2 Jul 2014

Déjà vu? What Real Changes Can Another Virginia Climate Commission Achieve?

Written by Jim Pierobon

Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s revival of the Virginia climate commission announced July 1 – much like his appointments last month to help refresh Virginia’s energy plan – begs several questions; among them: For all the proclamations about extreme weather and the six energy listening sessions which finished July 1, the General Assembly is not obligated to act on either body’s recommendations; so what’s the point?

For starters, the work by both bodies hopefully will identify prudent policies that Virginia can take to help enable its residents, businesses, the state and local governments to become more resilient to sea level rise and extreme weather events such as East Coast hurricane (image); this while enabling markets for energy efficiency, cleaner sources of energy such as electric vehicles and rooftop and community solar systems.


Hurricanes that hit the U.S. East Coast post serious threats to Virginia, especially the Tidewater / Hampton Roads region. CREDIT: arlnow.com

Gov. McAuliffe, and his commission co-chairs Molly Ward, Secretary of Natural Resources and Brian Moran, Secretary of Public Safety, almost certainly have the best of intentions. And there is a solid foundation on which the state’s previous energy and climate recommendations are based. But the administration in the Commonwealth’s form of government has very little authority to act substantively on virtually any of them.

Then Democratic Virginia Governor – now U.S. Senator – Tim Kaine established a climate commission during his four years in Richmond only to see it disbanded by his successor, Republican Bob McDonnell. Note this language in the Climate Change Commission report issued to Kaine in 2008:

“We urge the Governor to act quickly on those recommendations with which he concurs and for which no other approval is required. We further ask the Governor to direct all agency heads to review the Commission’s final report and immediately implement those for which sufficient authority and appropriations exist. A number of recommendations are significant and will require approval by the General Assembly. Legislation should be prepared for all significant recommendations for which executive branch authority does not exist.”

A review of 15 primary recommendations, excerpted at the end of this post, reveals nothing materially improving climate resiliency, energy efficiency nor cleaner energy resulted from them. To keep Kaine’s commission recommendations available to the public, they’ve been preserved here by the Wetlands Watch non-profit.

What can the revival of the climate commission – known formally now as the “Governor’s Climate Change and Resiliency Update Commission” – realistically hope to achieve this time around? The short answer is probably very little, unless stakeholders speak up and persuade local and state elected officials to vote for legislation to enact its recommendations. The same may be in store for the Energy Council, which this week concluded six “Listening Sessions” throughout the state designed to field public comments about energy challenges and opportunities.

Lowell Feld, a consultant to progressive candidates in Virginia and former government energy economist energy who blogs at BlueVirginia.us, remarked “As long as Bill “ALEC” Howell (referring to the American Legislative Exchange Council’s efforts to defeat cleaner energy) and his merry band of corporate and fossil-fueled Republicans  control the Virginia House of Delegates, it’s hard to see much good coming out of Richmond. I hope to be pleasantly surprised on this one.”

Just in case I’ve missed something, read the 2008 recommendations by the Kaine climate commission. If you can point to a substantive change tied to any one of them, for better or worse, please comment to help illuminate what may, without an achievable commitment, be little more than a brief blip in helpful PR.

Under an executive order issued by McAuliffe, the climate commission has one year to complete its work.

Excerpted from Governor’s Commission on Climate Change Final Report, December 2008 – turned off by Gov. Bob McDonnell in 2010

IV. Recommendations

A. Recommendations that affect GHG (green house gas) emissions

1. Virginia will reduce GHG emissions by increasing energy efficiency and Conservation.

2. Virginia will advocate for federal actions that will reduce net GHG emissions.

3. Virginia will reduce GHG emissions related to vehicle miles traveled through expanded commuter choice, improved transportation system efficiency, and improved community designs.

4. Virginia will reduce GHG emissions from automobiles and trucks by increasing efficiency of the transportation fleet and use of alternative fuels.

5. Virginia will reduce GHG emissions through accelerated research and Development.

6. Virginia will reduce GHG emissions by increasing the proportion of energy demands that are met by renewable sources.

7. Virginia will reduce GHG emissions by increasing the proportion of electricity generation provided by emissions-free sources of energy.

8. Virginia will reduce net GHG emissions by protecting/enhancing natural carbon sequestration capacity and researching/promoting carbon capture and storage

9. The Commonwealth and local governments will lead by example by implementing practices that will reduce GHG emissions.

B. GHG Reductions and Cost Effectiveness – did not include any recommendations

C. Recommendations that Address Steps Virginia Should Take to Plan For and Adapt to Climate Change Impacts that are Likely Unavoidable, Including Direct Adaptive Responses, Required Research, and Increased Capacity and Coordination Within State and Local Government

10. Virginia should consider a more aggressive GHG reduction goal.

11. Virginia will focus and expand state capacity to ensure implementation of the Climate Change Action Plan.

12. Virginia will educate the public about climate change and the actions necessary to address it.

13. Virginia will continually monitor, track, and report on GHG emissions and the impacts of climate change.

14. Virginia state agencies and local governments will prepare for and adapt to the impacts of climate change that cannot be prevented.

15. Virginia will undertake a thorough review of state agency and local government authority to account for climate change in their actions.

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