Clean Energy For All

Daily News-Record, February 28, 2020
Open Forum: Tom Benevento

Clean Energy For All

Silvio reached out to shake my hand as he untied his donkey. I could feel years of hard work on his weathered fingers. He is one of thousands of farmers eking out a living in this remote mountain region of the Dominican Republic where I assist reforestation efforts. After a short greeting, Silvio motioned to follow him to his field. The crunching sound of dry leaves under feet was a sure sign of extended drought in this tropical zone. Across the ravine he pointed to his corn, the basic staple for his family. It was 2 feet tall and shriveled dead. We sat in a moment of silence. He then carefully pulled out a mango from his tattered backpack to share and said, “ Over the last six weeks, the only thing I have to feed my children are mangoes from abandoned trees.”

It struck me hard, more than the facts of science. A warming planet is real, and targets vulnerable people like Silvio first and worst. I had a sinking feeling knowing that my lifestyle, along with millions like me, is causing climate warming around the world. And that is why, today, I am part of the Harrisonburg 50 by 25 Clean Energy for All campaign to help our city transition quickly to renewable energy and greater levels of energy efficiency. It’s compelling. It helps solve several problems at once — reducing greenhouse gases, reducing energy costs for low- income households, and increasing jobs and well- being.

Despite that unsettling feeling I experienced in the DR, I now know that we have solutions and we can join with others. Already, 1 in 4 people in the U. S. live in places transitioning to 100% clean energy.

Here’s how the 50 by 25 campaign works. First, we empower our City Council to require our electric utility to provide 50% solar and wind energy into our electric grid by 2025. This alone provides big carbon reductions, and parallels the governor’s commitment for Virginia state agencies. Second, we urge council to commit to a 25% increase in energy efficiency by 2025 for public schools and government buildings. Roanoke is already doing this, saving the city nearly $ 1 million a year in energy costs. Third, we request City Council to create incentives for weatherization and energy efficiency for residents and commercial operations. Successful state programs like VEEP, On- Bill Recovery Loans, and C- PACE benefit low- income households, renters, and businesses.

In addition, we can help each other take steps, like eating less meat, riding a bicycle or walking when possible, growing gardens, and installing solar.

The benefits from this would be tremendous. Our youth will look at us with pride knowing we did something for their future. And, farmers like Silvio and his family will have enough to eat.

So Harrisonburg, let’s join the movement. Voice your support for the 50 by 25 campaign and create a better future for all. www.50by25Harrisonburg.org

Tom Benevento lives in Harrisonburg.

Copyright © 2020 Daily News-Record 2/28/2020

Kirk Becchi LTEs for the Climate

CAAV members have been impressed with local attorney Kirk Becchi’s consistent messaging for the climate through letters to the editor in the Daily News-Record over the past two years. With his permission, we thought we’d share the collection here.


A Tale Of Two Red States
Open Forum: Kirk Becchi
December 9, 2019

Some may be tempted to dismiss the climate change- driven wildfires in California as a liberal state problem. But climate change doesn’t discriminate based upon political persuasion. Rather, it hurts us all.

Republican leaning Alaska and Florida are located in opposite corners of North America. In addition to being geographically distant, those states are known for divergent attractions. Alaska is pictured largely as an unspoiled winter wonderland and many people view Florida as a tropical paradise. But these diverse states share a tragic commonality. They are each on the front line of climate change.

According to the International Arctic Research Center, Alaska is warming at approximately 2.5 times the rate of the lower 48 states. Sea ice cools Alaska. A recent study found that sea ice volume Arctic- wide is about 47% lower than the average from 1979- 2018. Alaska’s permafrost is melting, which in turn is undermining the structures and roads built upon it. Melting permafrost releases even more carbon into the atmosphere. Die- offs among sea birds, gray whales, seals, mussels and krill are being reported.

In Florida, studies have shown that climate change increased the amount of rainfall during hurricanes and caused hurricanes to stall out, i.e. hover, instead of moving through, resulting in greater damage to the affected places. Florida’s coral reefs are being attacked by coral bleaching, ocean acidification, disease, and pollution. Algae blooms, like red tide, cost Florida counties $90 million in 2018. Miami is experiencing tidal flooding on sunny days. Sea water is creeping toward the Biscayne Bay Aquifer, which supplies 90 percent of South Florida’s drinking water.

The threat is global. For people who find scientific journals long, boring, and loaded with wonky jargon, in November 2019, a document entitled “ World Scientists’ Warning on a Climate Emergency” was published. The paper succinctly stated “ We declare, with more than 11,000 scientist signatories from around the world, clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency.” Admirers of plain speakers should appreciate the scientists’ directness.

Also in November, the medical journal The Lancet published a report stating that if climate change is left unabated it will adversely and disproportionately affect every child alive today and those yet to be born. Those children will live to see a planet which will be 7.2 degrees warmer than today. While that may not sound like much of a change, they will “ experience more heatwaves, stronger storms, the spread of infectious disease, and see climate change intensify mass migration, extreme poverty, and mental illness.”

The Lancet report doesn’t say that our children are condemned to suffer the adverse effects described. Instead, the report states that we can mitigate and adapt to climate change if we rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, commit to decarbonization, encourage healthier lifestyles (i.e. biking and walking), invest in evidence- based climate change surveillance and adaption, and improve resilient infrastructure and preparedness.

The time for ignoring climate change for reasons unrelated to the science, or pretending it’s someone else’s problem, are long past.

Kirk Becchi lives in Rockingham.

Copyright © 2019 Daily News-Record 12/9/2019


So You’re A Conservative? Then Conserve
Open Forum: Kirk Becchi
June 24, 2019

In the 20th century, Republicans and conservatives advocated for conservation. Republican President Theodore Roosevelt said “Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.”

Republican President Richard Nixon, founder of the EPA, said “Our physical nature, our mental health, our culture and institutions, our opportunities for challenge and fulfillment, our very survival — all of these are directly related to and affected by the environment in which we live. They depend upon the continued healthy functioning of the natural systems of the Earth.”

Even Republican President Ronald Reagan, who was not an environmentalist, spoke of the importance of environmental protection. “If we’ve learned any lessons during the past few decades, perhaps the most important is that preservation of our environment is not a partisan challenge; it’s common sense. Our physical health, our social happiness and our economic well-being will be sustained only by all of us working in partnership as thoughtful, effective stewards of our natural resources.”

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, a panel with members from 132 nations including the United States, issued a report in May. The report was prepared by nearly 150 authors, from 50 nations, working over a three-year period. Representatives of all 132 member nations signed off on the findings.

The report concluded that 1 million plant and animal species are on the verge of extinction, with alarming implications for human survival, due to man-made climate change and other human activities. The authors noted that more plants and animals are threatened with extinction now than in any other point in human history. The panel’s chairman noted the “decline in biodiversity is eroding ‘the foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.’” The report found that the natural world is collapsing around us, but also that it’s not too late to make a difference. However, that difference will require more than 100 nations to work together, including the United States.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 1998, and the four warmest years on record have all occurred since 2014. For people who seem not to trust scientists who are unknown to them, hopefully Bill Nye the Science Guy will be compelling. He recently noted on a TV talk show that climate change is an actual crisis.

Through a combination of intentional disinformation, misinformation, shortsightedness, and mistrust too many people have been lulled into inaction, and worse hostility, toward responding to the climate crisis. We’re decades late to the fight, but not too late to attempt to stem some of the worst effects of climate change. The wolf is at the door. And the future is not ours to squander.

Kirk Becchi lives in Rockingham.

Copyright © 2019 Daily News-Record 6/24/2019


The Future Is Now
Open Forum: Kirk Becchi
January 31, 2019

Nature just fired a major climate change warning shot. For example, in 2018 Virginia experienced 190 days of measurable precipitation, for a record setting 63.5 inches of rain, the second highest total since 1889.

In early 2019, the Department of Defense (DOD) issued a report to Congress stating that climate change is a national security issue and that dozens of military installations are vulnerable to floods, droughts and wildfires.

On Black Friday 2018, the Trump administration released the 1,500 page Volume II of the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4), which was prepared by 13 federal agencies, including DOD, EPA and NASA. Key findings of the NCA4 include: “More frequent and intense extreme weather and climate-related events, as well as changes in average climate conditions, are expected to continue to damage infrastructure, ecosystems, and social systems that provide essential benefits to communities. … With continued growth in emissions at historic rates, annual losses in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century. … Extreme weather and climate-related impacts on one system can result in increased risks or failures in other critical systems, including water resources, food production and distribution, energy and transportation, public health, international trade, and national security. … Climate change is also expected projected to alter the geographic range and distribution of disease carrying insects and pests, exposing more people to ticks that carry Lyme disease and mosquitoes that transmit viruses such as Zika, West Nile, and dengue. … [C]lean air and water, protection from coastal flooding, wood and fiber, crop pollination, hunting and fishing, tourism, cultural identities, and more will continue to be degraded by the impacts of climate change. … Climate change presents numerous challenges to sustaining and enhancing crop productivity, livestock health, and the economic vitality of rural communities.”

Climate change isn’t a future problem. It’s an immediate and urgent threat. However, for decades, interested parties have acted to confuse and trivialize the issue. For example, one senator from a fossil fuel producing state even tossed a snowball on the Senate floor, in an attempt to demonstrate that climate change isn’t real. Despite such efforts at disinformation, Americans are now regularly seeing the effects of climate change in the news and out their windows.

Sometimes leaders have to lead. Politicians must disavow the misinformation spread in the past, explain the urgency of the situation (so we are willing to do what is necessary to address the problem), listen to the scientists and implement their recommendations as best we can. The likelihood that this will involve sacrifice is not a reason to fail to act. No war, and this is a war, has been won without sacrifice, and the costs of inaction will far exceed the costs of seeking to mitigate the worst effects of climate change, while there’s still time.

Americans don’t sit idly on the sidelines. Instead, we lead, fight and win. The world needs our leadership, moral clarity, and technological and industrial prowess to confront.

Mr. Becchi lives in Rockingham.

Copyright © 2019 Daily News-Record 1/31/2019


Preserve Our Traditional Outdoor Way Of Life
Open Forum: Kirk Becchi
December 12, 2018

Many Americans love the outdoors for hunting, fishing or even just backyard grilling. Climate change can rob us of those pleasures. According to the National Wildlife Federation “[c]limate change poses an immediate and specific threat to hunting and fishing in America.” A 2015 NWF publication entitled “Climate Impacts to Our Hunting and Fishing Heritage” predicts that climate change may cause shifts in major ecosystems in up to 20 percent of North America. The article notes “[s]hifting ranges for pests and disease-causing pathogens may have some of the most devastating impacts for wildlife and habitats.” Among the threatened species are white-tailed deer, ducks and brook trout, which are described as being “severely threatened” and having lost half their historic habitat in Virginia.

In May 2018, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a report stating “Climate change will force hundreds of ocean fish and invertebrate species, including some of the most economically important to the United States, to move northward, disrupting fisheries in the United States and Canada.”

It’s not just wildlife that are threatened. The meat we buy at the grocery store, and toss on the grill, is vulnerable. A Jan. 19, 2017, EPA publication entitled “Climate Impacts on Agriculture and Food Supply” casts a dark shadow over barbecues. The article projects that climate change driven-heat waves, droughts, parasites, and diseases will directly endanger livestock.

The wildlife many Americans hunt, the fish we catch, and even the farm animals Americans eat are endangered and will be disappearing. The outdoor life those species historically enabled Americans to enjoy will vanish with the threatened animals and fish. Unless we swiftly and effectively act, future generations, including our children, will be deprived of their outdoor heritage.

After the World War II attack on Pearl Harbor, only the most unpatriotic Americans would have dared to say “we shouldn’t enter the war because fighting might hurt the economy.” Instead, our grandfathers enlisted and our grandmothers took their places in the workforce. Americans led the way and endured whatever hardships were necessary to get the job done and win the war. The doubters were rightfully ignored. Combating climate change is a true world war. The coasts and island nations are suffering hardest first, but no place on the planet is safe. Also, people of all political beliefs need clean air and water, and a temperate climate.

We don’t own the Earth. Rather, we just borrow it for a very short time from our kids, our grandkids, and everyone else who follows us. It’s our moral responsibility to turn the planet over to those who follow us in at least as good a condition as we got it. If we want the next generations to be able to enjoy the same outdoor experiences we had, we need to demand immediate and decisive action from politicians, and join the fight. Our children are watching. How will we answer when they ask “what did you do during the war to save the environment?”

Kirk Becchi lives in Rockingham.

Copyright © 2018 Daily News-Record 12/12/2018


Conservative Policy, National Security And Climate Change
Open Forum: Kirk Becchi
November 7, 2018

Some people try to dismiss climate change as a liberal or Democratic issue. That position is incorrect and unsupported by history. Conservative politicians and institutions have recognized the need to protect the environment and the threat presented by climate change.

In 1970, Republican President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency. In 1988, Republican President Ronald Reagan signed the Montreal Protocol, which banned ozone-depleting fluorocarbons.

On July 29, 2015, the Department of Defense issued a report on climate change. The report identified climate change as a “security risk … because it degrades living conditions, human security and the ability of governments to meet the basic needs of their populations. Communities and states that already are fragile and have limited resources are significantly more vulnerable to disruption and far less likely to respond effectively and be resilient to new challenges.”

In February 2017, a group of Republican elder statesman — including former Secretaries of State James A. Baker III and George P. Shultz, and former Secretary of the Treasury Henry M. Paulson — called for taxing carbon pollution produced by burning fossil fuels, which the trio referred to as “a conservative climate solution” based on free-market principles.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners issued an updated report on July 11, 2018, entitled “Climate Change and Risk Disclosure.” In part, the report reads “Munich RE [a reinsurer] found that weather related losses have increased nearly fourfold in the United States since 1980. According to a study by Munich Re, extreme weather events (such as prolonged droughts, hurricanes, floods, and severe storms) led to $560 billion in insured losses from 1980 until 2015. Experts predict climate change will continue to intensify the frequency and severity of these types of weather events.”

In October, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued an urgent call to action in the form of a report stating that we have only a dozen years to prevent global temperatures from increasing 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7º F). If we go above that mark, the scientists say the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people significantly increase. This isn’t a problem only for future generations. The wolf is at the door.

Those persons concerned about security at our southern border should imagine the masses of starving and thirst-crazed people who will arrive there, if Central and South America are ravaged by crop failures, droughts and/or severe weather. It’s not hard to envision governments collapsing in those regions and their populations fleeing north to the United States.

We need to stop pretending the problem isn’t real and immediate. We need to listen to the scientists and do what Americans have always done in times of crisis. Roll up our sleeves, stare the danger straight in the eye, and fix the problem. We need to lead other nations, from the front, in the fight. Battling climate change now is a truly conservative, national security and economic imperative.

Kirk Becchi lives in Rockingham.

Copyright © 2018 Daily News-Record 11/7/2018


Facts And Faith Dictate Climate Action
Open Forum: Kirk Becchi
October 5, 2018

A May 1988 Shell Oil confidential internal memorandum, entitled “The Greenhouse Effect,” states “[m]an-made carbon dioxide, released into and accumulated in the atmosphere, is believed to warm the earth through the so-called greenhouse effect. The gas acts like the transparent walls of a greenhouse and traps heat in the atmosphere that would normally be radiated back into space. Mainly due to fossil fuel burning and deforestation, the atmospheric CO2 concentration has increased. … Mathematical models of the earth’s climate indicate that if this warming occurs then it could create significant changes in sea level, ocean currents, precipitation patterns, regional temperature and weather.”

Unless one assumes Shell scientists are smarter, or more observant, than, e.g., Exxon-Mobil scientists, it is safe to assume that the whole industry has likely known of the dangers of climate change for three decades.

A NASA article entitled “Scientific Consensus: Earth’s climate is warming” states studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree that climate warming over the past century is extremely likely to be due to human activities.

The scientific organizations concurring include American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Chemical Society, American Geophysical Union, American Medical Association, American Meteorological Society, American Physical Society, The Geological Society of America, 11 international academies, U.S. National Academy of Sciences, U.S. Global Change Research Program, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and an additional 200 worldwide scientific organizations.

A 2016 Papal ecumenical states, “To commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God.” The “sins” to which the Pope was referring include causing changes to the environment.

According to Interfaith Power & Light, the churches and religions recognizing climate change and the need to care for creation include Baha’i, Buddhist, Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Brethren, Eastern Orthodox, Episcopal, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Hindu, Interfaith, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, and Unitarian Universalist.

Today, we are seeing the effects of man-made climate change, including here in the Valley. We take for granted our temperate climate, which allows for inexpensive and abundant food; the infrequency of severe weather; and the relative freedom from insect borne, and tropical, serious diseases; but all of that could change.

Due to our denial and inaction, we’re decades late to the fight, but there may still be time to minimize the damage for the benefit of our children, grandchildren and everyone else yet to be born.

Instead of dismantling environmental protections, we should (i) acknowledge the urgency of the problem, so the deniers can no longer claim there is no problem or a lack of scientific consensus; (ii) listen to the scientists and implement their suggestions, which almost certainly will involve sacrifice and regulation; and (iii) as a country assume a leadership role in this fight, so other countries won’t be able to use our inaction as an excuse for theirs.

Preserving the planet is the fact-based, faith-based, and pro-life thing to do.

Mr. Becchi lives in Rockingham.

Copyright © 2018 Daily News-Record 10/5/2018

Editorial Missing Point On Climate Change

Daily News-Record, December 31, 2019
Open Forum: Leslie Grady Jr.

The headline of the Dec. 7 editorial was “China Biggest Climate Change Culprit.” While it is true that China is currently the single largest emitter of carbon dioxide ( CO2), is it really the biggest culprit? One definition of culprit is “the cause of a problem.” The severity of climate change is directly proportional to the cumulative human- caused CO2 emissions in the atmosphere. By the end of 2018 the U. S. had emitted 24.8% of that CO2, whereas China had emitted 13.5%. Thus, on the basis of what is actually driving climate change, we are about twice as responsible as China. Of course, there is no single culprit; we are all responsible, although those in developing countries are much less so.

China is a paradox; it is both the largest emitter of CO2 and the leading market for solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicles. As of the end of 2018, China had installed 175 GW of solar photovoltaic capacity, or 32.3% of global capacity, versus 62.2 GW ( 11.5%) for the U. S. Also, China had installed 211 GW (35.7%) of wind power capacity, versus 96.7 GW (16.3%) for the U. S. Finally, 2.24 million plug- in electric vehicles had been sold in China by the end of 2018, whereas 1.13 million had been sold in the U.S. While it is unfortunate that China is still building coal-fired power plants, one can’t argue that it is ignoring the need to address the climate crisis.

U. S. CO2 emissions indeed dropped by about 14% between 2000 and 2018, although the reduction was primarily the result of the fracking revolution, rather than policy. Economics led many utilities to close aging coal-fired power plants and replace them with gasfired plants, thereby cutting their emissions in half.

Regarding the Paris Climate Agreement, the editorial states: “… while this country was to be held to strict limits on carbon emissions, China’s commitment was virtually voluntary.” In fact, all commitments under the Paris agreement are voluntary and set by the countries themselves. Furthermore, the agreement is not legally binding and does not penalize nations that fail to meet their commitments.

The U. S. agreed to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by more than 25% below 2005 levels by 2025, while China said it would peak its emissions by 2030 at the latest. Because of the emissions reductions due to the natural gas boom, the U.S. could have easily made significant progress toward its commitment had not the Trump administration withdrawn from the agreement. As it is, because of our withdrawal, Carbon Action Tracker rates our progress as “Critically Insufficient.” the lowest rating. China’s commitment is rated as “Highly Insufficient,” the next to lowest, primarily because it is not consistent with holding warming to 1.5 degrees C. Indeed, China needs to do much more, as do we.

Rather than blaming China for the climate crisis, the author of the editorial needs to ask: Why doesn’t the U.S., the world’s strongest economy, do more to help solve a problem that it played a large part in creating?

Leslie Grady Jr. lives in Harrisonburg.

Copyright 2019 Daily News-Record 12/31/2019

CAAV Comments to US Forest Service

CAAV Comments on Draft Forest Service Environmental Assessment for North Shenandoah Mountain Restoration and Management Project

by Joy Loving, on behalf of CAAV, submitted 10/25/2019

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV) is a local grassroots non-profit organization whose volunteer Steering Committee members focus and act on a variety of issues that are connected to the current climate crisis.  We are located in the Central Shenandoah Valley.  CAAV’s mission is to limit the impact of humans on Earth’s climate and minimize the effects of inevitable climate change in order to protect the future for Earth and its inhabitants.  The vision of CAAV is to create and nurture climate action in our Shenandoah Valley community so that we can become a regional leader in promoting climate change mitigation and resilience.  Our goals are to 1) train and mobilize community members to engage in local and regional efforts that promote climate change mitigation and resilience and 2) achieve policies and legislation that enable and advance the systemic changes required to promote climate stabilization and resilience.  CAAV’s website is:  https://climateactionallianceofthevalley.org/.

As such, we are concerned with many aspects of natural and human behavior that in some way affect the viability of our air, water, land, health (human and wildlife), and plants.  For this reason, we are offering our comments on the Forest Service’s (FS) Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) for the North Shenandoah Mountain Restoration and Management Project in Rockingham County, Virginia and Pendleton County, West Virginia.  CAAV does not represent itself as having expertise in forest management.  Rather, we offer our thoughts and recommendations guided by general principles of good stewardship of our natural resources, of which North Shenandoah Mountain’s acreage is clearly an important part.  We have reviewed the FS’s descriptions of the Project Purpose and Activity.  We note that the proposed restoration and other actions would occur on about 7% of the planning area.

Following are the considerations we believe the FS must both keep in mind and adhere to in carrying out the restoration and management efforts it envisions. 

  • In general CAAV is supportive of integrated resource management that “[i]ncludes timber harvesting, prescribed fire, road decommissioning, aquatic habitat improvements, wildlife habitat improvements, and nonnative invasive species”, provided that such activities do not have unintended consequences that ultimately do more harm to the forest than good.  We question whether the described project design [“to move the existing conditions within the North River Ranger District towards desired conditions described in the 2014 Revised Forest Plan for the George Washington National Forest (Forest Plan)] will yield the most beneficial results given advancements in the science of forest management and climate-change-related environmental impacts that have arisen since 2014.  At a minimum, the FS should document both the advancements and the impacts and address if/how the 2014 plan continues to be optimal.
  • Current relevant scientific consensus on any proposed action should inform and drive FS analysis and decisions around the necessity, location, and extent of any actions, including tree and plant removal, new plantings (including species, varieties, density, and quantity).  Any deviation from this consensus must be documented, including likely consequences; these will be important historical records for future FS actions and decisions.  For example, given what we understand is science to the contrary, should this project attempt to simplify the structural complexity of long-lived but not yet fully developed forest tree species only a century after most of the area was deforested?  If the FS believes it should, then the reasons should be clearly and publicly stated along with a clear plan for monitoring results and remediation if/when clearly necessary.
  • To the extent that the FS will “provide open canopy conditions through timber harvest and prescribed burning”, it must understand and consider the implications of prior de-forestations of the area that have occurred.  For example, where soil loss has occurred from logging and burning, nature needs long periods of time to restore forest stability and function.  The FS must determine, prior to such activities, the extent of soil compaction and degradation and the implications of the loss of leaf litter.  If the FS concludes that the anticipated gains outweigh the negatives, then the reasons should be clearly and publicly stated along with a clear plan for monitoring results and remediation if/when clearly necessary.
  • Overwhelmingly, scientists stress the criticality of preserving and restoring natural, native forests to mitigating the impacts of climate change.  Science also says that deforestation and forest degradation are major contributors to increased carbon dioxide. Thus questions arise as to the carbon emission amounts that the FS anticipates resulting from each of its planned actions and what effect do those amounts have given the lost carbon sequestration from the loss of the trees burned or timbered, especially from what mature trees would sequester if allowed to grow older?  It is our understanding that mature and old trees in temperate, deciduous forests are better at soil storage of carbon than other systems.   Other questions arise relative to proposed burns and timber harvesting, such as what are the projected effects on overall forest balance, a complex and ongoing occurrence from natural forces, especially given that this aspect of forests is so crucial to both carbon sinking and the nature and variety of the many plant and animal species that forests support. Tinkering with these natural processes can alter their innate ability to rebuilt soil, soil that burning and harvesting would likely degrade or even remove from the environment. Most proposed FS actions would result in a “simplified” forest structure.  So the draft EA proposes is not only silent about how much CO2 will be emitted through burning, logging, and soil disturbance, but the proposed actions, presumably intended to “manage” the many acres addressed in the draft may have the negative effects of upsetting the forest’s natural processes that are the basis of its structure and stability.  The FS must understand, quantify, and publicly provide the anticipated impacts on CO2 emissions and sequestration before it proceeds with finalizing and implementing the plan.
  • Clearly, there are situations in which controlled and even repeated deliberate burning of large parts of national forests may be justified.  Two arguments in favor of proactive burning are to remove built-up forest floor debris and to allow for native species to have a better environment in which to flourish.  On the other hand, timber harvesting will leave excessive debris behind.  And, without careful analysis of the proposed areas to be harvested, with appropriate limits on the age, size, and type of trees to be included and excluded, as well as adequate management of logging processes to insurance compliance with requirements, the intended results may not be realized.  If the FS believes the “leftovers” from timber harvesting would not pose a threat because of our relatively humid climate, the question arises as to why naturally occurring forest floor debris that is naturally occurring would pose such a threat.  The draft EA does not adequately explain the FS’s approach to prescribed burning, especially in terms of this seeming contradiction.  Nor is the draft clear as to how the FS will determine which areas “need” prescribed burning or timber harvesting.  Prior to undertaking either, in any part of the coverage acreage, the FS needs to fully understand, quantify, and publicly provide the anticipated impacts on the overall forest structure and balance of these activities prior to undertaking them.
  • Questions also arise about the effects on the forest system from the proposed activities of using “herbicides to treat non-native invasive plant species … and native plant competitors”, creating 2.15 miles of new roads, doing 19.1 miles of reconstruction (presumably repair and upgrade of existing roads), performing 25- 30 miles of “maintenance”, decommissioning 15 miles of roads, and building 15 miles of temporary roads.  Assuming these activities are essential, they will clearly be destructive of various, but unidentified (in the draft) parts of the ecosystems within and outside the forest areas in which they happen.  Even the many other activities that appear to be, and are arguably, both beneficial and necessary could have deleterious effects.  Examples include protecting riparian habitat, restoring fire‑dependent plant communities, applying thinning and regeneration treatments, and acting to create or expand habitats for existing species.  It is also not clear that other proposed activities (such as prescribed burns and timber harvesting) will not have unintended consequences such as habitat destruction of these or other animal or plant species or a negative re-balancing from the new species components that result. The FS must explicitly anticipate these effects and establish mitigation and restoration efforts that will precede and follow their occurrences, as well as plan for and budget ongoing assessment and management of any effects.

Thanks to Chris Bolgiano for her input. More about the project and its environmental assessment here.

Electric Vehicles Are Punishingly Overtaxed in Virginia

In response to James A. Bacon’s post How Should We Tax Electric Vehicles? on October 15, 2019, on his Virginian public policy website Bacon’s Rebellion.

The original post, published on October 18, is HERE.

by Alleyn Harned

In an October 15th post, James Bacon asked the question: How should we tax electric vehicles?

Bacon’s bottom line is reasonable, and it is worth noting that electric vehicles (EVs) and clean fuels already pay more than their fair share in Virginia with equivalent or excessive taxes, according to Consumer Reports. It is easy to agree with Bacon’s ideas of user fees and externalities, where EVs also pay, and where pollution externalities are integrated into state fee structures.

However, Virginia has not ignored the transportation revenue potential of EVs and reaps a high tax on these vehicles. Since the McDonnell administration, electric vehicles been assessed a punishing $64 a year fee in order to gather an approximate amount of revenue equivalent to somewhat more than traditional vehicles pay in gas tax. This fee has been used by the oil industry to justify high fees nationwide.

A recent Consumer Reports study in September showed that now in many states, electric-car fees often cost far more than what owners of gasoline-powered cars pay in gas tax. Virginia’s fee is 5% higher, even though EVs and clean fuel vehicles have great benefit to the Commonwealth through emissions reduction.

I suggest we should tax electric vehicles no greater than gasoline and diesel vehicles. Other financing mechanisms are great, but punishing cleaner vehicles fueled by domestic energy creates an unbalanced playing field favoring high cost oil.

Bacon suggests calculating and adjusting downward for cleaner air for both pollution and direct CO2 emissions from gasoline combustion and indirect emissions via the electric grid, any such calculations would have to be revisited periodically to reflect the greening of the grid. By this measure, the carbon fee today should be 60% higher on gasoline than on grid electricity, though further discounts could be tied to time of use charging, bringing electricity to zero emissions or negative emissions with GHG sequestration sources.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, electric vehicles produce very low emissions in Virginia if you compare grid fuel to gasoline emissions.

Electric vehicles are cleaner for the air, with significant health benefits beyond the CO2 reductions. They generate no tailpipe pollution when operating, and pollution from electricity generation can be mitigated with improvements to the grid, timing of charging, and lower cost renewables like Dominion Energy’s announced 2.6-gigawatt wind project which can charge these vehicles at night. Virginia for the most part is not coal intensive, with peak coal back in 1990’s. We are now using coal for less than 10% of our electric energy mix. Renewables like solar and wind are also now lower in cost than coal.

Beyond air quality, I suggest the Commonwealth consider reducing these punishing fees and incentivizing clean fuel vehicles like EVs because clean fuel vehicles are good for Virginia’s energy, economic, and environmental security.

Virginia produces nearly no oil in the state, but we spend around $33 million a day on 13 million gallons of imported gasoline and diesel, an enormous shifting of wealth from Virginians to oil-producers out of the state and in other countries. We produce many things that can produce electricity. This importation of highly polluting oil energy is an enormous drain on Virginia’s economy.

The United States just sent 1,000 troops, likely including Virginians, to Saudi Arabia to help defend Saudi oil. We maintain a fleet in the Strait of Hormuz to facilitate oil shipments. This international military investment is an externality that could be tracked and budgeted into the federal or state motorfuels tax of billions of our dollars.

Electric vehicles are affordable for all people today. Beyond Teslas, most EVs cost well under the $39,000 average price for a new car – with LEAF and Bolt available in VA under $30,000, and the Tesla 3 landing at $39,000 – the average price for a new car. Virginia-headquartered Volkswagen and Audi are planning a future with heavy electric vehicle investments. Ford and Shell just announced major partnership in advance of Ford’s new electric vehicles. Good used EVs are available for around $12,000. You can find new Nissan LEAFs posted for $18,900 and Prius Primes for $22,000 in Virginia on http://www.electrifyyourrideva.org .

Because electricity is low cost (about $1 per gallon equivalent) and vehicles can travel many miles on each $0.12 kilowatt of Virginia-made clean energy, driving electric pencils out to save $10k over 10 years in fuel costs. Fueleconomy.gov lets you see how much it would take to get each EV to 25 miles. Between fuel and initial cost in Virginia, a great EV total cost of ownership over 10 years is half that of the average new vehicle in the U.S.

Bacon is right to raise the discussion on user fees (miles) and externalities (pollution). The comments raised about a Vehicle Miles Traveled fees are sound and worth reviewing. Other states like Washington are phasing in a VMT over 10 years. EVs, which produce zero tailpipe emissions and use cleaner local energy, currently do pay greater than their fare share today in support of Virginia’s roads.

Alleyn Harned is director of Virginia Clean Cities.

Community Perspective: Climate Strike

Harrisonburg’s The Citizen | September 30, 2019

A contributed Perspectives piece by Joy Loving

What a wonderful two days Harrisonburg citizens have just had! On September 20 and 27, our youth came together at Court Square loudly and seriously to say they’re worried about their futures. And they want the “adults in the room” to help them save those futures. I hear they’re planning a third climate strike later this fall.

Having been part of a group of adults who worked with students from Harrisonburg High School, EMU, JMU, and Turner Ashby High School who organized the two events, I found the experience profoundly inspiring and energizing. Although I’ve worked with others on many projects to educate legislators and citizens about our climate emergency, never have I witnessed so many determined youngsters working cooperatively to get their message across. And I’m so pleased that local media covered both events.

The Second Climate Strike was followed the next day by the International Festival. This annual coming together of so many community members was just as inspiring as what the students did the day before. The “joie de vivre” on Saturday was evident on all the faces I saw. I was fortunate to speak with many attendees while volunteering for several local organizations who serve and work to improve our community—Climate Action Alliance of the Valley, Renew Rocktown, Earth Day Every Day, and Skyline Literacy. To a person, everyone was friendly, curious, and clearly happy to be enjoying the event.

It’s gratifying to know that events like these happen in the area. And I express my sincere thanks to all the students and volunteers who made them happen.

Joy Loving lives in Grottoes.

Find the original version in The Citizen HERE.

Community Support For Local Students’ Climate Strike

Daily News-Record, October 3, 2019

We should be proud of our youth who organized two recent local youth climate strikes. Whether you agree with them or not, they worked together to literally shout to all of us that they fear for their future and want us to help them save it. We should not disparage their efforts.

I met kids from Harrisonburg High School, Eastern Mennonite University, Turner Ashby High School, and James Madison University.

Two candidates running for office, April Moore and Brent Finnegan, were there. Their presence encouraged me because I expect all Virginia legislators to enact legislation to address our children’s concerns. I did not see their opponents, though perhaps they were there. If they were not there, we need to ask them why not.

The fervor and energy I saw inspired me and gave me some hope for my grandchildren’s future.

Joy Loving, Grottoes

Responsibility On Climate Change

Daily News-Record, September 13, 2019

Open Forum: H. Bishop Dansby

For a number of years now, local citizens have urged our representatives at the local, state and federal levels to develop policies on climate change and the related issues of renewable energy and energy efficiency. The city of Harrisonburg has been relatively receptive; for example, it formed the Environmental Performance Standards Advisory Committee. A key issue for the city is whether its municipal electric company, HEC, will transform itself to be part of the renewable energy future. The city School Board took a big step forward in building its new elementary school to a high level of energy efficiency, but then it missed a golden opportunity to outfit the new school and others with solar energy.

At the state level, Sen. Mark Obenshain has taken the position that nothing can be done as to climate change at the state level, and that it will be decades before solar energy is practical. At the federal level Rep. Goodlatte and his successor, Ben Cline, believe that action taken on climate change, “if it exists,” would unduly damage the economy.

Meanwhile, Rockingham County, skeptical that policies related the climate change have anything to do with county governance, has been confronted sooner than they ever imagined with climate related issues, such as unprecedented stormwater management challenges, the need for a solar system ordinance, and at least one application for the installation of utility scale solar system (solar farm).

The county denied the application of the solar farm ostensibly on the grounds that it would not be the best use of agricultural land, which presumably means the use is not consistent with the county’s comprehensive plan. If the county had a climate change policy, it would weigh the impact on agriculture against the value of providing renewable energy to the electric grid.

What is Rockingham County’s obligation with respect to climate? For starters, you could say that Rockingham has an obligation to produce enough renewable energy to meet its own energy needs. The state of Virginia has a population of 8,500,000 which consumes 111 billion kWh of electric energy per year. Rockingham County has a population of 85,000, which suggests it consumes about 1.11 billion kWh. If you do the math, the amount of acreage required of utility scale solar to provide all of Rockingham’s electric energy would be in the order of 5,000 acres. The county Board of Supervisors could say that it is reasonable for Rockingham to allow as much as 5,000 acres to be consumed by solar farms. Rockingham has a total area of 545,000 acres, of which 222,000 is agricultural land, so the 5,000 acres of solar would represent only 1 percent of the land in the county, or 2 percent of the agricultural land.

Provisions in the comprehensive plan that reflect this kind of obligation would allow the county to grant applications for solar farms without the fear of threatening agriculture, while at the same time doing its part to fight climate change.

H. Bishop Dansby lives in Keezletown.

Letter to Congressman Ben Cline

Sally L. Newkirk
Harrisonburg, VA

May 4, 2019

Congressman Ben Cline
10 Franklin Road SE Suite 510
Roanoke, VA 24011

Dear Congressman,

Thank you again for meeting with Bishop Dansby and myself at your Staunton office on April 29, 2019.

I know Bishop has written you a follow up letter, and I feel compelled to do the same.

I was shocked to hear your understanding of Climate Science.  By shocked, I mean the same reaction I have when I find out that some people still smoke cigarettes.  Hopefully you are aware that the tobacco industry denied the medical science that cigarettes cause cancer for over 50 years?  Of course, they didn’t have the science to back up their claims, so they hired a PR firm to spin the story.  That story was “the government is trying to take away your cigarettes”.  How many lives could have been saved but for industry choosing profit over the health and welfare American citizens?

It was the same story with the lead industry.  By the late 1900s both the lead industry and U. S. Government (USG) agencies knew that lead was poison, but they considered it “essential” to our economy and consumers.  So, they allowed its use in gasoline, pipes and paints.  As a result, hundreds of thousands of children have suffered (more than from polio, which we quickly acknowledged and mobilized our resources to eradicate it.)  Many continue to suffer from lead poisoning today (think:  Flint, Michigan).  The USG was complicit in this preventable tragedy, because of powerful lobbyists.  ‎

The same pattern of denial and obfuscation has happened because of actions by Big Carbon.  I recommend you read the book Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes‎ and ‎Erik M. Conway.  The authors spell out very clearly just how effectively the oil industry hid the truth about the effect of greenhouse gases on our climate’s stability and raised doubts about the validity of the scientific consensus.

Fortunately, although it’s very late, there are many folks aware of the threats climate instability pose to all of us, including many in your party.  I urge you to check into efforts like those espoused by Bob Inglis of RepublicEn, Rev Mitch Hescox of Evangelical Environment Network, Evangelicals for Social Action, American Conservation Coalition, and Virginia Conservatives for Clean Energy, to name but a few.  Their web addresses appear at the end of this message.  I hope you will come to agree that there are market solutions to addressing our carbon addiction and embrace efforts to use them.

One other point about the evidence supporting the impacts of excessive greenhouse gases.  Notwithstanding the current Administration’s preference to avoid the term “climate change” and even deny the problem, there is a vast chasm between the assessments of most life-long civil servants and scientists who work hard to protect this country’s interests and the relatively small number of those who dismiss the problem.  I am speaking of the employees like those in DOD, the National Weather Service, NASA, and even the EPA.  They all have made it clear that Global Warming is real, caused by human actions, and is a grave threat to this county and the world.

I would welcome the opportunity for another exchange of ideas with you in order to find some common ground on what to do about the huge risks that we all face.  I hope you can offer some good suggestions on possible actions that you can support.  Solutions are many, but of course we have to have people, in all levels of government, who are open to understanding the issues and figuring out ways to address them.  I would love to partner with you on ways to do this.  Thanks again for your time on the 29th.

Warmly,

Sally Newkirk

Suggested Resources

RepublicEn:  https://www.republicen.org/
Evangelical Environment Network:  https://www.creationcare.org/staff
Evangelicals for Social Action:  https://www.evangelicalsforsocialaction.org/
American Conservation Coalition:  https://www.acc.eco/
VA Conservatives for Clean Energy:  https://www.cleanenergyconservatives.com/states/virginia/

Champions of Us All

Daily News-Record, April 1, 2019

Open Forum: Irvin Peckham

I read Michael Meredith’s open forum, (“Tony Wilt A Champion for Business,” March 14) in which he promoted Tony Wilt’s 26th District voting record, calling him “a champion for business.” Certainly, our representatives should support local business owners; but they should also support other citizens, education, community infrastructure and environmental preservation. At times, these elements may seem in conflict with one another; how a candidate negotiates these conflicts influences how many of us will vote.

Like Wilt and Meredith, I am not a fan of big government; but I do support government that works in the interest of all citizens, protecting consumers against fraudulent business practices, prioritizing public education, supporting community development and protecting the environment.

Wilt says he supports a “balanced approach to environmental and water quality issues.” A “balanced” approach implies that he might tolerate some degree of water pollution and environmental destruction if government regulations would hamper business profits. To suggest that we should balance current benefits at the expense of environmental preservation takes one down the infamous slippery slope. At what point is environmental destruction less important than business profit? Are we not concerned about preserving our environment for our children? Or is it: After us, the storm?

Because concrete contributes to CO2 production, global warming and water run-off, it should go without saying that Wilt, the owner of a concrete company, has an interest in voting against bills protecting our environment. Although loosely related through energy consumption, Delegate Wilt’s adherence to a “balanced” approach might explain his recent votes restricting solar development in Virginia, siding with Dominion and Appalachian Power over organizations promoting renewable energy.

Wilt’s vote is one example of how he might resolve issues when different interests, including his own, are in conflict. I am equally concerned about his positions on public education, the minimum wage, and Medicaid expansion. Although I applaud his position on testing, his attempts to divert monies from public education will undermine local schools, accounting for his low rating of 50 percent from the Virginia Education Association.

In support of Wilt’s positions on the minimum wage and Medicaid expansion, Meredith says that a wage of $15 an hour is “ridiculously high,” a claim that makes me shiver, and that Medicaid expansion would increase health cost, a claim not supported by the Kaiser Foundation research and the experience of other states in spite of recent efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act. But even if Medicaid expansion increases costs, I believe that in the interest of the whole community, such an expansion would be worth supporting.

Although I respect champions of small business, I am looking for a representative who will be champions of us all. Mr. Meredith suggests that these priorities are socialist; I see them as caring for others, including our children and their children.

Irvin Peckham lives in Harrisonburg.

Irvin serves on the Steering Committee of the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley.