vote count here: https://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?211+vot+SV0144SB1199+SB1199

The bill’s house companion, HB 1760 (Webert / Gooditis), passed the house 100-0, putting the legislation on the path to final passage (barring any unforeseen mischief).

aerial image of farmland in the goose creek watershed
Aerial image of farmland in the Goose Creek watershed in Loudoun County, VA. Photo by Hugh Kenny.

A troubling development occurred Friday afternoon on the Senate floor. Our priority land conservation legislation (SB 1199 Petersen) was derailed by the introduction of an unfriendly substitute from Senator Stuart. If accepted, this change would entirely defeat the purpose of the bill. The Senate will consider the substitute during Monday’s floor session. Please ask your state senator to reject the proposed substitute and support the original legislation as passed by the full committee. 

Conservation easements are one of the most effective ways to protect farmland, forests, water quality, scenic and historic resources for current and future generations. SB 1199 preserves the integrity of all existing conservation easements, ensuring that disputes over terms are decided in favor of the conservation purpose of the easement, reflecting the intent of the original easement donor. 

Send a Letter to Your Senator

Ask your state senator to stop this substitute and support SB 1199. Take action ASAP!

More information

Read the briefing paper that PEC’s Dan Holmes wrote with Nikki Rovner from The Nature Conservancy in the Virginia Conservation Network’s Legislative Briefing Book, about the need for this legislation. Sunset over farmland in Greene County photo by Harlow Chandler.

Conservation easements are one of the most effective ways to protect farmland, forests, water quality, scenic and historic resources for current and future generations. Private landowners work with state and federal agencies, along with nonprofit land trusts, on easement terms that protect the public values laid out in the Virginia Conservation Easement Act and the Open-Space Land Act.

These easements are legally binding agreements that stay with the land in perpetuity, ensuring that their natural and cultural resources are protected even if the property is sold. Although rare, there have been several recent legal cases in which new landowners dispute the land uses that are and are not permitted under the conservation easement.

A 2016 Virginia Supreme Court ruling made clear that legislation is needed to clarify how courts should handle these disputes. The introduced bills SB 1199 (Petersen) and HB 1760 (Webert/Gooditis) would direct the courts to interpret the easement terms based on the original intent of the conservation easement donation and their protection of public benefits.

What Does 2021 Hold for Conservation?

The 2020 Special Session, focused on resolving budget issues stemming from Covid and addressing police and criminal justice reform, has ended just in time for the holidays. But as in the movie Groundhog Day, now we prepare to do it all over again. Virginia’s 2021 legislative session opens on Jan 13 and will prove no less challenging than the special session. At this moment, details are still fluid, but here is what we know.

General Assembly Special Session Update

General Assembly Special Session Update

Beginning on Aug 18, the Virginia General Assembly entered a special session to focus on budget impacts related to the pandemic and calls for criminal justice and policing reforms as local and national unrest continued following the death of George Floyd. At the time of this writing, session is ongoing and many questions remain on the shape of the final budget and some of the legislative initiatives. Legislators intend to wrap up their work before the end of September.