By Jackson McMillan
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – More than 70 activists descended on the Virginia Capitol this past week, calling on Gov. Terry McAuliffe to take a more aggressive stance against climate change.
The event was organized in conjunction with Virginia Conservation Network Lobby Day by Appalachian Voice Environment Virginia, the Sierra Club-Virginia Chapter and the Virginia Conservation Network.
Carrying miniature windmills and large posters, the activists began their march on Seventh and E. Grace streets in downtown Richmond. Before circling the rest of Capitol Square, the marchers briefly paused outside of the governor’s mansion to sing a rendition of the French nursery song “Frère Jacques,” which called for less carbon emissions.
During his gubernatorial campaign, McAuliffe acknowledged global warming as a scientific reality. Glen Besa, director of the Sierra Club-Virginia Chapter said he’s hopeful the governor will do more to curb carbon emissions.
“We’re excited to have a governor who understands that climate change is real. We’re out here today to encourage him to take action,” Besa said. “The governor has a lot of authority over the kind of energy that our state buildings use and whether our buildings are energy efficient.”
Sierra Club Program Manager Kate Addleson said the march was organized to remind the governor and the General Assembly that climate change isn’t an issue Virginians want their elected officials to ignore.
“The purpose of the march was to make sure the governor knows there are hundreds of thousands of Virginians who really care deeply about climate change and protecting our natural resources,” Addleson said.
Sierra Club Chairwoman Ivy Main said she thinks the issue of climate change is often sidelined because of party politics.
“Climate change has become a political topic where it ought not to be,” Main said. “It’s something that should not be a partisan issue, but in some cases people line up by party.”
Many marchers were hopeful for more bipartisan support for renewable energy legislation. Besa said defeating Senate Bill 615 also would have been considered a victory for the march.
“It (SB615) would have tied the state’s hands to address the action it would need to take against climate change,” Besa said.
SB615, introduced by Sen. Charles Carrico, R-Galax, originally would have required the State Air Pollution Control Board to establish separate carbondioxide-performance standards for coal-fired and gas-fired electric generating units on a case-by-case basis and to consider whether less strict performance standards than those required by the EPA’s Emission Guidelines are warranted, according to a summary of the bill.
“The bill (SB615) is consistent with the Clean Air Act’s standards as established by the EPA,” Carrico said. “I’m sure Sierra Club and other groups are against it (the bill) because they feel Virginia isn’t as friendly as the federal government (toward limiting carbon emissions). You’re not going to change their minds.”
The Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee amended SB615 to allow the state to study the costs and benefits of the EPA carbon emission guidelines. SB615 is ready to be considered by the full Senate.
“We do not oppose the amendment to the bill (SB615),” Besa said. “We (the Sierra Club) consider it a victory.”