2024 General Assembly Begins

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aerial view of a General Assembly chamber

Dear Supporter,

As you’ve probably noticed from an uptick in news out of Richmond, the Virginia General Assembly kicked off this Wednesday, Jan. 10. 

In the state’s alternating pattern of 30-day and 60-day sessions, this year’s “long session” is expected to conclude on March 9, with the deadline for the Governor’s signature in early April.

The Piedmont Environmental Council is tracking a broad array of bills and budget amendments, as well as supporting the legislative priorities of our partners within the Virginia Conservation Network. This session our focus includes data center and utility reform, solar implementation, and land conservation, recreation and restoration funding in the Governor’s proposed two-year budget.

Climate and Clean Energy

The rapid development of the data center industry in Virginia, and the explosive growth of the energy infrastructure it depends upon, is leading to the most enormous industrialization of Virginia’s landscape in our Commonwealth’s history.

The investments and commitment that Virginia has made to a clean, renewable energy-based future are at risk as the power demand from data centers is projected to double Virginia’s energy needs in just over a dozen years. 

What’s more, because of the way energy generation and transmission infrastructure is funded in Virginia, Virginia ratepayers like you and I are subsidizing the buildout necessitated by the data center industry, by way of our electric bills. Dominion has projected that the monthly bill of a Virginia residential customer will double by 2035.

Watch our new video, “Hidden Costs of the Cloud: Data Centers in Virginia,” and take action by writing your elected officials.

PEC is working closely with partners in the Virginia Data Center Reform Coalition and elected officials to pass a slate of bills related to data centers. We’re also advocating for policy that advances a clean, distributed energy grid, including a new pilot program for parking lot solar projects.

Wildlife and Conservation

Historic levels of federal investment are opening up new opportunities for Virginia to advance landscape-scale conservation and increase access to open space. This includes a variety of programs vital to protecting our lands and waters, such as the Agricultural Land Easement program of the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Forest Legacy Program of the U.S. Forest Service, among others.

We’re asking state legislators to capitalize on this moment with additional funding in the budget for working lands, trails, state parks, and to the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation.

With more dollars behind the effort, PEC would be better enabled to reach an ambitious but achievable goal of adding another 100,000 acres of conserved lands within our nine-county region by 2030.

We’re also tracking legislation that supports other avenues for protecting biodiversity in our region, including the creation of wildlife corridors and regulating the sale of non-native plants.


The nationally recognized SMART SCALE scoring system for transportation has undergone repeated attacks by officials who want their local projects funded without regard to regional priorities. SMART SCALE has been carefully developed and focused on achieving the best transportation outcomes, such as limiting congestion and improving safety, while also integrating shared means of transit for rail, bus, bike and pedestrian. It also seeks to avoid expensive, trip-inducing major new projects that are designed more for industry profit than for traffic management or public safety.

Earlier attempts by road construction advocates and some Commonwealth Transportation Board members have focused on removing certain criteria for transportation projects, such as environmental and land use impacts, and increasing others, like congestion relief. This approach would artificially elevate the score of some of the worst projects in our region, including the Bi-County Parkway/Outer Beltway. PEC’s goal is to maintain the SMART SCALE program in as little altered a form as possible.

Land Use

When the region’s local governments make decisions on land use proposals, they consider only the local and site-based impacts. For a variety of reasons, from scale to jurisdiction to regulatory realities and others, they aren’t able to weigh the broader consequences of major proposals like data center developments or roadway projects.

Municipalities aren’t equipped, for example, to consider that the inevitable outcome of approving millions of square feet of data centers all across the Commonwealth will end up being the enormous impacts of the linear infrastructure needed to connect them to an overtaxed grid. The General Assembly must provide guidance for such decision-making.

With conservation opportunities and the means to fund them so great, we find ourselves in a race against time and the accelerating demands of the digital world to protect the values we all hold dear. We want the General Assembly to provide meaningful oversight of an industry that both threatens and promises so much and to balance the equally compelling needs of shifting to renewable energy and protecting working farms and conservation values. PEC will reach out to you as the session gets underway to keep you informed and to seek your support as we find ways forward on these fronts.

Ways to Stay Engage During Session

With the many issues and opportunities expected throughout the upcoming session, PEC staff will work with VCN and other allies to testify before the legislature, speak about budget priorities and amendments, and alert you to opportunities to engage or take action.

Thanks as always for your attention to the critical policy issues happening at the state level. We’ll be sure to bring you more updates and ways to take action as session continues.

For now, I encourage you to get in touch with your delegate and senator early to let them know what issues are broadly important to you. If you have any questions, please reach out.


John McCarthy
Senior Advisor & Director of Strategic Partnerships
(540) 347-2334 x7043

John McCarthy Headshot