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Protect Us Against Floods, Coastal Officials Say

January 31, 2015

By Stefani Zenteno Rivadineira
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Local, state and military officials from Tidewater want Virginia to participate in a market-based initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – which they said would generate $200 million to combat coastal flooding.

Del. Ronald A. Villanueva, R-Virginia Beach, has introduced legislation requiring the governor to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade program to limit carbon dioxide emissions from electric power plants. The initiative currently involves nine states from Vermont to Maryland.

Under House Bill 2205, Virginia also would establish the Commonwealth Resilience Fund to assist counties, cities and towns in Hampton Roads in dealing with rising sea levels and flooding. Money from the RGGI would go into the fund.

“At the end of the day, we need these problems to be resolved. We need to find a solution to the sea level rise and flooding,” Villanueva said.

He issued a press release last week in which local officials and Navy officials also expressed concern about flooding and support for the bill, called the Virginia Coastal Protection Act.

Immediate action and significant money are needed to address and prepare for the growing impact of sea level rise on Virginia’s coast, the officials said. The state currently has no dedicated source of funds to do so.

HB 2205 is being considered by the Special Subcommittee on Energy of the House Committee on Commerce and Labor.

Sen. Don McEachin, D-Richmond, has filed companion legislation – Senate Bill 1428 – in the upper chamber. It was killed Thursday in a Senate committee.

The Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee voted 8-7 along party lines to “pass by indefinitely” McEachin’s bill, meaning it is dead for this legislative session. Republicans voted to shelve the bill; Democrats voted to keep it alive.

Villanueva noted that the mayor of Norfolk, Paul Fraim, supports legislative efforts to protect Virginia’s coasts. “Local government is impacted the most because their citizens … are continuously flooded out.”

The Norfolk City Council last week passed a resolution endorsing HB 2205 and SB 1428. The resolution noted that “a number of homeowners, businesses, schools, the Port of Virginia, military installations, health care facilities, and other vital roadways in Norfolk regularly battle issues associated with recurrent flooding and the threat of increasing sea level rise and severe storms.”

“Coordination throughout all levels of government is required to provide adequate solutions to the region’s growing flooding risks,” the resolution said.

Besides helping coastal areas with flooding, the legislation provides economic development assistance for families, businesses and localities in Southwest Virginia to offset economic harm associated with reduced coal mining and other fossil fuel production.

In the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, participating states sell nearly all emission allowances through auctions and invest proceeds in energy efficiency, renewable energy and other consumer benefit programs, according to an analysis of Villanueva’s bill by the state’s Department of Planning and Budget. Villanueva, environmentalists and others say the auctions would generate $200 million for strategies to mitigate flooding.

“These programs are spurring innovation in the clean energy economy and creating green jobs in the RGGI states,” the department’s impact statement said.

On Monday, scores of coastal Virginia residents converged on Capitol Square to urge the General Assembly to pass the Virginia Coastal Protection Act. They wore “Save Our Coast” stickers and carried a banner declaring “The Seas are Rising and So Are We.”

“The water is here now, and it’s only getting higher,” said Bob Baxter, a resident of Norfolk’s Riverview neighborhood and a volunteer with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, an environmental group.

“Twice in two years, I’ve had to help my neighbor clean out a flooded home. The water even brought waste from the nearby zoo into her home. If the water rises seven more feet, as scientists say could happen in coming decades, then my house will be in danger as well. Something has to be done.”

How They Voted

Here is how the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee voted Thursday on SB 1428 (Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative; Commonwealth Resilience Fund established).

01/29/15 Senate: Passed by indefinitely in Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources (8-Y 7-N)

YEAS – Hanger, Watkins, Ruff, Obenshain, Stuart, Stanley, Black, Chafin – 8.

NAYS – McEachin, Petersen, Marsden, Miller, Ebbin, Lewis, Dance – 7.