Become an Ardent Activist
Virginia has made significant progress in recent years to transition to a just, affordable and equitable clean energy future. However, there’s more work to be done and much of the progress that has been made in recent years is under threat. In 2022, the Virginia General Assembly is considering a wide variety of bills impacting our priority issues of environmental justice, solar energy, fracked-gas pipelines, just transition and fairness for electricity ratepayers.
The session started January 12. Below are issues being addressed this session. Watch this space for updates such as bill numbers and action opportunities throughout the session! (You can also check the official General Assembly website.)
February 15 was “Crossover Day” at the General Assembly, when legislation that passed each chamber “crossed over” to the opposite chamber for another vote. We held a webinar to provide an update how our key issues are faring, and how you can help defend Virginia’s air and water! Check out the recording below.
Defending Progress on Climate Change
In recent years, Virginia has passed major legislation to reduce carbon emissions and shift to a 100% clean energy economy. However, powerful fossil fuel interest groups are working to roll back much of the progress that has been made. This session, we will work to defend the laws in place to address the climate crisis.
BILLS TO WATCH
Oppose – Incentivizing more pipelines in a flawed attempt to reduce methane emissions (SB 565/HB 558): This bill attempts to reduce methane pollution, but actually incentivizes more pipelines and more factory farming in Virginia. Communities would be subjected to the purposeful development of a methane source (hog waste) in order to feed the gas industry’s pipelines – greenwashing at it’s finest (or worst). (Sen. Surovell, Del. O’Quinn)
Latest update: March 2 – SB 565 passed the Senate and has been referred to the House Committee on Commerce and Energy. HB 558 has now passed both the House and the Senate and will now head to the Governor’s desk.
Oppose – Repealing Virginia’s commitments to reducing carbon emissions and increasing renewable energy (HB 73; HB 74; HB 118; HB 892; HB 894; HB 1301; SB 532): These bills withdraw Virginia from or otherwise undermine the RGGI carbon-reduction program and/or repeal provisions of the Virginia Clean Economy Act which moves Virginia toward a carbon-free economy. (Del. Ware, Del. Freitas, Del. Kilgore, Sen. Stuart)
Latest update: March 1 – Victory on HB 73, HB 74, HB 892, HB 1301, SB 532 and HB 118! These bills all failed to pass committee. With amendments supported by the environmental community, HB 894 passed the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee unanimously.
Oppose – Preventing the transition away from natural gas (HB 1257): This bill undermines Virginia’s transition to a clean energy economy by preventing all public entities from moving away from natural gas and progress toward building electrification in the Commonwealth. (Del. Kilgore)
Latest update: March 1 – HB 1257 passed the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee with a substitute. The bill is much improved compared to the version that passed the House, but we continue to oppose the bill.
Oppose – Nomination of Andrew Wheeler for Secretary of Natural Resources: Gov. Younkin has nominated Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist and the head of the U.S. EPA under the Trump Administration, as Virginia’s next Secretary of Natural & Historic Resources. As the head of the EPA, Wheeler presided over a significant rollback of environmental safeguards intended to protect clean air and water across our country, making him an inappropriate nomination to this crucial post.
Latest Update: Feb. 8 – Thanks to the Virginians who contacted their state senators and the 21 members who voted to keep Wheeler’s name removed from the list of Governor Youngkin’s cabinet appointments. The governor’s extremist choice for Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources will not move forward.
Oppose – Tax credit for coal mining (HB 656): As amended in the Finance Committee, this bill establishes a tax credit for the reclamation of coal mining waste. However, the broad language of the bill also allows for coal mining companies to receive a tax credit for new coal mining in Southwest Virginia. (Del. Wampler)
Latest Update: Feb. 9 – Victory! HB 656 failed to pass the House Appropriations Committee.
Oppose – Burning coal is not in the public interest (HB 1326): This bill declares that burning waste coal for electricity is “in the public interest” and allows utilities to recover the cost of reclaiming waste coal. Waste coal burns dirtier than coal, causing more air pollution, and is certainly not in the public interest, and utilities are already permitted to recover the costs associated with the fuel they burn. (Del. Kilgore)
Latest update: Feb. 28 – After being heavily amended, HB 1326 was conformed to match Sen. Hackworth’s bill SB 120 which will study the issue of waste coal and evaluate best options for clean-up. Due to this, App Voices supports the version that passed the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.
Support – Coal mining waste study (SB 120/HB 657): As originally introduced, App Voices opposed this bill, which would have added coal waste as an eligible renewable energy resource, weakening the state renewable energy requirements. It also would have allowed the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center to stay open after 2045 (currently the power plant is required to close by 2045). As amended, the bill now establishes a study to inventory coal waste piles and evaluate the best options for clean-up. Thus, App Voices has changed our position to support the bill. (Del. Wampler, Sen. Hackworth)
Latest update: March 1 – HB 657 passed committee and now heads to the full Senate. SB 120 has been referred to the House Committee on Commerce and Energy.
For years, Dominion Energy has convinced state legislators to allow the utility to write its own rules and escape standard regulation of an electric monopoly. As a result, Dominion has “legally” overcharged its customers more than $1.2 billion since 2015.
This is an outrage — especially now, as families continue to struggle to make ends meet during the Covid crisis. Help us convince lawmakers to stop this ratepayer ripoff by restoring full oversight of all electric utilities and their ratemaking process in the commonwealth.
BILLS TO WATCH
Support – Restore the Commission’s authority to set rates (HB 1288): This bill restores the State Corporation Commission’s ability to set rates for customers of investor-owned utilities (Del. Hudson and Del. Ware).
Support – Ban campaign contributions from utilities (HB 71, SB 45): This bill bans campaign contributions to state lawmakers from investor-owned monopoly utilities. (Del. Ware, Sen. Petersen)
Latest Update: Feb. 2 – Each of these bills failed to pass committee. Appalachian Voices will continue our work to protect ratepayers both in the General Assembly and at the State Corporation Commission.
Electric Cooperative Reform
More than one in six Virginians receive their electricity from electric cooperatives, yet many co-ops still do not practice good governance such as allowing member-owners to attend board meetings or hold fair elections. We are working with our partners on legislation to ensure that electric co-ops put their members’ needs first by adhering to principles of good governance and democratic member-control.
BILLS TO WATCH
Support – Electric cooperative transparency and governance (HB 723) — This bill requires electric cooperatives to open board meetings to co-op member owners, reforms current election practices used by some co-ops to favor incumbent boards of directors, and requires cooperatives to disclose lobbying activities to their member-owners. (Del. Gooditis)
Latest update: Feb 15 – HB 723 failed to pass the House Commerce and Energy committee. Appalachian Voices will continue to work on good governance policies for electric cooperatives.
Justice for Virginia Communities
Far too many communities are impacted by industrial pollution or the threat of proposed projects, including fracked-gas and coal facilities. Others are at risk of economic loss from the ongoing shift to cleaner energy. We are working on legislation to ensure these communities — far too often low-income, Black, Indigenous, and communities of color — have fair and equal opportunity to be involved in the decisions that impact them, and that no community is left behind in the clean energy transition.
We’ll also be working to defend the progress made in recent years to enact crucial environmental justice laws that are already working to protect Virginians.
BILLS TO WATCH
Support – Local Government Environmental Justice Plans (HB 1276): This bill prompts localities to consider incorporating a “healthy communities” strategy into their comprehensive plans. A healthy communities strategy would help localities determine where environmental impacts like pollution are heaviest, and how they can be alleviated to promote community well-being. (Del. Simonds)
Latest update: Feb. 15 – HB 1276 failed to pass its House committee hearing in Counties, Cities & Towns.
Oppose – Undermining Air Pollution Control Board (SB 81): This bill would limit the ability of the Air Pollution Control Board to consider certain facts and circumstances related to the project or permit under their consideration, effectively sidelining the scientific basis from which to make an informed decision. (Sen. Stanley)
Latest update: Feb. 8 – SB 81 was rolled into SB 657 — see below.
Oppose – Limiting Air Pollution, State Water Control Boards (SB 657): This bill would take authority away from citizen boards to issue regulations and permits for projects that have air and water quality impacts. This authority would be transferred to the Department of Environmental Quality, giving the public even less influence over controversial permits. (Sen. Stuart)
Latest Update: Latest Update: March 2 – SB 657 and SB 81 were rolled into a single bill, which passed both the House and the Senate, and now goes to the governor’s desk.. We continue to oppose this bill.
Oppose – Limiting Review of Minor New Source Air Permits (HB 1204): As introduced, this bill would have removed the authority of the State Air Pollution Control Board to issue, deny, renew, amend or extend a minor new source review air permit, transferring such authority to the Executive Director of the Department of Environmental Quality, giving the public even less influence over controversial permits. However, this bill has been amended and no longer impacts the State Air Pollution Control Board. Instead it supports clean energy development on previously disturbed land such as coal mines. (Del. Kilgore)
Latest Update: Feb. 28 – HB 1204 has passed the full House and is now being considered by the full Senate.
Oppose – Limiting Authority of Citizen Boards (HB 1261): This bill limits the authority of citizen boards to issue any environmental permit, or alter or deny any environmental permit issued by the Department of Environmental Quality. Like the others, this bill would reduce the public’s ability to influence permitting. (Del. Bloxom)
Latest Update: March 1- The bill passed the Senate ACNR committee (with a substitute version) for vote by the full Senate. We continue to oppose this bill.
Budget Update: The Virginia Senate’s proposed budget includes funding to support coal-impacted communities in Southwest Virginia to apply for unprecedented federal funding. This state budget amendment would help ensure community members drive the conversation around economic development in areas affected by the decline of the coal industry.
Drinking water resources are imperiled for many communities across the commonwealth, and a new extractive industry – large-scale metals mining – is trying to move forward without a comprehensive regulatory framework. This puts public health and the environment at risk. With the news that prospecting companies are pursuing metals mining such as copper, zinc and lead, we support analysis of existing regulations and a pause in permitting while the potential impacts are studied.
BILLS TO WATCH
Support – Study on the impacts of copper, zinc, and lead mining and pause on permitting (HB 250): This bill convenes a work group to study the mining and processing of copper, zinc, and lead in the Commonwealth, and places a pause on permitting until July 1, 2024. (Del. Simonds)
Latest Update: Feb. 7 – HB 250 failed to pass subcommittee. Appalachian Voices will continue to support other water protection and good governance bills throughout the 2022 session.
Virginians know all too well how fracked-gas pipeline projects can wreak havoc on water quality in our streams, rivers, wetlands and drinking water sources. We’re supporting bills that would strengthen the state’s oversight and enforcement of water quality standards, and defending against any attempts to roll back community input and water quality protections.
BILLS TO WATCH
Support — Requiring baseline data of water quality (HB 1228): This bill provides better protection of our water from polluting pipelines by requiring baseline data when a project is proposed. (Del. Willett)
Latest Update: Jan. 31 – HB 1228 failed to pass subcommittee. Appalachian Voices will continue to support other water protection bills throughout the 2022 session.
Support — Economic or social impacts related to water quality (HB 393): This bill requires the State Water Control Board to analyze the economic or social impact on communities that have historically been disadvantaged when considering projects that would produce a discharge into high quality water. (Del. Willett)
Latest Update: Jan. 24 – HB 393 failed to pass subcommittee. Appalachian Voices will continue to support environmental justice communities through other bills throughout the 2022 session.
Solar energy employs more than 4,000 people in Virginia, and the passage of the Virginia Clean Economy Act in 2020 is projected to add up to 29,000 new jobs. But some of Virginia’s solar policies still stifle jobs and economic opportunities. This session, we are working to expand access to shared solar (also known as community solar) across the state, and promote development of solar energy on brownfields and coal mine land. Delegate Wilt, Senator Hanger, and Senator Edwards are sponsoring bills to expand Virginia’s shared solar program to more people including Southwest Virginians.
BILLS TO WATCH
Support — Shared Solar Access for SWVA (HB 832/SB 659/SB 660): Expands the existing shared solar program to customers of Appalachian Power and Old Dominion Power utilities, and makes other improvements to the shared solar program. (Del. Wilt, Sen. Hanger, Sen. Edwards)
Latest Update: Feb. 22 – HB 832 failed to pass subcommittee. A related bill, SB 659/SB 660, passed the Senate unanimously but now simply requires a working group to evaluate creating shared solar bills in Appalachian Power, Old Dominion Power, and electric cooperative utility territories. The bill is now being considered by the House Commerce and Energy Committee.
Utility Disconnection Protection
The Covid crisis has revealed how vulnerable Virginians are at risk of losing access to vital services such as electricity and water when they can’t afford to pay. We are working with our partners to pass laws that will prohibit utility disconnections during a state of emergency, expand medical coverage exemptions to include utilities that don’t currently offer it, provide more protections for households that include infants, seniors or people with disabilities, as well as prohibit disconnections during very hot and very cold times of the year.
BILLS TO WATCH
Support — Shut off delays for vulnerable households (HB 664): This bill requires all electric, gas and water utilities to offer a 60-day delay from disconnection for non-payment to medically compromised customers and to households that include seniors, infants & people with disabilities. (Del. Kory)
Support — Shut off bans during crises and extreme weather (HB 1054): This bill bans gas, electric & water utilities from disconnecting customers over unpaid bills for the first 30 days following the declaration of emergency due to a public health crisis and during very hot or cold weather. It also prompts utilities to roll fees associated with disconnecting or reconnecting customers into a repayment plan, and not as a condition to restore power or water service. (Del. Shin)
Latest Update: Feb. 9 – HB 1054 failed to pass committee on a party-line vote of 3-2. On Feb. 2, HB 664 also failed to pass its committee hearing. Appalachian Voices will continue to work with the patrons of each bill and with affected utilities to address disconnection policies for the long-term.
Latest Update: Feb. 4 – HB 664 failed to pass committee, but HB 1054 still needs your support! It was referred to the House Committee on Commerce & Energy and will be heard the week of Feb 7.
Listen to our conversation with Virginia Interfaith Power & Light for more on this critical issue.