For more than a half century, signs along the roadsides and ads in local newspapers featured Smokey the Bear with a message “Keep Virginia Green.” His reference was to forest fire prevention, for which he said 9 out of 10 could be prevented. Forest fires were a big concern because wood products were big business in Virginia.
A campaign continues today with a “Keep Virginia Green” theme as part of the “Keep Virginia Beautiful” effort. It has a broader meaning, as it now includes stopping littering and other actions consumers can take as part of caring for the environment in the Commonwealth.
Maybe the most meaningful effort ever taken to protect Virginia’s environment was announced last week by Gov. Terry McAuliffe — that he had signed an Executive Directive ordering the Department of Environmental Quality to begin the process of establishing regulations in Virginia that will reduce carbon emission from power plants. As the Governor explained, “As the federal government abdicates its role on this important issue, it is critical for states to fill the void. … Virginia will lead the way to cut carbon and lean in on the clean energy future.” The current federal administration has moved to rescind actions of the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce carbon in the atmosphere and to act on climate change.
While proponents of states’ rights may applaud the shift from the federal to the state governments, wind currents from power plants and airborne pollutants do not recognize state boundaries. It is critically important that other states follow the actions of Gov. McAuliffe.
According to the press release announcing the Governor’s Executive Directive, the Commonwealth has seen an increase from just 17 megawatts of solar installed to more than 1,800 megawatts in service or under development. Revenues in the rapidly growing clean energy sector have risen from $300 million to $1.5 billion between 2014 and 2016. In the last year alone, solar installations have risen nearly 1,200 percent. The number of Virginians employed by the solar industry rose 65 percent to 3,236 — twice the number of jobs supported by coal. An analysis by The Solar Foundation quoted in the release said that Virginia is now second in the Southeast and ninth in the nation for year-over-year solar growth. As of 2017, Virginia is first in the Southeast for corporate clean energy procurement.
Dominion Energy, the Commonwealth’s largest electricity producer, announced earlier that it intends to follow the federal Clean Power Plant regulations even if they are rescinded by the current administration. Older coal-powered plants are being converted to natural gas or closed. The company will be subject to any additional regulations that result from the Governor’s Executive Directive.
It is heartening to see the number of citizens who have expressed a greater interest in environmental matters as they realize the threat to current protections under the new administration. We need to thank and applaud the Governor for his action and at the same time keep the pressure on federal and state elected officials to see that our air is kept clean and safe. I am pleased that both the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters have recognized my efforts in this regard.