By Mechelle Hankerson
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, the new chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee, predicts that uranium mining and hunting laws will be among the more controversial topics during this year’s General Assembly session.
Although legislators still have about a week and half to file bills for consideration, Hanger said he anticipates a lot of debate on his committee over uranium mining’s environmental and economic impacts and over hunting laws, specifically the state’s ban on Sunday hunting.
Hanger said his personal priorities will focus more on agriculture, though some of his legislation will go through the Senate’s Finance Committee, not the Agriculture Committee.
As in the past, Hanger said he plans to focus on land preservation through incentive programs and technical assistance to help farmers reach goals, most notably in relation to water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.
“I would like to have incentive-based programs that are voluntary where we can get good compliance for the most part rather than strictly punitive regulations to accomplish the same goals,” Hanger said of his goals for this session.
The Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee has eight Republican members and six Democratic members, while last year’s panel had eight Democrats and seven Republicans.
Hanger said he doesn’t think this year’s divide will hinder the committee’s decision-making process.
“In general, the types of issues we deal with, you don’t get a completely partisan breakdown on the vote,” he said. “I hope that’s the case this year in this particular committee.”
Hanger said most environmental and agricultural issues tend to be divided geographically rather than by party.
“I think it’s going to be a working committee and there will clearly be some individuals on there that have different approaches to environmental programs than I do,” he said. “Hopefully we can sort those out.”
So far, Hanger has introduced 18 bills this session.
Three of them have been referred to the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources:
SB 402 would make any facility that generates electrical or heat energy, steam or hot water from animal waste a priority for funding from the state’s Nutrient Offset fund. The bill calls for initial funding to go towards dairy farms in Augusta, Page, Rockingham and Shenandoah counties.
SB 407 would integrate parts of the Erosion and Sediment Control Act, the Stormwater Act and the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act. The bill would also eliminate the Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance Board and give those responsibilities to the Virginia Soil and Water Conservation Board.
SB 410 would require that sufficient bank credits are unavailable or a State Water Control Board has determined unique circumstances exist as a condition for contribution to a Board-approved fund instead of creating or restoring compensatory wetlands or stream acreage.
During the 2011 session, Hanger introduced three bills (all of which passed) that were sent to the Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources.
Hanger will also serve on the Senate’s Finance and Rehabilitation and Social Services Committees.
Hanger succeeds former state Sen. Patsy Ticer, D-Alexandria, in chairing the Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee.