Political observers and environmental activists are parsing how a strategy of action preceding the Virginia 2019 elections paid off. The Democrats won back majorities in both houses of the state legislature – the first time in over forty years.
Not that long ago, in February of this year, Virginia was a disaster for Democrats. The governor, Ralph Northam, was in the middle of a “blackface” yearbook investigation. His Lt. Governor was defending himself against sexual assault allegations.
Now, Virginia can march forward towards clean energy, without naysayer politicians barring the way. (This is why hyperlocal elections are so important!). And other states are looking to the Virginia template of a well-organized push for gains, to advance climate winners for next year’s races.
Top takeaways include:
- Registering and getting out the vote of those who have been identified with wanting the implementation of a strong environmental agenda. This is a top concern for many young voters. It encompasses not just energy issues, but climate crisis readiness and guarantees to strengthen and rebuild infrastructure.
- Supporting candidates that will clarify their positions on the climate crisis and enumerate what they are ready to deliver to make sure that a clean energy plan is put forth.
- Demanding that candidates say no to corporate monies coming from fossil fuel funders.
- The state has its own Green New Deal Virginia, with the tag line, “Good jobs. Good Deal. Good Life.” They have tied in social justice issues with structural environmental change, and a promise to “leave no workers or communities behind.”
- Making a net-zero carbon emissions a target objective (Virginia’s Democrats have endorsed the year 2050 as their goal.).
It hasn’t been easy for Virginia to relinquish coal dependency, and gravitate toward wind and solar energy. Virginia gets 10% of their electricity from coal-fired power plants. Gov. Northam wanted Virginia join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), but had been previously blocked in his efforts by the Republican held legislature. RGGI is a program for eastern states that works with a cap and trade format. It is the “first mandatory market-based program in the US to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” By becoming part of RGGI, the shift to renewables will gain momentum and be accelerated.
The Virginia Democratic Party has supported and approved the switch to 100% renewable energy. They clearly understand the threats to their coastline from rising sea levels, and how that can exacerbate flooding during tropical storms. The cost to cities in Virginia, which will have to foot the bill resulting from damages, would be in the billions of dollars.
Additionally, Virginia has six military bases at risk – one which is the largest naval station globally. It is located in Norfolk.
Polls showed that 83% of Virginians wanted emission reduction and investment in renewables. The League of Conservation Voters spent $1.5 million in Virginia to get the message out.
At a time when the Trump administration is formalizing the American exit from the Paris Climate Accord, having its EPA rollback regs on coal ash (a major source of mercury, arsenic, and lead), and 84 other environmental rollbacks – it’s more important than ever that states step up like Virginia has to protect the health of their citizens from the damaging effects of climate change.