Virginia Students Respond to the Governor’s Energy Plan

Richmond – Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe is set to unveil the state’s energy plan at a ceremony in Richmond with the approval and support of environmental organizations on Tuesday, Oct. 14.

The Virginia Student Environmental Coalition commends the measures taken in this plan to ensure the growth and development of sustainable energy production and efficiency standards.

We applaud the plan’s recommendation to “Strongly encourage and aggressively support the timely development of offshore wind in Virginia.” The state’s untapped offshore wind potential is promising, but state utilities have no meaningful plans to harness this clean technology which could create as many as 10,000 jobs.

We approve of the Governor’s proposals to encourage both commercial utility-scale and residential solar development, and measures to increase the amount small-scale solar energy production can contribute to the grid.

While we acknowledge that this plan does recommend unprecedented steps toward environmental progress, these measures simply do not go far enough to cut down on the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the latest IPCC report, in order to keep on track for less than two degrees celsius of warming, developed countries such as the U.S. must cut emissions by 25-40 percent by 2020. In order for Virginia to play its part in attaining these goals, the state must begin to phase out polluting coal and natural gas infrastructure and take measures to invest in clean wind and solar technology.

While we commend the Governor on his recommendations to increase efficiency statewide and develop clean energy, VSEC fully and unequivocally opposes the Governor’s plans to encourage the growth of coal exports, to support the development of offshore oil and gas drilling, as well as the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Norfolk is home to the largest coal export facility in the country, which releases coal dust and other pollutants into the air and immediate vicinity which includes historic neighborhoods and Old Dominion University. Our fear is that the continued proliferation of coal exports will perpetuate the destruction of pristine wilderness lands as well as the health of Appalachian communities, and lead to even more air and water pollution in countries with weaker environmental regulations than the U.S.

While this may appease the stakeholders of various coal extraction companies, it does not effectively limit the state’s contribution to global climate change.

Many in the environmental community embraced the Governor’s reconvening of the state’s Commission on Climate Change; however, his support for Dominion’s proposed $5 billion Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline is completely antithetical to such actions.

The production and transportation of natural gas leads to the emission of methane, a greenhouse gas that is far more potent than CO2. Expanding natural gas infrastructure opens up the potential for methane leaks to undermine climate stabilization initiatives.

Furthermore, we were disappointed to see the lack of initiative to mandate a state Renewable Energy Portfolio. Virginia continues to lag behind when compared nationally in the category of utility scale renewable energy development. From our mountains to our coastlines, Virginia is well suited for wind and solar development. As students, we desire to see a stronger clean energy economy develop within our state, therefore creating the jobs we hope to enter after graduation.

An “all of the above” approach to energy policy does not secure our future and is not in the interest of Virginia’s students. Further development of fossil fuel infrastructure will lock our state into a future based on extraction and dirty energy consumption. Furthermore, such actions today will make for a more costly transition to a sustainable society in the future–a responsibility that is being handed down to the youth generation today.

While we applaud our state for the planned bold initiatives in renewable energy development and improvements in efficiency, we must do more. With the realities of climate change made clear by the scientific community, we feel that failing to pursue sweeping emissions cuts is to actively work against a livable, just and sustainable future.

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The Virginia Student Environmental Coalition (VSEC) is devoted to organizing Virginia campuses and at the state level to promote climate activism and rethink the use of fossil fuels in Virginia. This response was written in collaboration with VSEC members.

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