Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe hit the ground running when the day after his election he announced his transition team and a webpage at which he solicits ideas and suggestions and invites resumes from those who want to work in his administration.
His approach of assembling a bipartisan transitional team, moving quickly and seeking input are crucial for Virginia at an important transitional time. Last week, I talked about many of the issues like Medicaid expansion that were debated during the campaign and need immediate attention. There are many other issues that do not get as bright a spotlight but deserve serious attention. One is the natural landscape of Virginia and the quality of its air and water.
More than a month ago, VIRGINIAforever, a coalition of concerned businesses, environmental organizations and outdoor enthusiasts, presented to the gubernatorial candidates a five-year plan, “Investing in the Commonwealth’s Land and Water.” As the report points out, Virginia’s population has doubled in the last 50 years putting great stress on our land and water.
The Commonwealth has a constitutional requirement unique among the states “to protect its atmosphere, lands and water from pollution, impairment, or destruction, for the benefit, enjoyment and general welfare of the people of the Commonwealth.” Virginia currently spends just over one percent of its budget on land conservation and water quality improvements. As the title of the report suggests, it will be necessary to “invest” more greatly if the goals of the report are to be met. But investing also suggests that there is an expected return.
Part of the changing landscape of Virginia is the loss of farmland. Since 1997 nearly 150,000 acres of farmland have been converted to other uses. A drive through the Shenandoah Valley can provide immediate visual evidence of the change. While the new use is justified in economic terms, it needs to be recognized that farming and forestry has nearly a $100 billion impact on Virginia’s economy.
The report calls for Virginia to protect 120,000 acres of farmland over the next five years through the use of tax credits. And, in order to meet the growing demand for state parks at a recommended level of 10 acres of park per 1,000 Virginians it will be necessary to conserve an additional 18,000 acres by 2020.
Only about one-third of Virginia’s 52,255 miles of rivers have been assessed for impairment, and of those assessed waters 71 percent are impaired for one or more uses as are over 80 percent of Virginia’s lakes and the Chesapeake Bay, according to the VIRGINIAforever report.
One of the most important statements in the report is that “concerns about cleaning up our polluted waters often fall back on predictions of negative consequences for the economy. Experience has not just disproven the concern that environmental restoration threatens economic prosperity, it has demonstrated just the opposite—economies cannot thrive in a world of depleted and degraded natural resources, and in fact, innovation, investment, and competition have spurred job growth in new sectors just when traditional sectors were faltering.”
The nature of Virginia must be a priority of the new administration!
Ken Plum (D-36th) represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. He writes a weekly column for Reston now. He can be reached at [email protected].