“One Earth” Book Donations

CAAV Chair Jo Anne St. Clair at right with a Vine & Fig volunteer and one of the first recipients of a CAAV donated book to inspire young people of all backgrounds to become environmental leaders, on August 5, 2020. Photo by Cathy Strickler.

Black, indigenous and people of color take center stage in a new environmental project by the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV). Cathy Strickler, founder of CAAV, has been intrigued by the potential impact of an award-winning book released in April 2020, for ages 12 and up, titled One Earth: People of Color Protecting Our Planet by conservation biologist and Canadian indigenous person Anuradha Rao. By gifting copies of the book, she hopes that CAAV can reach young people who are choosing what their own path will be.

One Earth: People of Color Protecting our Planet … profiles Black, Indigenous and People of Color who live and work as environmental defenders. Through their individual stories, the book shows that the intersection of environment and ethnicity is an asset to achieving environmental goals. The twenty short biographies introduce readers to diverse activists from all around the world, who are of many ages and ethnicities. From saving ancient trees on the West Coast of Canada, to protecting the Irrawaddy dolphins of India, to uncovering racial inequalities in the food system in the United States, these environmental heroes are celebrated by author and biologist Anuradha Rao, who outlines how they went from being kids who cared about the environment to community leaders in their field. One Earth is full of environmental role models waiting to be found.”

The seed money for the project comes from donations to CAAV’s anti-pipeline campaign. That effort created a large metal sculpture, The Defenders, which was installed at multiple sites adjacent to the proposed path of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to amplify the voices defending lives, land, health, clean water and clean air from fossil fuel expansion. Jo Anne St. Clair, chair of CAAV and Karen Lee, who helped implement The Defenders’ project, agree with Cathy: “It is appropriate that seed money for future defenders comes from The Defenders’ campaign.”

CAAV Chair Jo Anne St. Clair and Cathy brought some of these books to Vine & Fig in Harrisonburg’s northend on Wednesday, August 5, 2020, in support of New Community Project’s recently launched Rocktown Sprouts. Developed to teach local youth about nurturing land, water and their health through growing plants and composting organic discards, the One Earth books will find an attentive and receptive audience through this program.

Other copies of Anuradha Rao’s One Earth: People of Color Protecting our Planet will hopefully find good homes through local middle and high schools and/or other young people’s learning and service organizations.

Books purchased with the remainder of The Defenders funds were donated to Vine & Fig to distribute to educators and young people working to protect and enrich our community and world. Jo Anne presented two books to volunteers who have been tending the gardens and taking food to Waterman Elementary School and Our Community Place. She presented a third book to a JMU student organizer who will be working with Vine & Fig this fall.Cathy Strickler, August 5, 2020

– Karen Lee and Adrie Voors

Jo Anne gives Vine & Fig volunteers copies of One Earth: People of Color Protecting Our Planet on August 5. Photo by Cathy Strickler.

George Hirschmann

GeorgeHirschmannGeorge Hirschmann (I) is retired from working at WHSV television station as their Chief Meteorologist. He is running for reelection to the Harrisonburg City Council after first being elected in 2016. According to a WHSV news report, “if re-elected, he will continue to focus on elderly and homeless needs in the city and the needs of teachers and schools,” among other goals. Find more about Mr. Hirschmann on his City Council webpage.

See his response to CAAV’s Questionnaire below the list of questions:

1) Do you support the 50×25 campaign?

2) How would you implement the 3 goals of the 50×25 campaign?

3) What would you do to increase or facilitate the adoption of renewable energies or solar in City and School buildings?

4) How would you prioritize city and state resources for addressing environmental justice concerns, specifically energy efficiency for low income housing?

5) What do you think about recycling?

6) Is there anything Harrisonburg can do to reduce transportation emissions, the largest sector of climate change emissions in VA and the United States?

I believe in science and the fact that humans have an effect on the environment. As your Councilman I support recycling, the efforts the Harrisonburg Electric Commission is making for solar, and I support improving connectivity within the city for waking and bicycle use. We must continue to clean Blacks Run and the Shenandoah River. I believe we should continue working with JMU and innovators at the University to combat pollution and Climate Change. Rain barrels have popped up across the city which has helped with saving water and sustainable gardening. 

During my four years on council I am proud of my Independent record and ability to work with all groups in the city to make Harrisonburg a more inclusive community with equity for all. Please visit my website for more information and contact me directly. Please remember social distancing and to wear a mask to protect our vulnerable community members. 

It is an honor to serve you and the people of Harrisonburg,

Councilman George Hirschmann 

Kathleen Kelley

KathleenKelleyKathleen Kelley (R) is a medical doctor practicing integrative and alternative medicine who is running for Harrisonburg City Council. According to an article in the Daily News-Record, she would like to help “make the city ‘crisis-proof'” by expanding business and education opportunities in the city, among other goals.

CAAV has submitted its questionnaire to Dr. Kelley’s campaign in hopes of discovering and sharing her opinions on these issues. We will post her responses once we receive them.

CAAV Endorses Sally Newkirk for SVEC Board

Sally Newkirk is running for a seat on the SVEC board.

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley endorses Sally Newkirk’s bid for a seat on the board of the Shenandoah Valley Electric Co-op (SVEC). A 27-year Shenandoah Valley resident, Sally will work to expand SVEC’s use of renewable energy, bring reliable broadband to the many residents of our area who lack it, and will work to help residents who are having trouble paying their electric bill.

Co-op members will have the opportunity to vote for Sally through ballots received in the mail. These can be mailed in or recorded online. In the meantime, you can learn more about Sally by visiting her website: newkirkforsvec.com. You can also follow her on Facebook here.

Elizabeth McGowan covered this election for the Energy News Network on July 15, 2020: Virginia co-op board challengers aim to nudge utilities forward on clean energy

Black Lives Matter Resolution

At their June 16, 2020, meeting, the steering committee of the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley voted unanimously in favor of supporting Black Lives Matter with this resolution:

Resolved that the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley stands in support of Black Lives Matter, that we support a redirection of tax dollars away from policies that enable police brutality, and toward policies that meet community needs and link environmental and social justice.

SCC Must Extend Moratorium on Utility Disconnections

Update from the Virginia State Corporation Commission:

SCC Extends Ban on Utility Service Cut-offs to August 31

June 12, 2020

RICHMOND – The State Corporation Commission (SCC) has extended the moratorium on service disconnections for utility customers due to unpaid bills caused by the COVID-19 public health emergency. The SCC order extends the ban through August 31, 2020 and gives the General Assembly time to address the economic impact of the crisis on utility customers.
During the crisis period, electricity, natural gas, water and sewer utilities regulated by the SCC must offer extended payment plans with no late fees or reconnection charges to residential and small business customers whose unpaid bill amounts are the result of COVID-19 issues.

Read more here.


The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley has joined other organizations in calling on the Virginia State Corporation Commission to extend its moratorium on utility service disconnections during the pandemic from June 15 to the end of summer. Clean Virginia’s communication director issued this press release on behalf of all the groups involved:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:
Cassady Craighill, Clean Virginia Communications Director
cassady@cleanvirginia.org, 828-817-3328

SCC Must Extend Moratorium on Utility Disconnections; Legislative Action Next Step
Environmental groups unite behind call for extension and data release from utilities

 June 5, 2020

Charlottesville — Eleven environmental and marginalized community advocacy organizations today joined statewide calls for the Virginia State Corporation Commission (SCC) to extend its moratorium on utility disconnections during the COVID-19 pandemic. A joint comment submitted by the organizations questions the SCC’s assumption that a moratorium extension will harm ratepayers given the lack of available and relevant data from regulated public utilities including how many Virginia customers have unpaid utility bills, the reserves of each utility, and the amount utilities have overcharged customers in previous years.

The comment includes:

  • A request for the SCC to extend the mandatory moratorium on utility service disconnections until at least the end of the summer.
  • A request for the SCC to obtain weekly data from all regulated public utilities including how many customers have unpaid utility bills, the number of customers disconnected in the current year, and information regarding the financial strength and debt reserves of each utility.
  • A request for the SCC to solicit proposals from all affected utilities on steps those utilities can take to restart their energy efficiency programs or develop alternative programs that reduce consumption while protecting the health of all involved.

Virginia’s largest electricity provider Dominion Energy has declined to comment on how many residential and non-residential customers have unpaid bills or were disconnected in the current year. Dominion has overcharged its customers by $1.3 billion since 2015.

The SCC’s state order suspending disconnections is set to expire on June 15, 2020. Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Clean Virginia, Climate Action Alliance of the Valley, League of Conservation Voters Virginia, New Virginia Majority, Piedmont Environmental Council, Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection, Sierra Club Virginia Chapter, Southern Environmental Law Center, Virginia Conservation Network, and Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy signed the joint comment to the SCC, due today.

READ the joint comment to the SCC.

Quotes From Participating Organizations:

 Harrison Wallace, Chesapeake Climate Action Network – Virginia Director

 “It’s the SCC’s job to protect consumers, not corporations. But Dominion is planning to give their shareholders fat dividends during a time of economic turmoil and also planning to give out targeted grants in the name of justice. If they can do that, they can help struggling families keep the lights on and cool their homes during the hottest season of the year.”

Brennan Gilmore, Clean Virginia – Executive Director

 “Families should not face electricity disconnection while Dominion Energy unjustly transfers hundreds of millions in overcharges every year from Virginians to its top executives and shareholders. The State Corporation Commission should provide relief to struggling Virginia families and small businesses by extending the moratorium on utility disconnections and demanding transparency from utilities to better understand the scope of the problem.”

 Jo Anne St. Clair, Climate Action Alliance of the Valley – Chair

 “The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley believes that the SCC must be mindful that calamities like the current pandemic, and like the consequences of our ongoing climate crisis, usually burden those who are least able to adapt and recover quickly. The pandemic is not over; its negative economic effects will be with us all, especially the many Virginians who chronically have a serious burden meeting their utility bills. The SCC must consider this reality.”

Michael Town, League of Conservation Voters Virginia – Executive Director

 “We should not be debating whether or not to extend a moratorium on utility shut-offs in the midst of a global pandemic and economic depression that is especially devastating for low-income neighborhoods and communities of color,” said Michael Town, executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters. “The moratorium should remain in place until the pandemic is over and Virginia is able to implement just and fair utility reform to ensure our most vulnerable citizens are never put in this position again.”

Kenneth Gilliam, New Virginia Majority – Policy Director

“We are very much still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had greater economic and health effects, likely to be long-lasting, on low-income households and Latinx and Black communities in Virginia. The economic repercussions of the crisis are not equally distributed by race or income across the state; however, measures, such as the moratorium on utility disconnections, provides much needed fiscal relief to low-income customers who generally pay more for energy and are predicted to have greater loss of income throughout the rest of 2020, and well into 2021.”

 Kate Addleson, Sierra Club Virginia Chapter – Director

“The COVID 19 pandemic has thrown Virginia into a serious economic downturn with many families across the commonwealth facing job loss and financial strain. With Virginia’s hottest months still ahead of us, the SCC must extend the moratorium on utility shut-offs at least through the summer to ensure families and businesses aren’t subject to life-threatening heat. The commission should take steps to offer utility bill assistance and extended repayment programs during this difficult time.”

Will Cleveland, Southern Environmental Law Center – Senior Attorney

With the summer heat bearing down on us, we must do all we can to help people who, as a result of this pandemic, struggle to pay their utility bills. Expanded utility-sponsored energy efficiency programs, bill assistance and payment plans, and data collection are necessary to help all Virginians come through this difficult time.”

 ###


In the News

Augusta Free Press, June 5, 2020: Herring requests another extension on Virginia utility disconnection suspensions

“In his filing with the SCC, Herring notes that Gov. Ralph Northam has extended his state of emergency indefinitely and explains that ‘the existing moratorium should be extended to a point in the future after Virginia’s economy has had an opportunity to resume, allowing impacted citizens an opportunity to regain some financial footing.'”

Virginia Mercury, June 8, 2020, by Sarah Vogelsong: Should it stay or should it go? Little consensus on utility disconnection ban

“Little consensus has emerged from the welter of recommendations put forward by investor-owned utilities, 58 legislators, environmental and consumer protection groups, state electric cooperatives and the Attorney General’s Office as of the June 5 deadline for input set by the State Corporation Commission.”

There’s a serious threat to Net Metering—Urgent Action by Solar Advocates Needed!

Update July 16:
We just found out that FERC has dismissed the New England Ratepayers Association motion to attack net metering on the federal level. This is a major victory for solar rights. …
– Aaron Sutch, Program Director, Solar United Neighbors of Virginia


safe_imageA 501(c)(4) group called the New England Ratepayers Association petitioned the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to change the regulation of net metering compensation from the states to the federal government. If FERC approves, the result would upset the long-established system of state Commissions to regulate retail rates and net metering programs. Such a change could jeopardize existing and new solar customers.

The deadline to weigh in at FERC is June 15.

Solar United Neighbors, Vote Solar, and Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) are urging those who value solar to let Virginia state officials and FERC know why FERC should not approve the petition.

You can do this in one of two ways:

  1. Access the Vote Solar/Solar United Neighbors (VS/SUN) grassroots advocacy website: http://www.savesolar.org. If you have solar or a solar business, or if you consider net metering an important way to enable solar growth and reduced reliance on carbon fuels, urge your Governor to direct state agencies to intervene at FERC to protect state’s rights. The site offers draft letters for solar owners and businesses. The letters sent to Governors will be compiled and sent to FERC with a cover letter from VS/SUN addressing states’ rights and energy choice.

Additionally, the Sierra Club is collecting “signatures” here to: “Tell FERC to reject this ill-conceived attempt to take away your state’s right to set net metering policy and give consumers clean energy choices.”

  1. Contact your Governor, State Agencies, and FERC directly to express your views. Below are links for VA officials and for FERC.

Below are some points you may find useful as you develop your message(s).

Time for commenting is short. We urge you to speak up in defense of states’ rights and in favor of net metering compensation.

– Joy Loving for the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley


Contact Virginia Officials urging Virginia to intervene in FERC Docket EL20-42 and to oppose this attack on our state’s ability to set energy policy for its own residents. If our state agencies have already intervened, thank them for taking action.

Contact FERC to ask it to disapprove the petition docketed as EL20-42: https://www.ferc.gov/docs-filing/ferconline.asp
Search FERC’s docket (enter EL20-42 into the search box) to review comments and interventions already filed: https://elibrary.ferc.gov/idmws/docket_search.asp


Possible Points you may find useful as you develop your message(s).

Tell your story.

  • Why/when you chose solar.
  • Details of your investment and your actual and expected return.
  • Role/value of net metering in solar decision and effect on your return.
  • Whether/why your solar system is grid-tied or not.
  • Your solar advocacy actions and opportunities.

Reasons for/benefits of going solar.

  • Reduce carbon footprint.
  • Improve personal resilience.
  • Exercise energy freedom of choice.
  • Care for environment.
  • Improve Energy Security.
  • Reduce Electricity costs.
  • Reduce Peak Demand and otherwise contribute to grid reliability and resilience.

Why regulation of net metering compensation should be by states and not federal.

  • One size doesn’t fit all.
  • Circumstances, conditions, and other factors vary greatly by states.
  • Existing approaches represent years of experimentation in 49 states with alternative models and methods, as well as focused oversight by state regulatory and legislative bodies.
  • Net metering is a retail transaction between solar producer and electricity provider, not a wholesale one.
  • Constant and frequent improvements in technology necessitate a nimble response relevant to effects on each state’s economy, market conditions, laws/regulations, and other changing conditions.
  • Value of solar must be determined in each state’s market based on its utility model(s) and existing law/regulation, and a national standard would be inequitable and inaccurate.
  • FERC not in a position to perform that kind of analysis to achieve equity among all states and all stakeholders.

Effects of federal takeover of net metering compensation.

  • There are 2.2 million families and 100,000 businesses who have invested tens of billions of their own dollars in solar energy.
  • Petition is by a group favoring fossil fuels, asking for a federal takeover of citizen solar rights.
  • FERC’s approval would hand over control of local energy policy to the federal government.
  • FERC has supported fossil fuels and their producers during its entire existence and is largely funded by them.
  • Should FERC accede, VA’s newly passed Clean Economy Act and the goals established in Governor Northam’s Executive Order 43 would be seriously jeopardized.
  • The right of energy choice that Virginians have under VA law/regulation would be extinguished.
  • There’s no rational basis for federalizing decisions that should rest with individuals and their states.
  • For almost forty years, states have appropriately had jurisdiction over solar rights. They have approached their stewardship in varying ways, some more successful and equitable than others. The election process and changing circumstances can cause states to revise their approaches. Neither of these remedies would be as easily exercised if FERC decided net metering compensation for every state.
  • The federal government should not impose its will on VA families and businesses that want to take control over their individual and collective energy future.

Circumstances of Petition.

  • It is disturbing and doubtless not accidental that attempts like this–to fast-track this anti-solar and anti-states’ rights petition during a global pandemic–are happening. Rather, the scope and timing are a blatant attempt at major anti renewable energy change to favor the antiquated US electric utility market and the incumbent electricity producers. Particularly now, as homes are increasingly our sanctuaries, local solar has given many greater peace of mind financially, enabling one way to safeguard families against the increasingly unreliable and unpredictable electricity grid.
  • Contrary to the often-expressed utility negative view of solar and net metering, solar owners are not the only ones saving with local solar. Local solar helps everyone save by reducing transmission costs, providing local peak energy resources, bolstering grid resilience, and more.
  • FERC cannot erode state’s right to offer energy choice to families and businesses that choose to invest in solar energy.

You can watch this archived webinar from Solar United Neighbors about how to diffuse the threat from the New England Ratepayers Association (NERA). It was recorded on May 28, 2020.

In May 2020, NERA — a secretive group with ties to monopoly utilities — petitioned the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to end net metering and treat solar homeowners as wholesale power generators.

We assembled an expert panel to discuss the implications and what you can do.

* The Energy and Policy Institute will talk about their research on “NERA: the New England Ratepayers Association,” the secretive group that has filed this petition to FERC.

* Vote Solar and Solar United Neighbors will explain the petition, potential implications, and opportunities to join us in fighting this petition with a deadline for actions of June 15th.

Speakers include Glen Brand and Liz Veazey from Solar United Neighbors, Nathan Phelps from Vote Solar, and Dave Anderson with Energy and Policy Institute.


Advanced Energy Economy, “a national association of business leaders who are making the global energy system more secure, clean, and affordable,” recorded this webinar on Net Energy Metering and State Authority: What’s at Stake for Advanced Energy in FERC Petition on June 3, 2020.

Webinar Overview: States have long had the right to design retail billing and rate policies to facilitate the adoption of distributed energy resources, but right now that’s under threat of federal preemption. Net energy metering and similar practices have long been an important tool for states, as well as municipal and cooperative utilities, to empower consumers to take control over their energy supply. A recent petition from a little-known group called the New England Ratepayers Association asks the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to upend the status quo and expand federal regulatory authority over these policies and the customers that participate in them – with ramifications well beyond just net energy metering for rooftop solar. This webinar explained how FERC ruling the wrong way could impact existing and emerging state and municipal and cooperative utility approaches to supporting distributed energy resources in retail markets.

Panelists
• Ted Thomas, Chairman, Arkansas Public Service Commission
• Hannah Muller, Director of Public Policy, Clearway Energy
• John McCaffrey, Senior Regulatory Counsel, American Public Power Association
• Jeff Dennis, Managing Director and General Counsel, Advanced Energy Economy


From the Southern Environmental Law Center on June 23, 2020:
Southeastern groups join states and regulators in defending solar net metering programs

“Last week, over 50,000 individuals and 600 organizations, states, regulators, and elected officials submitted comments and petitions defending the ability for states to have authority over rooftop solar net metering programs. SELC filed extensive comments on behalf of Southeast public interest organizations, providing a regional perspective and describing how Southeast states and more than 40,000 rooftop solar customers rely on net metering programs each month across the region.” 

“The Story of Plastic” Free Screening and Community Talk Back

If you didn’t get to watch the “Talk Back” event live, watch the recording here:

snipwitharrow

If you didn’t get to watch The Story of Plastic for this event, click here for ways to see it.


Harrisonburg’s Earth Day Every Day, with help from the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley, is hosting at-home screenings of the newest Story of Stuff Project film: The Story of Plastic. Film viewing can be accessed between June 1 and June 8. This watching period will be followed up with a short live panel discussion of the film on the evening of Monday, June 8.

Get the links needed to watch the film and panel discussion by registering through the Eventbrite page here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-story-of-plastic-free-screening-and-community-talk-back-tickets-106520411418


Watch a free virtual screening of ‘The Story of Plastic’ and join our community conversation to help stop plastic pollution!

About this Event

We applaud you for your interest in ending plastic pollution! A big welcome to the two parts of our free public event:

Part 1: Watch the Film! You have a full week to watch a remarkable 96-minute film, The Story of Plastic.

Part 2: Talk Back! On the last day of film watching, June 8 at 7pm, you are invited to see (via a zoom link) our hard-working moderator and panel members respond to the plastic pollution crisis and field your submitted questions.

Earth Day Every Day (EDED) is celebrating its first birthday on June 8! This event is a way to thank all who had a hand in this successful first year, and to have all of you “join the party”! Please honor the birthday, and our earth, by joining us for this special virtual event. It is completely free and open to the public.

About the Film (Watch the Trailer Here)

Produced by the Story of Stuff Project, The Story of Plastic takes a sweeping look at the man-made crisis of plastic pollution and the worldwide effect it has on the health of our planet and the people who inhabit it. Spanning three continents, the film illustrates the ongoing catastrophe: fields full of garbage, veritable mountains of trash, rivers and seas clogged with waste, and skies choked with the poisonous emissions from plastic production and processing. The Story of Plastic features interviews with experts and activists on the front lines of the fight, revealing the disastrous consequences of the flood of plastic smothering ecosystems and poisoning communities around the world, and the global movement that is rising up in response. With engaging original animationarchival industry footage beginning in the 1930’s, and first-person accounts of the unfolding emergency, the film distills a complex problem that is increasingly affecting the planet’s and its residents’ well-being.

“Talk Back” Panel Discussion on Monday, June 8, 7PM via Zoom

W A N T E D ! We really want your questions for the Talk Back. Little or big ones! Please email your questions by 4pm, Sunday, June 7 to contactcaav@gmail.com.

Panelists

Moderator: Dr. Bob Bersson, JMU professor of art 1980-2003, artist, author of two art textbooks, community organizer and, in 2016, founder of the Interfaith Initiative for Peace and Justice in Harrisonburg, and currently coordinator of EMU’s Center for Interfaith Engagement spring film series.

Dr. Les Grady is a licensed environmental engineer, studying climate science and global warming in his retirement. He has taught at Purdue and Clemson, and consulted for the world’s largest environmental engineering consulting company. He currently authors the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley’s (CAAV) Weekly Climate News Roundup, presents for CAAV speakers bureau and teaches in JMU’s Lifelong Learning Institute.

Virginia Healy is a science and history teacher at Skyline Middle School helping students learn how to reduce waste and to help the next generation to do even more. She is a member of the EDED leadership team.

Elly Swecker is founder and chair of EDED and a presenter on plastic pollution and achieving zero waste. She formerly worked at the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Community Services Board, and is past executive director of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Free Clinic.

Art Fovargue is an avid citizen recycler. Trained as an engineer, he is retired from many years as laboratory manager for the Department of Physics & Astronomy at JMU. He is currently active in the Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition and the Rockingham Bird Club, and is co-coordinator of CAAV’s Community Compost Drop-off project.


News Media Coverage!

Kathleen Shaw wrote about the event for the June 4, 2020 edition of the Daily News-Record. A pdf of the article is here: Environmental Activist Groups Partner to Share Plastic’s Polluted Plot

Bob Corso interviewed EDED’s Elly Swecker on June 5 for WHSV TV’s 1on1: 1on1: Free screening of the film “The Story of Plastic”

CAAV’s Climate Voter Series: City Council Platforms

As part of our continuing Climate Voter promotion series, CAAV presents the following posts about the five candidates for Harrisonburg City Council’s Democratic Caucus closing May 16, 2020. Each post provides a short description of each candidate followed by their responses to a brief questionnaire CAAV prepared to better understand their positions on local climate change-related issues.

Please note, this series is intended to inform Harrisonburg residents about the platforms of all candidates and is not intended to be an endorsement of any particular candidate.

Click on a candidate’s name below to find their answers to the CAAV questions:

Richard Baugh

Luciano Benjamin

Laura Dent

Charles Hendricks

Deanna Reed

Update after the Democratic Caucus: Deanna Reed, Charles Hendricks, and Laura Dent will be on the November 3, 2020, ballot for Harrisonburg City Council.


As of the filing deadline, two non-Democratic candidates have announced their intention to run for Harrisonburg City Council. CAAV has asked them likewise to respond to its questionnaire.

morecandidates

 

George Hirschmann

Kathleen Kelley

 


The Citizen and the James Madison Center for Civic Engagement hosted a Virtual Town Hall with the 2020 Harrisonburg City Council Candidates on April 28. Find the YouTube video here.

Richard Baugh

Richard_Baugh

Richard Baugh (D) is an attorney and current member of the Harrisonburg Bar Association who is running for Harrisonburg City Council. He is running for re-election, and is currently the longest serving Council member. According to the Baugh for Council Facebook Page, his campaign centers around Planned Development, Quality of Life, and Community-First. Richard is a founding member of the Harrisonburg Environmental Performance Standards Advisory Committee (EPSAC) which prompted the city to develop and adopt the Harrisonburg Environmental Action Plan in 2019. He is supportive of the Harrisonburg 50 by 25 Campaign and has asked City staff to review its implementation.

See his responses to CAAV’s Questionnaire below:

1. Do you support the 50×25 campaign?

Yes.

2. How would you implement the 3 goals of the 50×25 campaign?

As requested from ongoing discussions with a number of constituents, I have asked City Staff to review the goals and let me know if they see any complications to Council endorsing the campaign. This review was already secondary to the annual budget process, and is now also behind addressing Covid-19 related issues. However, I discussed this with the City Attorney earlier this week, and we are hopeful we can keep this review moving and completed by the end of May. My intention is to bring this before Council once the review is complete.

As far as implementation, regarding Goal 1 I know there has been a great deal of review of the existing supply contract between HEC and Dominion Power. I am aware of an argument that HEC, especially if directed by Council, can take some unilateral action to force things in the desired direction. While I have a law degree and am not entirely unfamiliar with this area of the law, I also know from experience that people who have reached their own conclusion on this may not just take my word for it that things are unlikely to be that simple. My view is that what people are reviewing includes longstanding boilerplate language in lengthy agreements that were written with different circumstances and goals in mind than what we are looking at in the current world. In short, the more confidence anyone proclaims as to predictions on the legal issues, regardless of what those predictions are, the less confidence I have in the predictions. That is not to say I do not support pursuing the goal, because I do. In fact, it is another area where I have initiated current review by City Staff.

Goal 2 is more in the bailiwick of our Public Works Department. However, this may be less about near term staff review and more about how it fits in with processes already in place. On January 14 of this year, the City adopted an Environmental Action Plan. I won’t begin to repeat all of the relevant parts here. For anyone not already familiar with it, it’s available online and should make interesting reading for those who care about in these issues, especially if they are not already familiar with it. Since further comment on Goal 2 dovetails with the part of my response to Question 3 regarding implementation issues, I won’t repeat that here.

Goal 3 is likely to require efforts by both Public Works and HEC. Again, this is addressed generally in Phase 1 of the Environmental Action Plan and will be addressed in the Phase 2 process I outline in response to the next question. I will say that my sense is if there is an area where there may be low hanging fruit, it is this one. Details on specific recommendations are still to be determined, but this is an area it looks like our community has largely ignored. While this could definitely run into Covid-19 generated fiscal challenges, there is also the potential of low or no cost strategies to communicate and support assistance to City residents.

This may be the time to clarify that in a Covid-19 world any actions of any kind requiring new money are going to be a major challenge. The circumstances that will make this not be true are a quicker than expected economic recovery, or relevant federal relief. Anyone who disputes this is either ignoring the facts or has information I deeply hope they will share with me.

3. What would you do to increase or facilitate the adoption of renewable energies or solar in City and School buildings?

I refer again to the Plan adopted by Council on January 14 of this year, the formal name of which is Phase I of the Environmental Action Plan. Focus Area 1 of the Plan is “Buildings and Energy.” Goals 3 and 4 of the Plan speak directly to this question. These issues have already been identified as priorities for the City and have been affirmed through a thorough process that reflects approval and buy in by EPSAC (the City’s Environmental Performance Standards Advisory Committee), Staff and Council.

So, if there is a Phase 1, is there a Phase 2? Absolutely. Phase 2 will focus on
implementation, both as to strategies and developing specific policies. Absent a pandemic, more forward movement on Phase 2 would have already occurred. I will say this. My personal view is that this is less about what flashy concept I (or any other candidate) can articulate in this moment, and more about recognizing we have a process in place that is utilizing some of the best minds in the City on these subjects to make reality out of things Council has already endorsed. This most definitely includes “facilitating the adoption of renewable energies or solar in City and School buildings.”

4. How would you prioritize city and state resources for addressing environmental justice concerns, specifically energy efficiency for low income housing?

Let me first say that everything I say below is based on the assumption that funding would be from local dollars. If we’re talking about grant funding, that’s a different world. Our Staff is constantly on the lookout for opportunities in this area. Moreover, in the event there eventually is any federal Covid-19 relief, based on past examples it would not be surprising if it came in the form of grant opportunities, rather than general aid. In short, for these types of opportunities where grant funding becomes available, assume the City will pursue them.

Otherwise, if I understand the question correctly, it illustrates a tension I see that people are often unaware of in posing fiscal questions. My assumption is that this is driven by folks analogizing to things they know, which in this case is how they approach their own budgets, and what they know of how the Feds do it.

I have come to the view that what is most important about understanding local government finance is the ways that it is NOT like our personal or the federal budget. Framing the question as being about priorities is a federal mindset. That’s what they do. They fund large categories, often very generally. So, knowing how much is spent on education, versus defense, versus social programs, etc., and observing changes over time, can be very informative.

Local government finance is not like this at all. The vast majority of what we fund are core services that we don’t have the option of not providing, from education to infrastructure to mandated social services. Moreover, something people often miss by comparing us to their personal budgets, is that we aren’t just required to provide these services. We are usually mandated heavily as to how we provide them, which can drastically limit things like flexibility and efforts to economize.

As a result, our budget focus is not on weighing priorities among large general categories. Ours is on identifying the anticipated cost of providing specific services we are required to or otherwise intend to provide, and then finding the money to make this happen. As a result, we often get interesting inquiries from constituents about our priorities, when all they have done is look at the budget and say, “You increased spending for ______________, and decreased it for ______________, and I don’t like that.” Another favorite is, “Why does your budget only spend __% on ______________, while [someplace else] spends more?” In fact, the words are usually stronger than, “I don’t like that.” Things like basic intelligence and integrity are sometimes called into question.

A good example came up in one of the Great Recession years. I spoke with an irate
constituent, who could not believe that we had significantly increased the Parks and Rec budget, while decreasing it for the Fire Department. He felt a little better when I was able to communicate that the Parks and Rec increase was largely due to it being the first full year operations at the Simms Rec Center were included, and that the Fire Department decrease was simply due to senior staff retiring and being replaced by people who were paid less.

So, where would promoting energy efficiency for low income housing fit into traditional notions of core services? It’s not really obvious where it does, but probably somewhere in Public Works as a best guess. Again, the feds fund large categories of things to do what it perceives to be good stuff. Same with the state. Local government, not so much. That does not mean we would ignore this issue. We like doing good stuff. We are not, however, traditionally structured to be deep pockets for things that get much beyond core services.

And to stay on my soapbox a bit longer, I perceive increasing public interest, if not
demands, for non-core services from local government, and see this as a reflection of decades of leadership dysfunction, if not outright abdication, at the federal and state level. There are definitely good things that come from people being engaged at the local level, be it in issues such as the ones raised here or otherwise. However, I find myself thinking more and more that if I was observing from Mars, I would wonder why you have all these localities scrambling to address these issues on their own. Their resources are limited, and their scope does not move beyond borders that are close by. Moreover, it seems like what they’re good at, in fact what they’re designed to do, is more like implementation of policy set at higher levels. So, we end up with activism at the local level being a major driver for policy, when what comes from the higher levels is nothing or things that make the situation worse. Which we will support and continue to do, especially when leadership and direction from above is lacking. But it really is a less than optimal way of addressing these issues.

Heck, might as well keep the rant going. I am on a body called the LGAC, which is the
Local Government Advisory Committee to the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council. This committee is exactly what it sounds like. It is made up of local government officials from the 7 jurisdictions that make up the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Its function is to advise the Executive Council (the 6 Governors and Mayor of the 7 member jurisdictions) on Bay policy with an emphasis on the impact on local governments. Among its activities, it produces annual recommendations to the Executive Council. So, what is a major running theme of that group? Someone noticed that going back 20 years something that was on the list most every year, usually as the first item, was about the failure to appreciate just how hard it is on local governments to be given increased mandates to do more stuff (often really good stuff), when it never seems to come with any funding.

I bring this up simply to point out that local governments catch it from the top down and the bottom up, in the sense that it is convenient for people to believe we can always handle one more thing. Especially if it does good and doesn’t cost THAT much money. I do see the bottom up pressure as less of an issue, since that is at least coming from the people who will be paying for the increased expense. I also believe many if not most in our community are generally willing to take on some additional financial burden to promote things they support, such as environmental justice concerns. However, over the near term anything that requires new revenue is going to be on hold. Even in the rosy scenario, we will be spending the next few months coming to grips with how to keep our books balanced (which we are required by law to do) and core services functioning in light of major reductions in revenue.

On the specific question, in short there are 2 ways to do it. Top down would be that Council votes to do something along these lines. Of course, that runs into the challenge, especially now, that you would need to directly articulate how you find the funds to do it. Bottom up would be that a City Department finds a way to get funding for something like this into what becomes an approved budget.

5. What do you think about recycling?

How much time do you have?

First, I have nothing but good things to say about how Staff has stepped up to deal with our solid waste issues. I assume most everyone reading this knows the recent history. For a number of years, Harrisonburg was able to utilize a single stream system. One effect of this was to replace a long standing voluntary curbside recycling program.

Of course, what was a limited market for many recyclable plastics became literally no
market. With no advance notice, we were told by the company that was taking our solid waste that they simply were not going to service us anymore. We literally had to redesign our solid waste management on the fly. I can say with confidence that if there was one aspect of this where Council spoke clearly to Staff, it was that however we moved forward, we wanted the recycling issue to remain at the forefront.

That has led to our recycling program in its current form. Is it everything we desire? No. Does it reflect prioritized attention and constant openness and flexibility regarding program improvements? It does.

An interesting aside is that recent data shows we have reached the point where our
recycling levels now exceed what we had during the old voluntary curbside program. This reflects very well on our community. It also probably reflects some changes in the community. But it brings to mind some interesting push back I received when we stopped curbside recycling. I cannot attribute this to anything other than the virtuousness felt by many of us who did curbside recycling. I literally had people come to me asking us to reinstate it, and insisting that everything was going into a landfill or was otherwise not as advertised with the single stream program. The fact is, when that program was functioning, it was functioning very well. Our recycling numbers were well ahead of anything we ever achieved with the curbside program, or where we are now.

Which brings me to my soapbox moment for this question. This is a pretty serious issue, particularly as it pertains to plastics. We clipped along for years, especially when we put things in a recycling bin, confidant that the plastic fairies were taking it all away to a good place where it got “recycled.” How exactly did it get recycled? For most of us, the answer was, “I don’t know, it just gets recycled.”

What a lot of it actually did was end up in China, because that was the market where
someone was willing to pay at least a few pennies for it. There aren’t many of us who would have thought it was OK for it to end up in a Chinese landfill, the Pacific Ocean, or maybe being burned over there where any near-term effects of the fumes would be their problem.

So, when the scab got ripped off of this, many of us discovered that our assumptions about what happened to recycled plastics were wrong and had been wrong for years. Why? Because mythology notwithstanding, under the current market structure it is still incredibly cheap to produce the next plastic package. By comparison, it is expensive (absent some still small-scale creative uses that have been devised in some areas) to repurpose an existing piece of plastic, if it is even possible to find any use for it.

To me the depth of this challenge is illustrated by something a lot of us know, the Green New Deal. What is the standard critique of the Green New Deal? OK, it’s not like I agree with it, but you hear things like too aspirational, not practical, and definitely that it’s too expensive to implement. My point is this. In what’s held up as a significant progressive statement on where we need to go, what does it say about plastics and other solid waste management challenges? Other than what you might infer generally, nothing.

Which is interesting, because it may not be rocket science. What would you do from a policy standpoint if you have too much of something undesirable being produced (driven by low costs of production), and too little of countervailing efforts? Wouldn’t you tax the one (and couldn’t you do worse than just point out that this production is imposing costs on the larger society where it needs to stop getting a free ride), subsidize the other, or maybe do both?

Anyway, I find it interesting that the only place I’ve found where this even gets discussed a little bit is with the LGAC group. Local governments down in the trenches know this is an issue, even if others continue to ignore it. Of course, local governments in Virginia do not have the authority to tax manufacturers or the resources to give significant subsidies to alternatives.

In the meantime, we will continue our commitment to doing what we can, and trying to improve whenever we can, in the current environment.

6. Is there anything Harrisonburg can do to reduce transportation emissions, the largest
sector of climate change emissions in Virginia and the United States?

I again refer to our Environmental Action Plan. Focus Area 4, Sustainable Transportation, speaks to this in some detail. And to recap, the adoption of Phase 1 of the Plan affirms the City’s commitment to this goal. Phase 2 will be the deep dive into specific actions and strategies to implement the Phase 1 goals and values. So, I will again suggest that what is more important to the City is supporting a process that many have worked hard to put into place, than to focus on anything flashy or passionate that I (or any other candidate) might articulate in the moment.

I will conclude with a final point that flows from this but has not been mentioned. The
City’s current draft budget for 2020-2021 is essentially the 2019-2020 budget, with a short list of changes we know will happen or that reflect particular priorities, and subject to what will almost certainly be significant Covid-19 driven revisions as our actual revenue shortfalls becomes clearer.

I bring this up because the very short list of additions includes funding for a greenhouse
gas assessment recommended by the Environmental Action Plan. One of the things we keep running into in reviewing the best thinking in these areas is that while it’s great to promote this or that innovative idea, if you haven’t taken inventory of your community, you are in some sense flying blind. Sure, most anything you promote that looks like it will do some good will probably do some good. But if we want to be effective, which seems especially important if we are going to be challenged to come up with new money in the next or even next few budget cycles, we can use all the insight we can get into what we are actually accomplishing.

While I very much hope funding for the study will survive the budget challenges of the
coming year, it’s worth noting that things which have been identified as priorities tend to stay that way. So, even if timing turns out to be an issue, the fact is Council is poised to affirm that getting this study done is a priority over numerous other things the City could be doing.

A pdf version of Richard Baugh’s answers to the CAAV questions can be found here.