We are now 16 days into the 45 day (short) session of the 2019 Virginia General Assembly. Bills are currently being debated and amended in committee until we hit ‘crossover’ on February 6 – the deadline for the House to finish working on its own bills before considering legislation passed by the Senate (and vice versa).
You can read about some of the bills we’re working on in the second half of this email, but first I want to draw your attention to the budget — legislators from both parties and the Governor have proposed changes to the budget to correct the severe lack of funding for natural resource protection. But those budget measures and amendments need support in order to reach the Governor’s desk.
Elected officials need to hear from people who care about conservation!
Take Action in Support of Conservation Funding
Please email delegates and senators in the relevant committees! There are two committees, so it’ll take two emails. We’ve created a form letter so it requires just a few quick clicks to let elected officials and their aides know you care about protecting our natural resources:
More About the Specific Programs
Agricultural Best Management Practices (Ag BMPs)
The state’s cost share program for Ag BMPs includes funding for farmers to fence cattle out of streams, plant riparian buffers, use cover crops and reduce fertilizer use. They are vital to protecting the water we drink and also help ensure a sustainable agricultural industry in Virginia.
- Ask: Support the Governor’s proposed budget of $90 million for Ag BMPs
Stormwater Local Assistance Fund (SLAF)
SLAF is another important statewide program that helps localities protects water quality that we are working hard to support.
- Ask: Support the Governor’s proposed budget of $50 million for SLAF
Conservation Grant Programs
The most important grant funding mechanisms for preserving historic, cultural and natural resources come from these three programs – the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation, Farmland Preservation Fund and Battlefield Preservation Fund. PEC provides matching funds under all of these programs, working with landowners, counties and other conservation partners.
- Ask: Support the Governor’s proposed budget increase for the VA Land Conservation Foundation — $5.5 million each year for a total of $5.5m in FY19 and $10 million in FY20
- Ask: Support budget amendments 88-1h (Gooditis) and 88-2h (Ingram) to increase funding for the Farmland Preservation Fund — $1.75 million for each year to bring the program to full funding levels ($2 million total each year)
- Ask: Support budget amendments 374-8h (Knight) and 374-4s (Dance) 374-1s (Vogel) to increase funding for the Battlefield Preservation Fund — Increase of $1.5 million for each year to increase funding of the grant program to $2.5 million per year.
Potential Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain State Park
The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation should study the creation of a new state park in an underserved area of Virginia.
- Ask: Support budget amendment 363-8s (Reeves)
Other Important Bills Under Consideration
I also wanted to highlight some additional legislation we are working on. Please reach out to your legislator or members of the relevant committees to show show support for or express concerns about any of the bills listed below.
Fuel Cost Recovery
HB1718 (Ware) — SUPPORT
Interstate natural gas pipeline capacity contracts are multi-billion dollar, multi-decade commitments with serious implications to the ratepayers. HB1718 would strengthen the standard of review the SCC will apply for new capacity contracts. This would ensure customers are only paying for capacity that their utilities actually need to serve those customers. I am pleased to announce it passed subcommittee last night and is now before the full House Commerce and Labor Committee.
Eastern Bypass Around Charlottesville
SJ259 (Peake) — OPPOSE
This bill asks the Virginia Department of Transportation to study the feasibility of an eastern bypass for Rt. 29 around Charlottesville. The Commonwealth has provided funding for traffic solutions north of the city (Places 29) and many of these projects are already place. An eastern bypass has been studied before and was rejected the community and VDOT alike.
This study is being pushed by business interests outside the region and would detract from the agreed upon solutions of Albemarle County and Charlottesville. This bill is in Senate Committee on Rules.
This bill seeks to remove a number of barriers to small-scale solar. Improvements include increasing authority for local government use, removing stand-by fees for 10-20kW systems and lifting the cap on net metering. The bills are in Senate Commerce and Labor and House Commerce and Labor respectively.
Threshold for Review of Conservation Easements
SB1340 (Stuart) — OPPOSE
This legislation lowers the threshold from $1 million to $500,000 of tax credits for which a conservation easement would be subject to an additional review by the Department of Conservation and Recreation. This change would create an unnecessary barrier to conserving land — making the process more time consuming and costly.
Conservation easements held by state agencies like the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, Virginia Department of Forestry and Virginia Department of Historic Resources are already thoroughly reviewed and vetted. At a time when some of these agencies don’t have the staffing resources they need and can’t keep up with the interest from landowners, the state should not be wasting more money on duplicative reviews.
This bill has passed Senate Finance and is being debated on the floor of the Senate. Please let your Senator know you oppose the bill.
HB1840 (Marshall) — OPPOSE
This legislation would create a pilot program allowing Dominion Energy Virginia and Appalachian Power to construct transmission infrastructure to serve a megasite, prior to the public announcement of the prospective occupant of the site, also allowing for full cost recovery through a rate adjustment clause. This bill is in House Commerce and Labor.
There were a series of changes to the proffer law backed by the homebuilders in 2016. The changes backfired as many localities were leery of approving new growth without the proper tools to address costs.
The 2019 bills are being carried on behalf of the homebuilders and are moving forward, with many localities dropping their opposition. While the legislation makes minor improvements to the code, it does not address fundamental flaws with the 2016 legislation. SB1373 is in House Counties Cities and Towns and the HB2342 is in Senate Local Government.
We believe the Commonwealth needs a workgroup, involving all the interested parties, to determine the appropriate tools to address the impacts of development (proffers, impact fees, or some combination of the two).
Learn More and Get Involved
Wednesday, January 30
7:30 am – 2:00 pm
Cost: $30 general admission | $15 for students; includes a light breakfast/lunch. **Ticket sales end Saturday, January 26.
I encourage you to attend the Conservation Lobby Day hosted by the Virginia Conservation Network (VCN) at the end of the month. You’ll have the chance to hear updates about legislation from professional staff in the environmental community and join other volunteer advocates to meet with legislators.
The briefing book is an annual publication produced by VCN and outlines the conservation community’s policy priorities — everything from clean energy and renewables, to water quality and transportation. In addition to helping write content for this great resource, PEC also coordinates closely with our partners at VCN throughout session, where I serve as co-chair of the legislative committee.
Whew! I know that was a long email with lots of information, but don’t forget to let elected officials know you support funding for conservation. Every letter can make a difference:
And as always, if you have questions on any of these budget items, bills, or other things you hear coming out of Richmond, please don’t hesitate to shoot me an email.
Director of State Policy
The Piedmont Environmental Council
P.S. We also got some great news yesterday on a long-standing problem – coal ash cleanup. For more, read the news story from the Virginia-Pilot >>