We Must Start Reducing Emissions

Daily News-Record, May 13, 2022
Letter to the Editor: Les Grady

Regarding Mona Charen’s column in the May 9 DN-R: I agree with Ms. Charen’s message that climate change “is not an extinction-level event” — for humans.

Nevertheless, the need for action is urgent.

Contrary to her statement, climate scientists know very well how much Earth will warm: Warming is directly proportional to the amount of fossil CO2 emitted to the atmosphere. This has allowed the establishment of carbon budgets. The remaining budget for a two-thirds chance of holding warming to 1.5°C “will likely be exhausted before 2030” at the current rate of CO2 emissions (IPCC, WGIII, 2022). The budget for a similar chance of holding warming to 2°C is larger, so it won’t be exhausted for 25 years at current emission rates. Either way, it is obvious that the sooner we start reducing emissions, the longer the time required to exhaust the budgets and the longer we have to solve the problem. The message — we must start now, even as we perfect our technologies.

So, who should be doing the cutting? Ms. Charen seems to be concerned about the current emission rates of China, India, etc. However, a look at history provides another perspective. From 1751 to 2020, China contributed 13.8% of the CO2 emitted and India 3.4%. The U.S., on the other hand contributed 24.4%, the largest of any nation. So rather than worrying about who will enforce current climate agreements, we should be more concerned about putting our own house in order, while improving our economy in the process.

Leslie Grady Jr.

Rockingham

Climate and Energy News Roundup 5/6/2022

If we continue with more of the same, we can kiss 1.5°C goodbye. Even 2 degrees may be out of reach. And that would be catastrophe. This is madness. Addiction to fossil fuels is mutually assured destruction. — UN Secretary-General António Guterres

Our Climate Crisis

Christiana Figueres, a former UN climate chief and co-author of The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis, says that we’re caught between joy and despair. We can be grateful that pledges by countries to reduce emissions made since the Paris agreement could keep global warming within 2°C. That is a huge improvement on where we’d be headed without these efforts but it doesn’t even come close to the 1.5°C goal and will lead to a world that will not be livable for vast swaths of humanity. Christiana comments, “So we are caught between two truths, and two deep feelings in our bones: outrage and optimism. Both are valid responses and both are necessary.”

South Asia is at the forefront of places in the world where climate change could make life become unbearable before the end of the century. Temperatures have recently soared to dangerously high levels in India and Pakistan. While this part of the world is no stranger to extreme heat, scientists say that recent heat waves have been worsened by climate change. The high temperatures are increasing the danger of fires, contributing to the predicted 20% decrease in the regional wheat harvest, and the danger of river flooding caused by rapidly melting glaciers in the Himalayas. 

A scientific study at Princeton University finds that marine life will be decimated by 2300 at the current pace of global warming. That would be on par with the mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs. On the other hand, if we can rein in emissions to keep within the upper limit of the Paris climate agreement, it would reduce ocean extinction risks by more than 70 percent.

Rising groundwater levels and intensifying rains, exacerbated by climate change, are creating overflowing septic tanks and back-yard drain fields. This causes smelly, unhealthy wastewater to collect in yards and back up into homes, creating vexing problems for homeowners and local governments. The problem is especially pronounced in the coastal middle peninsula of Virginia, which local people refer to as suffering from a “soggy socks” problem. In a related story, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has placed colonial Jamestown on a list of the country’s most endangered historical places because it is losing its battle with rising water levels caused by climate change.

Politics and Policy

Maryland just passed one of the most aggressive climate laws in the US. It mandates reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the state to 60 percent below 2006 levels by 2031 and sets a 2045 deadline for achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions across the state’s economy. Central to that effort will be reducing energy use in buildings, which are responsible for about 40 percent of Maryland’s carbon emissions.

California recently announced its plan to phase out all new gas-powered cars by 2035. Under the proposed plan the state will require 35 percent of new passenger vehicles sold in 2026 to be powered by batteries or hydrogen before making it mandatory for all passenger vehicles less than a decade later. If enacted, the plan will mark a big clean energy transition as 12.4% of new vehicles sold in California are currently zero-emissions.

Sen. Joe Manchin, a proponent of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), praised the recent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approval of the MVP plan to bore under streams and wetlands at 120 locations in West Virginia and Virginia after the original plan to cross these areas by open trenching had been rejected. The approval is, however, contingent on the success of other permitting processes that are being held up in court.

In another development, Sen. Manchin and Republican lawmakers have publicly denounced FERC for adopting rules requiring energy regulators to consider new gas pipelines’ effects on climate change and environmental justice. In response to the political pressure from Manchin and Republicans, FERC backtracked and voted to recategorize the policies as mere drafts that wouldn’t apply to new gas projects. Part of the reason for the new rules had been court rulings that FERC had ignored climate change and environmental justice in its approval of projects.

In an even more recent development, Sen. Manchin and several of his colleagues in Congress have begun talks to gauge bipartisan interest in a climate deal. One policy that has been repeatedly mentioned in these talks is some form of carbon pricing legislation.

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality recently rolled out several major changes to the management of stormwater runoff from solar farms, saying prior policies may have underestimated the impact of stormwater runoff. The solar industry worries that the policy shift could dampen efforts to build renewable energy, but some local officials and environmental groups say it could help to better account for how precipitation, which is increasing in both frequency and intensity due to climate change, interacts with solar farms. 

Energy

As part of President Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill, Virginia will receive $31.8M this fiscal year to fund projects to cut down on carbon emissions. Executive Director of VA Clean Cities, Alleyn Harned says it’s a step in the right direction because “transportation is our leading source of greenhouse gases in the commonwealth and in the country and in Harrisonburg. And for us to be able to see some light at the end of the tunnel with a valued federal program like this really presents a lot of great opportunities.”

The sales of electric vehicles have been rising in the first quarter of this year while just about every other category is falling. This surge was enough to double EVs’ share of the market to 5.2 percent, up from 2.5 percent in the first quarter of 2021.

Virginia generated more electricity from the sun than from coal in 2021. This is a first for our state, which ranked number four in the country in solar installation last year.

A Virginia legislative bill that creates a property tax exemption for residential and mixed-use solar energy systems up to 25 kilowatts was signed into law by Gov. Glen Youngkin. The bill expands clean energy choice for consumers and promotes the local solar industry. It attracts businesses and creates jobs in our state. For some unknown reason, local state house delegates Tony Wilt and Chris Runion both voted against the bill.

In a move that runs counter to his top priority of lowering Virginian’s cost-of-living, Gov. Glen Youngkin vetoed an overwhelmingly bipartisan bill aimed at lowering the electric consumption of veterans, low-income, elderly and disabled ratepayers. The bill targets energy savings by focusing energy efficiency projects on those homes that are the most dilapidated and difficult to weatherize.

In a bid to show that it is working to increase the domestic oil supply as prices surge in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Biden administration announced plans to resume selling leases for new oil and gas drilling on public lands. This violates a signature campaign pledge made by Mr. Biden to climate activists when he was running for office.

Climate Justice

Low-income households in the US spent an average of 8.1 percent of their income on energy costs, compared to 2.3 percent for wealthier households. That’s why poor families often need to pull back on other expenses, like medicine, groceries, or childcare to cover their energy bills. One consistently overlooked aspect of our nation’s affordable housing crisis is the staggering number of homes occupied by poor families that require substantial repairs before they are eligible for federal weatherization funds. To address this, a bipartisan group of Pennsylvania state legislators is putting forward the Whole-Home Repairs Act, providing a legislative solution to the problem. It will do so by providing eligible residents with grants up to $50,000 to make needed home repairs. Small landlords could apply for the same amount in forgivable loans.

In an effort to bring down the price of gasoline, President Biden recently visited Iowa to announce his plan to accelerate the production of ethanol from corn. This is at a time when poor people around the world are suffering because the price of food grains around the world are skyrocketing because of the war in Ukraine. The amount of corn it takes to fill an SUV with ethanol could feed a person for a year.

Climate Action

Environmental activist Bill McKibben is stepping away from some of his other involvements to  help launch a new organization, called Third Act, aimed at engaging activists over age 60. He is in that age bracket himself and said that “he’s become convinced that his generation should more actively join the climate movement, following in the footsteps of a galvanized youth. He noted that Americans his age and older have a large share of the country’s financial assets and a tendency to vote in high numbers, giving them political power.”

Using commercial solar installations as pastureland for sheep is proving beneficial for farmers and solar operators, while sequestering carbon and improving soil health. Still in its infancy, such combined use of solar sites makes sense on various levels. Flocks of sheep are already grazing contentedly under and around solar panels in Virginia and other states.

Levels of methane in the atmosphere have been increasing steadily over the past 15 years. Last year they rose by a record amount over the year before for the second year in a row. Most methane spews from oil and natural gas operations, sometimes through unintentional leaks. Other sources of methane include livestock, landfills, and the natural decay of organic material in wetlands. While it is less abundant and not as long-lasting as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it has more potent near-term effects. That makes quickly cutting down methane emissions crucial to combating global warming.

Your household can cut down on its carbon emissions by switching from your old gas range to a new super-efficient induction electric range. You’ll be surprised by how quickly and precisely it heats—beating a gas range on both counts. It also eliminates the indoor pollution of a gas range. Click here to learn more about cooking with an induction range. Or you can ask me about how I like our induction range.

Earl Zimmerman
CAAV Steering Committee

Virginia Environmental News Roundup for April 2022

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley is pleased to provide Harrisonburg’s The Citizen with a monthly survey of energy and environmental news stories about Virginia.

With their permission, we are re-posting these pieces here after they appear in the Citizen.


The link to this piece as first published by the Citizen is HERE.

Statewide Environmental News Roundup for April 2022

Energy

The 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act required the state’s utilities to move aggressively into the renewable energy arena. Virginia Business reports that “Virginia’s largest electric utilities [Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power] are deploying an array of technologies as they decarbonize, digitalize and decentralize their power grids to meet the state’s and their own clean energy goals.” An SCC hearing examiner will issue a decision on Appalachian Power’s proposals “pretty quickly.” The projected costs of the utilities’ plans are raising concerns.

Dominion’s offshore wind project is maing news:

In 2021 Virginia produced more power from solar than from coal and “was number four in the country … in installation of solar facilities.” “Virginia solar output more than double[d] in one year,” a lot of it in Southside and most of it in utility scale facilities. Dominion will build a solar facility on 800+ acres at Dulles airport. Dominion is moving forward with its plan for a solar facility in Mecklenburg County and in Lunenburg CountyDominion wants to charge a hefty fee for shared solarraising questions about whether such a fee would spell the end of this program, intended to help renters and low- and moderate income people to access solar energy.

Norfolk Solar is offering a program to offer churches in low- or moderate income areas the opportunity to install solar panels under an investor‑funded program offering repayment from saved energy costs. An Arlington County “church [is] ‘leading by example’ on climate action through solar [and] efficiency.” Tiger Solar installed solar panels on McDonough Toyota in Staunton. Carilion announced “the solar arrays at its … New River Valley Medical Center have generated $113,633 from the sales of solar renewable energy credits and reduced Carilion’s carbon dioxide emissions by 5,368 metric tons.” “807 utility-scale, commercial rooftop, community solar and solar storage projects have been stuck in a growing regulatory traffic jam,” [awaiting] PJM Interconnection.” PJM ”coordinates electricity transmission in 13 states [including Virginia] and the District of Columbia, [and needs] to complete the required studies that would move the projects forward.” Other solar project applications, approvals and rejections: Gloucester, Isle of WightSurry CountyScottsburg/Halifax CountyCharlotte CountyNottoway CountyFrederick and Pittsylvania Counties.

“Dominion [E]nergy promise[d] $17 Million over the next three years to help boost reliability in Alexandria. The money will fund 20 improvement projects….” Dominion agreed to study whether/how its costly Wise coal plant, which isn’t producing much electricity, should continue in operation.

The Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance produced a chronicle of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Litigation continues on the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). The 4th Circuit Appeals Court “left in place a Jan. 25 decision that invalidated federal authorizations allowing the 304-mile … Mountain Valley Pipeline to cross the Jefferson National Forest.”MVP’s owners won’t appeal an adverse ruling on its proposed Southgate Extension. Columbia Gas is seeking the okay to replace 48 miles of existing pipes in Hampton. “Virginia Natural Gas (VNG) is working with state and local governments to modernize its pipeline infrastructure and promote safe digging [b]y upgrading and replacing more than 400 miles of older pipes.” Two bloggers assessed how the Virginia Natural Gas Industry sees its future, based on new state laws.

Dulles Airport eyes [an] all electric bus fleet.” Campbell County is “rolling out” two new electric school buses;” Waynesboro is adding six. “Virginia will receive $165.8 million in funding under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to provide Virginians with more transportation options, ease congestion in local communities, and reduce carbon pollution.”

Climate and Environment

Bristol’s landfill problems may be on the way to resolution:

DEQ released the 2020 TOXIC RELEASE INVENTORY REPORT showing a “slight overall increase, but individual releases to land and air continue downward trend.” Waynesboro will remake a former landfill into a “public recreational greenspace.” Some residents believe there are better uses for the money. Non-profit Sustainability Matters partnered with Shenandoah County to launch Phase II of their Making Trash Bloom project.

The Virginia Department of Energy is seeking applications for former coal mine reclamationWaste operators will be paying higher landfill fees, based on new legislation. Falls Church’s 5₵ plastic bag tax took effect April 1.

Lynnhaven River Now … is using recycled concrete from all over the city to lay in the Lynnhaven Inlet near the Lesner Bridge in order to rehab the oyster population. Recent legislation provided a “boost [in] spending for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program Office in Annapolis to $88 million this year.

“Legislation aimed at increasing tree canopies across Virginia passed both chambers of the General Assembly (GA) after legislators compromised on removing language around equity.” Senators Kaine and Warner are “leading an effort to create a Shenandoah Mountain National scenic Area.” A federal district court challenge to the National Forest Service Trump-era regulations expanding “a categorical exclusion to forest management activities including logging in national forests” failed but is on appeal. The Biden administration’s currently proposed regulatory revisions to the same regulations do not “restore the bar” in effect prior to the 2020 changes. The “broad coalition of Appalachian environmental groups, including four Virginia organizations … [that] sued the agency … [believe] the 2020 exclusions would ‘cause significant harm to publicly owned national forests across the country and to members of the public who use those lands.’”

The 2022 GA’s legislative record was mixed in terms of environmental protections. Shellfish growers in the state considered the session successful because no harm was done to the industry.

Charlottesville has made headway on its plan to reduce carbon emissions and is seeking citizen input through two surveys. The UVA Environmental Resilience Institute reported its optimism that the state can meet its net-zero carbon emissions goal by 2050, though more cuts are needed. The American West’s megadrought will be felt in Virginia’s grocery stores, as food prices increase, according to this blogger.

The Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges’ heat-mapping study found “major temperature swings within Virginia localities.” DEQ will be monitoring air pollution from coal facilities in Hampton Roads. In contrast to Maryland and North Carolina, Virginia missed an EPA deadline for submitting its air quality report. Even so, the American Lung Association said “Virginia cities have some of the cleanest air in the country”—including Harrisonburg, Roanoke, Staunton and Richmond.

Flooding events throughout Virginia will continue and, according to climate advocates, “there is not nearly enough funding from the state to support current flood survivors and invest in mitigation project.”

“Eastern Mennonite University’s Earthkeepers club and Sustainable Food Initiative (SFI) presented at the first annual Student Sustainability Summit on April 9 at the Staunton Innovation Hub. … [T]he event, which included 10 research and project presentations, … was co-hosted by Sustainable Shenandoah Valley (SSV) and Net Impact, with the goal of bringing together networks of undergraduate students and community organizations who work in similar areas of impact relating to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.” JMU students celebrated Earth Week with a variety of events, and a JMU student made a case that “Climate change is affecting Harrisonburg.”

Action Alerts

  • Donate to the Shenandoah Valley Black Heritage Project’s Energy Efficiency and Solar Effort. CAAV supports helping SVBHP reduce its energy costs; we hope you will too.
  • Give VDOT your views on its proposed project that “widens I-81 northbound and southbound to three lanes between exit 221 (I-64 interchange) and exit 225 (Route 262/Woodrow Wilson Parkway).” VDOT will hold an open forum public hearing from 4 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 24, in the VDOT Staunton District office auditorium, 811 Commerce Road, Staunton.
  • Drive an EV, a hybrid, or other fuel-efficient vehicle and don’t pile up the miles? You now pay a flat highway use fee, regardless of how many miles you drive it. Effective July 1, you’ll have the option to choose another payment method. Find out how

Check out…

  • Cville100 Climate Coalition Special Meeting: “Virginia’s Proposal to Leave the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).” Speaker: Prof. Cale Jaffe, Univ. VA School of Law, 6:30 P.M. Tuesday, May 10, 2022. Zoom link at www.cville100-climate.org. For more information, contact Tom Olivier.
  • Shenandoah Valley blogpost about the American chestnut.
  • Profile of Dante, Virginia, “an ex-coalmining town [that] is turning to ecotourism to rebuild its economy.”
  • Assessments of the extent to which rural Virginia areas can “and should shoulder the load for energy production” and whether “Virginia is at a solar crossroad.”
  • Virginia Department of Forestry’s 50% cost-share program to support treatment of ash trees damaged by the Emerald Ash Borer. It’s accepting applications through June 17. “Landowners with ash trees on their property should consider treatment or removal performed by a qualified arborist. If you are not sure if your tree is an ash, see VDOF’s online resources or contact your local VDOF forester for assistance.”

Why not 

  • Attend these on-line workshops on invasive plants sponsored by Blue PRISM:
  • On May 10 from 1 to 3 pm learn how to confidently identify different species in the summer season. Register here. Price is $10. 
  • On May 12 find out how to best manage invasive plants during the summer season and receive instruction on using manual & /or chemical control methods, the proper use of herbicides and ways to minimize it, and planning a work schedule with best timings for multiple plants. Register here. Price is $10.      OR
  • Attend this in-person session on May 22 at Charlottesville’s Pen Park from 12:30 to 3:30 pm. This event will cover the above topics including herbicide safety, using hand tools and power tools safely, and identification of specific invasive shrubs and vines. There will also be a short plant walk in the park. Register here. Price is $25.
  • Learn how oyster reefs in the Virginia Coastal Reserve are helping the Chesapeake Bay eco-system.
  • Find out how and why Virginia Tech is pursuing Bee Campus USA certification as part of its Climate Action Commitment.
  • Watch this story about the “state of litter” in Virginia during this Earth Day month.
  • Hike or mountain bike the Henry County’s now‑open trail along the Mayo River, near the not-yet-open 600+-acre Mayo River State Park.

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV) is a non-profit, grassroots group in the Central Shenandoah Valley that educates legislators and the public about the implications of the Earth’s worsening climate crisis.

Thanks To HEC For Solar Program

Daily News-Record, Apr 6, 2022
Open Forum: Doug Hendren

Congratulations to Harrisonburg Electric Commission for establishing the “Friendly City Solar Program.” You listened to customers wanting clean energy but unable to install their own. Thank you also for supporting a growing base of solar net-metering customers, enabling Harrisonburg in 2018 to become Virginia’s first city to pass 1% solar power, and now closing in on 2%. You have enabled Harrisonburg to be the birthplace of a unique “solar barn-raising” tradition and the GiveSolar model for solarizing Habitat for Humanity homes. We are fortunate to have a municipal utility — public power owned by the city. I have attended many monthly HEC meetings; the commissioners take their responsibility seriously.

Shifting to clean energy is essential. We are all aware of the growing seriousness of climate disruption, and other uncounted costs of extracting, transporting, defending and burning dirty fuels — in lives and in dollars. Local residents have worked on these issues for years through Climate Action Alliance of the Valley, 50by25, Sierra Club and EPSAC. Our City Council has stepped up as well, creating EPSAC (2017), an Environmental Action Plan and a Renewable Energy Resolution (both 2020), and an updated 2040 Vision Statement (2021).

What is the right price for solar? Residential power from Dominion’s Acorn Drive solar farm will cost 11.5 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity. This is higher than HEC’s regular residential price of 9.9 cents (base rate of 8.48 cents plus a fuel adjustment factor, currently 1.439 cents). A fuel adjustment factor is necessary because the cost of fuel fluctuates. Increased natural gas costs last October raised HEC residential rates by about 12%. Solar power, in contrast, has no fuel but sunshine, and no fuel adjustment factor.

It may seem sensible to pay more for clean energy. HEC’s price is only a little higher than Rappahannock Electric Cooperative’s solar (10.7 cents). Other localities, however, get solar cheaper than conventional power, like Fairfax County (6.9 cents). Prices depend on who owns it.

Why are we paying more? The current price, while high, is probably the best HEC can do without our help. Why? The contract with Dominion Energy requires 100% of HEC’s power to come from Dominion. Except when instructed by Dominion, HEC cannot generate any power itself. This does not apply to “behind-the-meter” residential, commercial or school solar.

To provide more clean energy, HEC must buy it from Dominion, which will own and operate our local solar farm, selling power to HEC, who sells it to us. Dominion is an investor-owned utility, serving its shareholders. Dominion wields considerable monopoly power, holding most of the cards in any negotiation. Dominion is permitted by law to pass on all costs to ratepayers, plus a 10% profit, including “impairment costs” for stranded assets, such as early retirement of coal-burning plants. In 2021, HEC paid Dominion $7.2 million in impairment costs. Buying solar from Dominion includes paying for their old, polluting plants, coal ash liabilities, and built-in profits.

Can we do better? Maybe not until the next contract (2031). Utility contracts are typically negotiated eight years ahead. For competitively priced solar in 2031, we must negotiate for it today. One successful approach is a “carve-out” in the Dominion contract, allowing HEC to generate, say, up to 10% of its power locally.

The price gap is widening. Competitively priced solar, already cheaper than power from dirty sources, is today the power of choice for low-income residents in some markets (for example, New Orleans). According to HEC, Dominion prices are scheduled to go up on average at least 3.6% per year for every year in the next decade. The U.S. Department of Energy (google “Sunshot Initiative”) says solar prices will fall by about the same amount by 2030, to just a fraction of the cost from dirty sources. It is particularly unfair to deny low-income residents access to cheap solar power going forward.

Will more local solar reduce HEC revenues? No. With the increased electrification of homes and businesses, and electric vehicle adoption, overall grid demand will at least double between now and 2040. Rooftop solar is by comparison a drop in the bucket. Operating local HEC-owned generation could be profitable at or below HEC’s current standard rates. The higher rates from the Dominion-Acorn solar farm should not set the standard for Harrisonburg’s future. We can do better, and should insist on access to a competitively priced alternative — strengthening HEC in the process. Local generation will also strengthen our community, by keeping at home in our local economy some of the $50 million currently flowing out to Dominion every year.

Any solar that displaces fossil fuels is good. We should do what we can to ensure our community is getting it at a competitive price. Therefore, HEC should obtain a 10% carve-out in its contract with Dominion, allowing it to generate electricity from low-cost, locally owned renewable sources.

Doug Hendren lives in Harrisonburg.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 4/5/2022

Reversing the climate crisis cannot be done by one country, one economic sector, one industry, one culture, or one demographic. There is not going to be a magic technology that will fix it. We cannot wait to see if experts, governments, or corporations figure out how to end the crisis, because they can’t by themselves. The crisis, if it could speak, would tell us all that we have forgotten that we truly are a “we,” and nothing less than our joint effort is sufficient to reverse decades and centuries of exploiting people and the earth. Climate change and poverty have the same roots. —Paul Hawken

Our Climate Crisis

Countries racing to replace Russian oil, gas and coal with their own dirty energy are making matters worse, warns United Nations secretary general António Guterres. Continuing to rely on fossil fuels instead of pivoting to clean energy is “sleepwalking to climate catastrophe.” While we are making progress in bending the curve in emissions, they are still set to increase by 14% in the next decade. The most recent report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change claims that it’s still possible to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate change if societies take immediate, drastic action. This includes slashing annual greenhouse gas emissions by almost half in the next eight years and finding a way to zero out carbon pollution by the middle of the century.

Embedded in all future calculations on climate change is the assumption that global economic activity will increase steadily throughout this century. The Covid pandemic has, however, demonstrated that a future health pandemic could dramatically curtail economic activity. Furthermore, the frightening possible escalation of the war in Ukraine (which could even go nuclear) makes global economic collapse no longer seem inconceivable. In the most extreme scenario, nuclear war could even cause extensive global cooling and create a nuclear winter.

Unusually high temperatures have recently been recorded in both Antarctica and the Arctic. The Arctic, as a whole, was 3.3°C warmer than average, while the Antarctic, as a whole, was 4.8°C warmer than average. These temperature spikes have shocked researchers, who warn that such extremes will become more common as a result of the climate crisis. In a related occurrence, a 450-square-mile ice shelf recently collapsed in the eastern part of Antarctica. This is the first observed collapse of an ice shelf in that region of the continent since satellites began observing Antarctica nearly half a century ago.

Using an “OK doomer” riff on “OK boomer,” some young climate activists are focusing on climate solutions in response to the all too common doomsday focus on how bad things are. While they do not want to minimize the climate crisis, they believe that “focusing solely on terrible climate news can sow dread and paralysis, foster inaction, and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.” Using social media, they seek to change the narrative by highlighting positive climate news as well as offer ways that people can personally become engaged in fighting the climate crisis.

Politics and Policy

Dominion Energy has received regulatory approval in Virginia for a series of solar projects expected to generate enough electricity to power 250,000 homes. This is the second batch of annual projects submitted under the 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act, which calls for 16,100 megawatts in solar or wind energy projects to be in place or under way by 2035. Accordingly, projects of a similar scale will be submitted by Dominion every year over the next 15 years.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, recently laid out some energy policies he supports, including a tax credit for clean energy manufacturing, replacing fossil fuel generation with advanced nuclear power, developing hydrogen energy, and the development of carbon capture technology. It is reported that he is willing to negotiate on a slimmed down clean energy bill in the coming months. Because of his pivotal role in an evenly divided senate, the climate lobby and other senators are being very circumspect in criticizing him in hopes that he will support at least part of their clean energy agenda.

Now weatherization, a decades-old program, has become central to the Biden administration’s plans to cut Americans’ power bills and lower fossil fuel emissions. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm announced roughly $3.2 billion of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill will be used  to retrofit hundreds of thousands of homes in low-income communities. Emphasizing the potential cost savings, she noted that the program has lowered some families’ power bills by as much as 30 percent.

Energy

Data from 75 countries, which represent 93% of the global power demand, shows that clean energy—including wind, solar, hydropower, nuclear, and biofuels—accounted for a total of 38% of the world’s electricity generated in 2021. The share wind and solar has more than doubled to 10.3% from 4.6% when the Paris Climate Agreement was signed in 2015. A big part of this growth stems from advancements in technology which has cut the price of solar electricity by 89%, and the price of onshore wind by 70%.

Tony Smith, CEO of Virginia solar energy company Secure Futures, says that the best way to unhook from oil and gas wars is by rapidly transitioning to solar energy. Their company introduced the first solar Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) in Virginia, with a 104-kW rooftop solar array at Eastern Mennonite University in 2010. Today there are 700 times as many kWs of solar energy produced under solar PPAs in Virginia. Even so, natural gas still accounts for 61 percent of the electricity generation in our state. We should rapidly transition to solar, which is much cleaner, cheaper, and not tied to the volatility of global fossil fuel markets.

Efforts to electrify commercial vehicles have lagged behind EV passenger cars. That is now rapidly beginning to change. Carriers such as UPS, Amazon, and FedEx are investing billions to build out EV delivery fleets. At the same time, the US Postal Service ordered as many as 148,000 gas guzzling mail delivery trucks despite opposition from top environmental regulators and directives from the Biden administration to green the federal fleet.

Decarbonizing heavy industry such as steel manufacturing and transportation will depend on alternative fuels such as green hydrogen, which still remain prohibitively expensive. Australian researchers now claim they have made a giant technological leap in producing affordable green hydrogen. Denmark has also made a big investment in green hydrogen, including subsidies to make it commercially viable. Given the war in Ukraine, they see this as an important step in achieving independence from fossil fuels.

The United Kingdom, as an island nation, is making big investments in clean tidal energy, which is on track to be cheaper than both nuclear power and fossil fuels. While the country presently produces only 3% of its energy this way, the goal is to increase that to 10%. To help reach this goal, a North Wales firm recently secured £31m ($40.75m) in government funding to develop a tidal energy project in the Irish Sea.

Climate Justice

Internationally recognized environmental lawyer and climate negotiator, Farhana Yamin was a key architect of the Paris climate agreement who helped to secure the goal of net-zero emissions by midcentury. When Donald Trump then pulled the US out of the Paris agreement and other countries continually delayed strong action on climate, she decided “we cannot rely on lawyers and diplomats alone.” She came to see that the climate movement is fragile because it mostly relies on insider tactics and not on movement building. She, therefore, became involved with social mobilization and nonviolent action to advance the cause. More recently she has begun social organizing with frontline communities of color in Britain and is helping to mobilize more broadly with a focus on climate justice.

Climate Action

Climate change is spurring a movement to build more resilient homes. FEMA told Becky Nixon that she would receive another mobile home after her triple-wide trailer on the Florida panhandle was destroyed by hurricane Michael in 2018. She, instead, had a brand new two-bedroom home built for her in a joint effort of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH), Samaritan’s Purse, and donated materials. The home was built to considerably more than standard requirements for energy efficiency and hurricane ratings following guidelines advocated by the Resilient Design Institute.

Charlottesville, VA is on track to reduce carbon emissions by 45% by 2030. Overall, emissions are down 30% from 2011 even though energy use is up. Much of this progress is because of the availability of cleaner electricity. Heating and the cooling of homes consumes the largest amounts of energy in the city. Susan Kruse, the executive director of the Community Climate Collaborative, says this makes residential energy efficiency programs especially important. There has, however, been a virtually non-existent drop in emissions from vehicles. This makes weaning vehicles off of fossil fuels vital, as is getting people to use buses and public transport. Moving to a fleet of electric city buses will have an even greater impact.

The food system produces about one-third of our greenhouse emissions. This calls for making dramatic cuts to reach our goal of cutting emissions to zero by 2050 to limit global warming to 1.5°C. Furthermore, we will need to feed a population expected to approach 10 billion by 2050, meaning we’ll need to make those drastic cuts while increasing food production by more than 50 percent. This calls for huge structural changes in how we grow, process, package, and distribute food. On a personal level, changing our eating behaviors is perhaps the most impactful change we can make. Some suggested practices are:  

  • Move to a mostly plant-based diet.
  • Buy locally grown food.
  • Eat everything you buy.
  • Eat healthy amounts.

This shift will not only help combat climate change. Other environmental harms driven by the food industry include loss of biodiversity, vital forest ecosystems being destroyed for grazing and farming purposes, fertilizer runoff creating dead zones in the ocean, and the massive extinction and loss of insects due to pesticides.

Earl Zimmerman
CAAV Steering Committee

Dear Valley Legislators …

Daily News-Record, March 25, 2022
Open Forum: Jo Anne St. Clair

An open letter to Valley legislators from Climate Action Alliance of the Valley:

We are writing about the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and recent efforts of Gov. Glenn Youngkin to withdraw Virginia from RGGI. Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV), a grassroots coalition in the Shenandoah Valley, strongly supports Virginia’s continued participation in RGGI and asks you to vote against Item Number 4-5.12 #1g in Budget Amendments HB 29, SB 29, HB 30, and SB30. These amendments are emergency regulations that would initiate the process of withdrawal from RGGI.

Virginia’s entrance into RGGI in 2020 came after years of work, policy analysis and robust public engagement. The governor’s move to withdraw is a hasty decision that relies on questionable analysis and conclusions. Many Virginians struggle with high energy costs, but there are more effective ways to tackle those costs that don’t abandon our goals of decarbonization. In fact, because 50% of RGGI funds support low-income energy efficiency programs, RGGI already is a way to tackle high energy costs.

This decision to withdraw is not supported by an objective look at the public health and economic benefits of RGGI participation, particularly to low- and middle-income Virginians (to lower their energy burden) and to coastal Virginia communities (to help prepare for even more flooding than they now experience). Also, a decision to withdraw disregards the 73% of Virginians, who according to the Yale Program on Climate Change, support regulating CO2 as a pollutant.

Perhaps most importantly, the governor is ignoring the critical urgency we have to lower our emissions. Actual data demonstrates that, prior to Virginia’s participation, RGGI states significantly surpassed Virginia in this respect: Governor Youngkin’s own report shows that from 2005 to 2020, RGGI states saw their emissions drop by twice as much as Virginia — 59% in RGGI states compared to only 30% in Virginia.

Warming caused by global emissions will continue to have increasingly devastating impacts in Virginia and globally — sea level rise, drought, crop failures, heat waves, increased disease outbreak, and the economic fallout of this confluence of disasters. The most recent report from the IPCC, released just weeks ago, ends by saying, “The cumulative scientific evidence is unequivocal: Climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health. Any further delay … will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all.”

There is general consensus among economists that either a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system, such as RGGI, is the most effective way to decrease CO2 emissions. In fact, the Climate Leadership Council, which was formed by a group of prominent Republicans, calls a price on carbon the “bipartisan climate solution.”

Governor Youngkin’s main objection to RGGI participation seems to be that Dominion lacks a strong incentive to reduce its emissions because it is permitted to pass through RGGI compliance costs to customers. On the contrary, the more solar and wind generation is used on Virginia’s electric grid, the more RGGI will give those sources the advantage to be selected by the utilities over fossil-fueled sources.

The governor’s report states that RGGI was initially “designed to return the proceeds to the ratepayers in order to offset the costs of the program to the consumer, but this was not how Virginia implemented the program.” Other states do not put the cost burden on ratepayers, but return the cost of compliance to customers via rebates. However, instead of suggesting revisions to how RGGI participation is structured, Governor Youngkin would withdraw us entirely, removing this important mechanism of reducing CO2 emissions and forfeiting the only dedicated funding source Virginia has to build flood resilience. He has not explained what, if any, funding would replace the monies lost as a consequence of our state withdrawing from RGGI.

If the governor wants to prevent Dominion from passing the cost burden of RGGI to its customers, he should consider numerous reform options that exist, work with the General Assembly to deploy them, and ensure that the State Corporation Commission (SCC) has adequate tools to scrutinize Dominion’s proposals. Dominion overcharging customers is a long-standing problem that a RGGI repeal does not fix.

Participation in RGGI was an important step in Virginia’s transition to a clean energy future. We cannot afford this step backwards. Not only do we have a moral obligation to act with urgency to tackle the climate crisis, but it is in the interests of Virginians’ health and financial well-being to do so.

For these reasons, we urge you not to support the above budget provisions or any other effort that would undercut Virginia’s continued RGGI participation.

Jo Anne St. Clair, chair of Climate Action Alliance of the Valley, lives in Harrisonburg.

Virginia Environmental News Roundup for March 2022

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley is pleased to provide Harrisonburg’s The Citizen with a monthly survey of energy and environmental news stories about Virginia.

With their permission, we are re-posting these pieces here after they appear in the Citizen.


The link to this piece as first published by the Citizen is HERE.

Statewide Environmental News Roundup for March 2022

Energy

The Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) continues to make the news.

A proposed natural gas plant, Chickahominy, has been canceled by its developers because “opposition from outside interests and regulations, largely advanced by the renewable energy industry and state legislators that supported them, made it impossible to deliver natural gas to the site.”

Business leaders in Southwest Virginia (SWVA) are seeking ways to boost economic prosperity in the wake of the coal industry’s demise in that region.

  • “InvestSWVA, a public-private economic development and marketing initiative for Southwest Virginia,” is looking at two ways “for sealing economic development deals: the right infrastructure and the right location.”
  • “Six old mining sites owned by the Nature Conservancy [in SWVA] will be some of the first utility‑scale solar farms in the region — and the nonprofit group hopes the model can be replicated nationwide.”
  • “Southwest Virginia is looking at what it needs to do to capture part of [the off-shore] wind energy business,” as part of Project Veer. “Nearly 200 companies in Southwest Virginia have the potential to play a role in the growing offshore wind industry, a regional analysis has found.” “A research initiative launched in Southwest Virginia has a goal of turning gob into valuable raw materials for high-tech manufacturing.”
  • Researchers want to answer the question: “Can waste coal help build cellphones and rechargeable batteries?
  • Evolve Central Appalachia, or Evolve CAPP, brings together a university-led research effort with public, private and academic interests … [through] a project that aims to harvest the industrial, environmental and economic potential of rare earth elements, critical minerals and nonfuel, carbon-based products — all out of waste coal.”

Virginia ranked 5th in the top 10 states in solar installations. The State Corporation Commission approved “a series of solar projects expected to generate enough power to light up 250,000 homes. Dominion estimates the projects will also generate more than $880 million in economic benefits across Virginia and support nearly 4,200 jobs.” One of the 16 approvals was for a solar and storage project at Dulles airport that will power the equivalent of over 16,000 homes and be the largest such facility in the US. Every one of these projects will likely enable Dominion to pass along costs, and collect profits, from its ratepayers. The Dulles project is one example. Dominion owns a subsidiary, BrightSuite, which assists prospective solar owners to have solar panels installed. Interestingly, its website touts the benefits of net metering, a system that provides credits for each kilowatt of solar energy a customer sends to the electric grid and one that Dominion frequently argues against. A recycling plant in Troy will offset most of its electricity costs with a 360kW rooftop installation. Massanutten Resort has announced its intent to significantly increase its sustainable operations through more energy efficiency operations and new solar panels.

A proposed on-shore wind farm in Botetourt County continues to have its difficulties, legal and otherwise. A “Botetourt County judge found that the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality made procedural errors in approving the project.” Dominion Energy is awaiting construction of a large ship it wants to use to construct its planned off-shore wind farm.

Christiansburg will be the location of a proposed New River Valley train station, based on results of a feasibility study. A short stretch of road in Chesterfield County will serve as a test site for “the state’s first ’plastic road.’” The small section of “the road was resurfaced with asphalt that contains more than 6,000 pounds of a binder product made from recycled plastic.”

Climate and Environment

The Washington Post provided “Five takeaways from the latest United Nations climate change report…–a warning letter to the world. “

The federal Government Accountability Office (GAO) has recommended that EPA strengthen its regulations for “facilities that make, use, or store hazardous chemicals” to better ensure that the facilities ”are managing risks from natural hazards and climate change.” Almost 1/3 “these facilities are located in areas with certain natural hazards—like wildfires and storm surges.” GAO’s interactive map shows Virginia has several such facilities.

A recent NOAA report said: “By 2050, Virginia and other states along the Gulf and East Coasts are expected to experience a 1-foot jump…. Existing emissions data also suggests there will be 2 feet of sea level rise by the turn of the 22nd century.” An editorial writer, having used NOAA’s interactive map to visualize what is coming, penned “Response to sea level rise is a matter of great consequence,” citing changing demographics (not just in coastal communities) and changing economics for Virginia. Norfolk has both frequent flooding and a flood protection plan; not everyone thinks the plan is robust enough. A recent sea level rise forum at Old Dominion University focused on “the human side of coastal resilience” to examine proposed solutions to determine “who pays, how much do we pay, who is impacted, to what extent are they impacted? How do we mitigate these impacts?”

NOAA and its partners are using “a system that’s similar to the electronic tolling technology behind E‑ZPass … to help manage these fish species … that are really important to the bay ecosystem and the economy.”

Two opinion writers, citing examples of harm to several communities from waste management facilities argue that “We need to rethink waste.” “The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Clean Water Financing and Assistance Program facilitated an effort to protect two streams at Garber Farms in Mount Sidney. The project was honored by the EPA Clean Water State Revolving Fund … [through its] Creating Environmental Success program.”

After years of disagreement between the James River Water Association and the Monacan Indian Nation about where a new pumping station should be built, the two parties have agreed on a location other than the original one, which is a sacred site for the Monacan people. The water will be used to “serve future development in Zion Crossroads, Ferncliff, Shannon Hill and other Louisa County growth areas.”

A Loudoun County resident and Executive Director of Faith Alliance for Climate solutions asserts “Virginians can work together on the climate crisis,” and explains why and how. The Dan River Valley is home to a “new chemical-free vertical-farming facility.“ ”AeroFarms will produce tens of billions of leafy green vegetable plants per year at its new facility. Containing 48 plant-growing towers four-and-half stories high, the operation will entail the equivalent of a 1,000-acre farm.” Page County citizens are discussing “what could be done to both strengthen and grow agriculture locally.” Part of the effort included “an agricultural survey to better determine strengths and weaknesses related to Page County’s agricultural industry and what local government, or farmers themselves, could do to overcome certain obstacles and address the variety of issues they face.”

“Legislation aimed at increasing tree canopies across Virginia passed both chambers of the General Assembly after legislators compromised on removing language around equity…. The legislation this year was amended to strip out [existing] language that referenced adding trees in previously redlined areas and urban heat islands, issues which have traditionally disproportionately impacted Black communities.”

Action Alert

  • The General Assembly is deciding whether to approve a Budget Amendment from Governor Youngkin to withdraw Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). RGGI is a cooperative effort of eleven Eastern states to limit greenhouse gas emissions. In Virginia, proceeds from RGGI are used to fund energy efficiency improvements for low/middle income folks and coastal flood resiliency efforts. The Governor hasn’t offered alternative sources for the RGGI funds. Your elected officials need to hear from you now! To learn more about the political battle over RGGI, read this article. Find out who represents you and how to contact them.
  • Attend “We Believe We Will Win” virtual rally to stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline, Thursday, April 7, 7pm. This event will bring together community leaders from Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina to share how victories have been achieved, what it will take to stop this disastrous pipeline, and how you can help. It’s sponsored by POWHR (Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights). Register here.

Check out…

  • Earth day Events like –
  • Managing Love’s Love Mother Earth on Earth Day – April 22, a free family fun festival, from 5pm-10pm at The Shops at Stonefield (2100 Hydraulic Rd, Charlottesville, VA 22901). The festival is geared to children and their families and will feature the Kids Climate Club, an initiative supporting our next generation of local leaders in climate and sustainability, as well as yoga, musical entertainment by the Book of Scruff, and a film screening of Harvests of Hope.
  • Send your or your children’s creative work to Earth Day Every Day’s art contest. The idea is to encourage the community to submit a “creative visual entry” for the contest using the 2022 Earth Day theme, “Invest in our Planet.” Submission deadline is Mar 31.
  • CAAV’s Earth Day celebration, Let’s Face it Together, JMU Planetarium, April 21, from 5:30 to 7pm, featuring a screening of Bill Nye’s Global Meltdown documentary and panel discussion about climate anxiety. Bring your kids, friends, co-workers, neighbors!
  • This new online newspaper that focuses on news, including energy and environmental, in or about Southeast and Southwest VA.
  • These sustainable furniture options.
  • These suggestions for reducing your energy usage and therefore your energy bills.
  • These ideas for new and improved trails Virginia should be planning for 2038. And go walking, hiking, or biking along some of the ones we already have.

Why not 

  • Learn how to Identify and Control Non-Native Invasive Plants in Spring/Summer, sponsored by Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards (CATS)–
  • Part 1: Introduction and Identification (Zoom): Tuesday evening, April 12, 2022, 7:00 to 9:00pm. Register here.
  • Part 2: Control Methods (Zoom): Thursday evening, April 14, 2022, 7:00 to 9:30 pm. Register hereThis class will show you how to identify about 30 common invasive plants in the Virginia Piedmont and illustrate a wide range of options for treating them.
  • Buy a tree raised at CATS’ own tree nursery, at its Spring Tree Sale – April 9th from 10:00am to 2pm, at the Virginia Department of Forestry, 900 Natural Resources Drive, Charlottesville. Arboretum and nature trail walks will be available. These young trees are offered at $5.00 to $15.00. Masks are recommended.
  • Sit in on this Virtual Program: Wetlands – What Are They and What Value do They Contain? – April 12. Join Sierra Club/falls of the James Group on Tuesday, April 12th, 2022 at 7pm as Dr. Scott Neubauer, associate professor of biology at VCU and wetlands specialist, speaks about wetlands, their value, and importance. Learn answers to these questions: Do you really know what wetlands are? Do they serve a purpose? How do they fit into the larger ecological picture? Is it ok to build on a wetland and create another somewhere else? Is it fine to use them for recreational use? Register here.
  • Reconsider your views on, of all things, weeds, as spring arrives and you contemplate your gardening chores. Find out if you could learn to “love weeds.”

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV) is a non-profit, grassroots group in the Central Shenandoah Valley that educates legislators and the public about the implications of the Earth’s worsening climate crisis.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 3/11/2022

In a sense, our climate radar has been pointing in the wrong direction—at coal, cars, and carbon. Of course, these are crucial causes, and they are being addressed brilliantly by many. However, the radar needs to point the other way too, to the true cause, which is what we believe and how we treat one another.—Paul Hawken

Our Climate Crisis

The big climate news this month has been the release of the U.N. Climate Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The picture it paints is not encouraging. Written by 270 researchers from 67 countries, the report warns that any further delay in global action to slow climate change and adapt to its impacts “will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.”

Climate reporter Raymond Zhong contrasts this with the previous IPCC report in 2014, which said that global warming was having a “relatively small” effect on human health compared with other stressors. It also said that there was “limited evidence” that nations needed more money to cope with its dangers. The new report tells a dramatically different story.

It finds that “climate change is not only adding to ecological threats such as wildfires, heat waves and rising sea levels, it is also displacing people from their homes and jeopardizing food and water supplies. It is harming people’s physical and mental health, with increasing incidence of food and waterborne illness, respiratory distress from wildfire smoke and trauma from natural disasters.” Furthermore, finding necessary funding for dealing with all this has widened significantly.

The report is “an atlas on human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership,” according to António Guterres, the United Nations secretary general. “With fact upon fact, this report reveals how people and the planet are getting clobbered by climate change.” Some takeaways can serve as a roadmap of what needs to be done to mitigate the worst effects of global warming:

·       The widespread adverse impacts of global warming have disproportionately affected the most vulnerable humans and ecosystems, pushing them beyond their ability to adapt.

·       Approximately 3.3 to 3.6 billion people live in highly vulnerable regions.

·       If global warming reaches 1.5°C (it is presently at 1.1°C) it will cause multiple risks to ecosystems and humans. Actions that will limit warming to 1.5°C, however, would substantially reduce those damages compared to even higher degrees of warming,

·       Near term actions to mitigate global warming will significantly reduce losses and damages accrued by 2040 and beyond.

·       Climate change impacts and risks are becoming increasingly complex and more difficult to manage.

·       If global warming exceeds 1.5°C in the coming decades, many human and environmental systems will face additional severe risks, some of which will be irreversible even of global warming is later reduced.

Politics and Policy

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is pressuring FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) to reverse the 4th Circuit Court decision blocking the completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. He says that the 4th Circuit has been unmerciful on allowing any progress and that the case can be moved to the D.C. Circuit Court. He argues, “Energy independence is our greatest geopolitical and economic tool and we cannot lose sight of that as instability rises around the globe.”

In response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Sen. Manchin wants to use natural gas from West Virginia to achieve U. S. energy independence and to help European countries. He is now calling on President Biden to invoke the Defense Production Act if necessary to complete the Mountain Valley Pipeline following the ban on oil imports from Russia.

The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing strict new limits on pollution from buses, delivery vans, tractor-trailers and other heavy trucks. It would require heavy-duty trucks to reduce emissions of nitrogen dioxide—which is linked to lung cancer, heart disease and premature death—by 90 percent by 2031. It would also slightly tighten truck emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that is driving climate change.

Energy

Dominion Energy is building a $500 million ship to build wind turbines up and down the Atlantic Coast, beginning in 2023. Depending on the approval of state-regulators, it will also be used to build Dominion Energy’s own 2,640-megawatt wind turbine farm off the coast of Virginia. Scheduled to go online in 2026, it will power the equivalent of 660,000 homes.

Six energy companies bid a total of $4.27 billion in an auction for leases to develop offshore wind in federal waters off the coast of New York and New Jersey. This is huge! To help put it in perspective, it is 10 times more than what was paid for any previous off-shore wind lease. It is also much more than the record for winning bids of $191.7 million for oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico in 2021. A federal judge revoked those Gulf of Mexico oil and gas leases because the federal government had not adequately factored in the impact they would have on climate change.

Climate Justice

Liz Carlisle, an assistant professor in the Environmental Studies Program at UC Santa Barbara, where she teaches courses on food and farming, has recently written the book Healing Grounds: Climate, Justice and the Deep Roots of Regenerative Farming. She writes that young farmers and scientists of color are “reviving ancestral regenerative farming traditions in a self-conscious effort to respond to climate change and racial injustice in tandem.” They understand “regenerative agriculture not as a menu of discrete, isolated practices from which one can pick and choose and then tally up into a sustainability score. Rather, they see regenerative agriculture as their ancestors had—as a way of life.”

The practice of redlining, where loan banks and loan agencies deemed minority urban neighborhoods too risky to invest in, still has adverse environmental effects even though it was banned 50 years ago. The practice made it difficult for people of color to get home mortgages. Furthermore, local zoning officials worked with businesses to place polluting operations such as industrial plants, major roadways. and shipping ports in  or near these neighborhoods. A recent study finds that, as a result, 45 million people in these neighborhoods are still breathing dirtier air and face other environmental challenges, including excessive urban heat, sparse tree canopy and few green spaces.

Climate Action

Cheap, fast, and disposable fashions are accelerating the greenhouse emissions of the clothing and textiles industry, which accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than international aviation and shipping combined. Lower prices means poorer quality clothes that don’t last as long. Those lower prices have also “resulted from unseen human and environmental costs such as pollution of rivers, poor working conditions, low wages and exploitation of workers in factories.” We can do our part to mitigate this trend by buying second hand, repairing or adjusting existing clothes, and restricting our purchases to fewer items that are durable and will last.

Cities that are serious about meeting their carbon reduction goals will want to make their streets more pedestrian and bicycle friendly. Melinda Hanson, co-founder of micromobility firm Electric Avenue, says that “upward of 50% of all car trips in the U.S. are relatively short and are taken by a single person.” Examples from all across the world demonstrate that building pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure is not that expensive, and it works.

London has taken a more aggressive approach to reducing carbon emissions within its city limits. Beginning next year, anyone who wants to drive a more-polluting older vehicle manufactured before 2014 will have to pay a 12.50 pound ($16.70) daily charge to do it.

Earl Zimmerman
CAAV Steering Committee

Virginia Environmental News Roundup for February 2022

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley is pleased to provide Harrisonburg’s The Citizen with a monthly survey of energy and environmental news stories about Virginia.

With their permission, we are re-posting these pieces here after they appear in the Citizen.


The link to this piece as first published by the Citizen is HERE.

Statewide Environmental News Roundup for February 2022

Energy

Once again, Virginia pipelines made headlines:

A local realtor supported the local GiveSolar/Habitat for Humanity project by producing this video about a recent “solar barnraising” in Harrisonburg. Solar panels are being installed on abandoned coal mine lands, including in Dickenson County. The builder of a long-planned on-shore wind project in Botetourt County is now looking for another buyer for the energy its turbines will produce, after its arrangement with Dominion Energy expired at the end of 2021.

The General Assembly (GA) passed a new law to allow ticketing for those who park a non-electric vehicle in a parking space designated for EVs. Virginia will receive “$106.4 million in National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure funding to use towards expanding the electric vehicle charging network.”

The GA is considering bills to withdraw Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), prompting this opinion piece outlining some of the pros and cons. Not everyone believes that climate changes post serious enough risks for Virginia to remain in RGGI and a Virginia House subcommittee heard from several organizations on this matter. RGGI funds support flood resilience and energy efficiency. A Virginia State Senate panel, on the other hand, rejected a bill to repeal the Virginia Clean Economy Act.

 A Senate committee “rejected a bill that would have allowed local governments to adopt stricter energy efficiency codes than the state, with senators fretting it could prevent badly needed affordable housing from being built.” Perhaps the senators didn’t believe that making homes more energy efficient makes them more affordable over the life of the building.

A Virginia House committee “swiftly shot down a bipartisan proposal to study whether Virginia metal mining regulations are sufficient to protect state air and water quality.” But the Virginia Senate was interested in identifying the locations and extent of abandoned coal waste piles that “could amount to between 50 [and] 100 million tons of toxic mining waste.”

Climate and Environment

Virginia Tech’s Coastal Collaborator Project is tackling “emerging coastal challenges.” A new NOAA report predicts “Sea levels, rainfall and temperatures will keep rising in Virginia.” A Bacon’s Rebellion blogger wasn’t too disturbed by the predictions. “Leadership from 18 Anabaptist organizations in the United States and Canada convened at the Anabaptist Collaboration on Climate Change on Jan. 26- 27 to address what many consider a moral emergency.” The meeting was organized by EMU’s Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions (CSCS).

Churchville residents got good news about a sludge pit application a local farm “to be the storage site for millions of gallons of industrial food waste and other sludges ….” Community opposition resulted in “withdrawal of the permit for the building of the 3-million-gallon storage tank ….” The EPA will “investigate North Carolina’s 2019 decision to allow four Smithfield Foods Inc. pig feeding operations to generate biogas from hog waste lagoons.” Smithfield has an arrangement with Dominion Energy to provide that waste for use in the latter’s Virginia plant. Virginia includes hog waste among its renewable energy sources.

Fredericksburg received a “$3.25 million grant from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality” (DEQ); “the money will aid … in improving the city’s overall stormwater quality and its effects on the Rappahannock River.” Landfills were the subjects of both news and commentary in Charles City County and, again, in Bristol. Virginia received $22+ Million in federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funding to reclaim abandoned mine landsHealth advocates are calling for “greater oversight of plants emitting cancer-causing pollutants in Virginia…. Several industrial sites in Virginia have recently been identified as emitting cancer-causing chemicals into the air. Health experts and residents living near these sites say the government’s lax oversight of these plants exposes them and their neighbors to unacceptable risks.” ProPublica’s recent report included Virginia’s Radford Arsenal on its list of air-polluting industrial sites. The “analysis shows for the first time just how much toxic air pollution they emit — and how much the chemicals they unleash could be elevating cancer risk in their communities.”

In about two years, “if all goes according to plan, Woodbridge residents will have a new, scenic trail connecting the historic Town of Occoquan to the Lake Ridge Marina and points further west.” The Occoquan Trail planning has been underway for 10 years. The gift of an “historic Hobby Horse Farm in Bath County … will elevate The Nature Conservancy’s adjoining Warm Springs Mountain Preserve into a flagship preserve for the Appalachians.” “A 280-acre parcel of the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship preserve in Loudoun County will form the backbone of a new Virginia state park”—Sweet Run State Park.

Virginia isn’t ready to collect deposits on bottle and cans. It’s likewise not prepared “to impose a fee on manufacturers selling products … based on how much packaging they use.” But it may be studying both issues as part of a recycling focus. The current GA members also decided they want to delay for another five years (until 2028) implementation of “a phased state ban on food containers made from a plastic foam called polystyrene.”

Action Alert

Find steps you can take to address climate change among these 10 suggestions.

Check out…

Why not 

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV) is a non-profit, grassroots group in the Central Shenandoah Valley that educates legislators and the public about the implications of the Earth’s worsening climate crisis.

Climate and Energy News Roundup 2/16/2022

“The climate crisis is not a science problem. It is a human problem. The ultimate power to change the world does not reside in technologies. It relies on reverence, respect, and compassion—for ourselves, for all people, and for all life,” Paul Hawken, Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation.

Our Climate Crisis

As we write our monthly Climate and Energy News Roundup, Joy Loving and I find that it can be challenging to know how to honestly acknowledge the severity of our climate crisis, get into the nitty-gritty of politics, and advocate for climate action in ways that encourage resilience and offer hope. This tension is also evident in the words of Paul Hawken and Jane Goodall below.

In his book Regeneration, Paul Hawken states, “We live on a dying planet—a phrase that sounded inflated or over the top not long ago. . . The Earth will come back to life no matter what. Nations, peoples, and cultures may not.” In her forward to the book, Jane Goodall strikes a more encouraging note, “I have three reasons for hope: the energy and commitment of youth: the resilience of nature . . . and the way animal and plant species can be rescued from extinction; and the human intellect, which is focusing on how we can live in greater harmony with nature.”

While I want to recognize and celebrate progress and our human creativity, I don’t want to downplay the severity of the crisis we humans have created. For example, a recent scientific study published in the journal Nature Climate Change shows that the present megadrought, exacerbated by climate change, in the Western U.S. and northern Mexico is the region’s driest period in at least 1,200 years. During that last comparable extended megadrought the region was still largely inhabited by scattered Native American tribes. Today it is home to more than 10 million people. This rapidly growing population has been relying on the amount of water that was available a century ago. Park Williams, the lead scientist of the study says that this megadrought in the southwest is forcing us to “pull out all the stops” and plan for less water.

When psychologist Thomas Doherty and his colleague, Susan Clayton, published a paper a decade ago proposing that climate change would have a powerful psychological impact, it was met with lots of skepticism. Eco-anxiety is now becoming widely recognized, affecting not only those bearing the brutal brunt of climate change but also people following it through news and research. Professional certification programs in climate psychology have begun to appear and the recently formed Climate Psychology Alliance is providing an online directory of climate-aware therapists.

Politics and Policy

In a win for environmentalists, Democrats in the Virginia Senate recently voted along party lines 21-19 to reject Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s nomination of Andrew Wheeler as Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources. Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, had served as the Environmental Protection Agency administrator under President Donald Trump, where he systematically worked to deconstruct environmental regulations.

Even though the Build Back Better bill hit a wall in the U.S. Senate, it now appears that a stand-alone climate bill  has the possibility of moving forward with the crucial support of Senator Joe Manchin from West Virginia. President Biden indicated that he has been talking to colleagues on the Hill and recently told reporters, “I think it’s clear that we would be able to get support for the $500 billion plus for energy and the environment.” Several Republicans also indicated support for portions of a climate bill, but none were willing to go on record as supporting the climate provisions that had been in the Build Back Better bill.

Top U.S. corporations like Google and Amazon have made pledges to combat climate change and to get to net-zero emissions by 2050. The question is if they are serious about this or if these public pledges are another example of corporate green-washing. The report Corporate Climate Responsibility Monitor indicates that they are the latter. They are exaggerating their goals and their efforts lack transparency.

The historically high $770 billion military spending bill—$24 billion more than the president had requested—sailed through congress with broad bipartisan support. Yet, there is almost nothing in this mammoth bill that addresses climate change and its related disasters, which is the greatest threat to our national safety and well-being.

At the same time, the U.S. Army recently released its first ever climate strategy, an effort to brace the service for a world beset by global-warming-driven conflicts. “The plan aims to slash the Army’s emissions in half by 2030; electrify all noncombat vehicles by 2035 and develop electric combat vehicles by 2050; and train a generation of officers on how to prepare for a hotter, more chaotic world.” If implemented, this could be huge! The Defense Department accounts for 56 percent of the federal government’s carbon footprint and 52 percent of its electricity use.

Energy

It is projected that by this summer Harrisonburg residents will have the option to buy solar powered electricity from the Harrisonburg Electric Commission (HEC) for a few extra pennies per kilowatt-hour. ( A valid critique is why solar-powered electricity should cost more when it actually costs less to generate.) This will make HEC the first municipal utility in the state to offer a community solar option to customers. The solar-powered electricity will flow from a 1.4-megawatt array being developed by Dominion Energy on a 10-acre plot on Acorn Dr. that the city purchased for $550,000.

As wind and solar power have become dramatically cheaper, and their share of electricity generation grows, skeptics are propagating the myth that renewable energy will make the electricity supply undependable. While the variable output of wind and solar power is a challenge, it is neither new nor especially hard to manage. No electricity supply is constant.

Most discussions on managing variability focuses on giant batteries and other expensive storage technologies. There are less costly options such as increasing energy efficiency in buildings and managing demand flexibility around peak-use hours. The bottom line is that electrical grids can deal with a much larger percentage of renewable energy at zero or modest cost, and this has been known for some time.  

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently struck down two government permits that are needed for the Mountain Valley Pipeline to pass through the Jefferson National Forest. The company vows to push through with the completion of the pipeline, which it says is 94% completed. Complying with changes necessary to get the permits will, however, most likely push back the completion date that had been projected for this summer to sometime in 2024.

House Bill 1257, prohibiting local governments from banning natural gas, is wending its way through the Virginia House of Representatives. No Virginia municipalities have been moving aggressively in that direction, but the Richmond City Council recently passed a climate resolution that committed them “to working with the city’s administration on an equitable plan to phase out reliance on gas and shift to accelerated investment in city-owned renewable energy.” The Virginia Oil and Gas Association has been urging the legislature to preempt local governments from placing restrictions on the use of natural gas.

Climate Action

Native American environmental activists were able to draw on the Virginia Environmental Justice Act passed in 2020 to advocate before the Virginia Air Pollution board against the proposed Lambert Compressor Station that the Mountain Valley Pipeline wanted to install in their community in Chatham, Va. As reported in The Nation, “In an astonishing precedent, the Air Pollution board agreed—by a margin of six to one. This has never happened before in Virginia, where regulatory boards always vote in favor of industry.”

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy reports that 2021 was a landmark year for energy efficiency legislation. At least a dozen states passed new clean energy legislation or adopted new energy-saving standards such as fuel switching and electrification, encouraging clean heating systems, strengthening building codes, and the creation of transit-oriented affordable housing projects. Now comes the hard part—implementing this legislation.

Mark and Ben Cullen, in their recent article in the Toronto Star, give some handy tips on fighting climate change in your own garden. These same practices can also be used on a larger scale by farmers and ranchers.

  • Minimum tillage or “no-till” supports microscopic bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi in the soil. Tilling tears apart these beneficial structures allowing nutrients such as carbon to escape into the atmosphere.
  • Cover-cropping and inter-cropping are climate-friendly tactics that prevent soil erosion and improve the fertility of your soil.
  • Avoid synthetic fertilizers, which are a massive contributor to climate change. The production of synthetic fertilizers uses a tremendous amount of energy, including natural gas.
  • Plant perennials such as berries and tree fruits. Perennial plants develop deeper root systems which enhance soil health, and they are more effective in attracting pollinators.
  • Compost. Compost uses food waste from your kitchen as well as plant waste from your yard and garden. Composting greatly diminishes the greenhouse gas emissions from plant waste that would otherwise be bound for a landfill. Furthermore, finished compost will greatly enrich the soil in your yard and garden.

Mark and Ben Cullen say that “climate change can make us feel overwhelmed — and maybe helpless. But taking direct action in your own garden is one way to make a positive contribution to this major issue of our time, while enjoying the vast benefits of gardening.” I can personally attest to the psychological benefits of working in my garden when I feel overwhelmed by the severity of our climate crisis.

Earl Zimmerman
CAAV Steering Committee