Halfway Home - Update from the 2020 General Assembly

By Joe Rupp
Climate Advocate, Environment Virginia

Today is the first day of “crossover” -- the time at which bills that passed in the State House or Senate cross over to the other chamber for consideration. It’s the session’s natural halfway mark and a good opportunity to assess what has been accomplished and what work remains. 

Here’s a quick update on Environment Virginia’s key legislative priorities:

Statewide ban on polystyrene cups and takeout containers - HB 533

The bill we helped craft with State Delegate Betsy Carr (D-Richmond) successfully passed the House by a final vote of 55-44. It includes an initial polystyrene cup and takeout container phase out, beginning in 2023 (for chain restaurants) and a final phaseout in 2025 (for all food vendors). With the bill moving to the Senate, the chemical industry has gotten involved and is proposing a more lenient approach following the crossover. They are recommending polystyrene cups and takeout containers be taxed instead of banned. While it’s nice to think of this as a revenue source for ailing recycling efforts in Virginia, we know from other states that attempts to recycle food-industry polystyrene simply don’t work

Status: There was no bill introduced in the Senate that would ban polystyrene statewide, so HB 533 will crossover for consideration in the Senate. If you haven’t already contacted your State Senator to tell them to pass HB 533 as is, do so now.

Fun anecdote: In a last-ditch effort to water down HB 533, the American Chemical Council (ACC) requested a meeting with our bill’s patron. Delegate Carr was kind enough to invite us along to explain why a statewide ban is the most effective way to address this problem. After the meeting, representatives from the ACC asked our State Director Elly Boehmer: “Is Environment Virginia part of Environment America? Because you guys are everywhere.” In case you were wondering, “Yes, we are part of Environment America.” And you can find more information here about the polystyrene bans our sister groups are working on in states across the country.

 

Environment Virginia met with Del. Betsy Carr in July 2019 and asks her to patron a ban on polystyrene. The bill, HB 533, has since been introduced and passed the House. From left to right, State Director Elly Boehmer, Safia Nizami, Del Carr, Sam Jaffe, Phoebe Chatfield and Ellie Francis

Join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative - HB 981 and SB 1027

One of the most important steps Virginia can take in addressing climate-changing emissions is to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). RGGI is a regional cap-and-invest approach to curbing emissions from power plants. The consortium already includes 10 other states throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Power plants that emit greenhouse gases are required to buy allowances, and proceeds from those allowances are reinvested in the states. By investing proceeds into energy efficiency programs, states throughout the region have achieved significant reductions in emissions. The Virginia Flood Preparedness Act authorizes Virginia to join RGGI and invest the revenues from the allowances into energy efficiency programs and shoreline resiliency efforts.

Status: HB 981 and SB 1027 both passed their respective chambers and is on to the governors desk.

Virginia Clean Economy Act - HB 1526 and SB 94

Six states throughout the country have committed to 100 percent renewable energy. Virginia is now poised to become the seventh to pledge to 100 percent carbon-free electricity for its citizens by 2050 or sooner. In addition to that commitment (the House version sets a timeline of 2045), the Act also requires utilities to reach 30 percent renewable electricity by 2030, using sources such as solar and wind. In addition, it calls for the elimination of all oil and nearly all coal from Virginia’s energy supply by 2024 -- as well as biomass by 2028 and natural gas by 2050. 

Status: There are small inconsistencies between the House and Senate versions, so they’ll need to go through both houses again.

Get More Electric School Buses on the Road - HB 1140 and HB 75

Electric school buses are a climate solution twice over -- they reduce emissions from the transportation sector, and they increase battery storage capacity, which can help utilities meet demand peaks without needing to build more dirty gas plants. Two bills in the legislature aimed to increase the amount of electric school buses on Virginia roads. 

HB 1140 would have established an Electric School Bus Grant Program. School districts could apply for this money and it would have required them to develop plans to transition to fully electric fleets by 2030 (a timeline we think is necessary to sufficiently curb emission). The bill would have prioritized buses in school districts that suffer the most from air pollution as well. Unfortunately, this bill didn’t make it out of the House Appropriations Committee. 

HB 75 would authorize the expansion of an electric school bus initiative announced by Dominion Energy last fall. This bill passed 55-44 out of the House and, if approved by the Senate, would result in up to 200 new electric school buses each year from 2021 through 2025.

To radically decarbonize our transportation sector, we need as many of these buses on the road as quickly as possible. These two approaches could have worked in concert with one another to help speed up that process. We’re excited to track the progress of HB 75 as it moves over to the Senate, and we hope to come back next year to set up a Electric School Bus Grant Fund.

Status: HB 1140 is dead but HB 75 passed the House and will be considered by the Senate.