Interview With Virginia Congressman Gerald E. Connolly

BY ON October 1, 2014
Congressman Gerry Connolly and his family.

Congressman Gerry Connolly and his family.

What is unique about protecting Virginia’s resources?

The Washington Post recently highlighted climate change challenges here in Virginia, specifically in Norfolk and Hampton Roads, where the Navy and local governments are forced to take action to mitigate sea level rise. In Norfolk, normal tides have risen 1 ½ feet over the past century, registering the fastest increase on the East Coast and the second highest nationally behind New Orleans. In fact, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science has found various models that project anywhere between 2 to 6 feet in sea level rise over the next century.

As a result, local leaders developed a plan calling for new flood gates, higher roads, and a retooled storm water management system. Implementing the plan would cost more than $1 billion — roughly the size of Norfolk’s entire annual budget — to protect Norfolk from about a foot of additional water. Making matters even more challenging, the city has failed to build resiliency to sea level rise into its modern infrastructure. For example, it recently constructed a $318 million light-rail system – paid for primarily with federal funds – that sits at sea level and is at constant risk of flooding with storm surges. With more foresight, this could have been elevated to create a bulwark against the tides.

And here in Northern Virginia, we know firsthand the impacts of carbon pollution. As a non-attainment region, we are constantly dealing with air pollution from neighboring states, increased smog as a result of traffic congestion, and code red air quality days. This has a direct negative effect on public health, particularly for those with respiratory conditions and asthma.

As a parent are you worried about the effects of climate change on your children and the children of Virginia?

Yes, there are significant health and economic reasons for us to cut carbon pollution, a leading contributor to climate change. Record high temperatures have produced dangerous levels of smog, and as a result, asthma rates have doubled in the past 30 years. In addition, incidents of extreme weather have increased dramatically, threatening our communities and critical infrastructure.

Why is a bipartisan effort so important and how can these efforts be achieved in our politically polarizing culture?

Climate change knows no political party or political boundary. The very real effects are felt every day in each of our communities. As Chairman of Fairfax County, reducing our carbon footprint was not seen as a partisan issue, and I wish that was the case in Congress.

I commend the President for advancing a climate action plan that sets a goal of using 20 percent renewables by 2020, cutting carbon emissions from new and existing power plants, and raising vehicle efficiency standards to 35 miles per gallon with a goal of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Congress should be a partner in this effort, yet sadly, during the past four years of Republican control, the House of Representatives has only worked to undermine efforts to address climate change at the local, state, and federal levels.

I am proud to co-chair the congressional Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition (SEEC), what we call the “Green Dogs.” We understand the urgency to act on climate change. As a coalition, we’ve consistently advocated for making strategic investments across the board in clean and renewable energy, in efficient and resilient energy technology, and in R & D to not only find future energy sources but also find better ways to distribute that energy.

Is there anything you’d like to share that is important for Moms Clean Air Force members to know?

Responding to global climate change may appear to be a daunting task, but I believe we can and must make strategic investments to reduce our own emissions and lead by example within our communities.

For example, in Fairfax County we decided to embark on an ambitious agenda to reduce the county government’s carbon emissions by 80% by 2050.

We invested resources to increase energy and fuel efficiency in government vehicles, buses and facilities, and we expanded recycling programs. We embraced green building standards, increased the use of wind power, encouraged rain gardens and pervious pavers to reduce storm water runoff, and we retrofitted our fleet of 3,600 vehicles with more hybrids. We also funded a robust program for protecting open space and increasing the tree canopy across the county. Today, Fairfax County is well on its way to meet the goals we set.

We also worked to inform our constituents about the little things can add up to make a big difference. For example, did you know that if every electric utility customer in Northern Virginia switched ten incandescent light bulbs to LED bulbs, we would eliminate the need for another power plant in the state? This one small act would have a huge effect in cutting our carbon footprint.

Congressman Gerry Connolly is in his third term in Congress representing Northern Virginia. He is the co-Chair of the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition, also known as the “Green Dogs.” SEEC is a coalition of 57 Democrats, the second-largest Caucus in the Democratic Party, pushing for action on climate change and investment in clean and renewable energy sources.

Prior to be electing to Congress, Connolly served as Chairman of the Board of Supervisors in Fairfax County, Va. As Chairman he launched the “Cool Counties Initiative” – an ambitious agenda to reduce the county government’s carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. Today, more than 600 communities have adopted similar plans.




TOPICS: Climate Change, Politics, Virginia