Anyone who lives in Virginia knows that flooding has become one of the most challenging public policy issues facing our state, especially on the coast. The rising of ocean waters due to climate change, combined with the area’s sinking land, will cause as much as 7.5 feet of sea level rise by century’s end, according to the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences.[i] Bigger, climate-fueled, storms also will prove to be a huge burden for local communities across Virginia. It’s time for collective solutions throughout all levels of government.
But while the impacts of climate change are at our doorstep, so are the solutions. CCAN is working to help adapt our coast to rising tides, reduce carbon emissions at the root of the problem, and tap into Virginia’s vast wind and solar energy resources.
A Win-Win Solution: The Virginia Alternative Energy & Coastal Protection Act
A Necessary Addition to Executive Directive
In November 2017, the State Air Pollution Control Board approved draft regulations to cap carbon emissions by linking with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). This was a great first step towards climate action in Virginia. However, without legislative action, the Commonwealth would not be able to utilize up to $200M per year in revenue from the carbon market or guarantee a cap past the year 2030.
Virginia needs a massive, coordinated investment in new and resilient infrastructure, living shorelines, emergency planning, and strategic retreat from vulnerable areas to keep people safe and dry. And we need money to pay for it—likely upwards of $1 billion for Norfolk alone.
The Virginia Alternative Energy & Coastal Protection Act of 2018 would formally join Virginia to and formally join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which will unlock crucial funds for adaptation measures throughout Virginia while guaranteeing long-term reductions in carbon emissions in a way that is proven cost-effective. As outlined in the VCPA, revenues generated from the sale of carbon allowances will help fund resilience efforts, support economic development in Southwest Virginia, and expand clean energy and efficiency investments statewide.
How RGGI Works
RGGI is a cooperative effort, currently comprised of nine East Coast states from Maine to Maryland, that caps and reduces carbon emissions from power plants. Under RGGI, power plants in participating states purchase allowances for every ton of carbon pollution that they emit. RGGI states agree amongst themselves how many pollution allowances to offer for sale each year, thus setting a cap on emissions, and they gradually lower the cap each year. It’s a flexible, market-based system. Participating states set the carbon cap and then power plants decide how to stay below it. Revenue from the auction of pollution allowances goes back to the states to fund carbon reduction programs and other initiatives decided by each state.
Virginia’s participation in RGGI is projected to raise roughly $200 million per year through 2030 in auction allowances.
The Alternative Energy & Virginia Coastal Protection Act: In Detail
The Virginia Coastal Protection Act gives the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board the authority to form a state-run auction within the RGGI marketplace when they review final regulations for Executive Directive 11.
The act directs funds to the Commonwealth Resiliency Fund, a dedicated source of revenue to fund projects that will improve the lives of millions of Virginians. The act specifies that the funds be appropriated to the following areas:
- 35% for Statewide Flooding Resilience Efforts
- 30% for Statewide Energy Efficiency
- 20% for Statewide Clean Energy Projects and Support
- 10% for Southwest Virginia Economic Development Assistance
- 5% for Administrative Costs
Why We Need Solutions Now: Hampton Roads is Ground Zero for the Climate Crisis in Virginia
Communities Are Flooding. Southwest Virginia is struggling. It’s Getting Worse. We Need Solutions Now.
Locally, the impacts of climate change include:
- Sea-level rise: The rate of sea-level rise on Virginia’s coast is close to the fastest in the nation. The Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) projects that Virginia’s coast will see 3-7 more feet of sea level rise by 2100.
- Heavier precipitation: As the atmosphere warms, it holds more moisture, leading to more extreme precipitation from storms.
- Super-charged hurricanes: Sea level rise makes storm surges from hurricanes more damaging. When Hurricane Isabel hit in 2003, it caused more damage than a bigger hurricane that hit in 1933. VIMS researchers believe Isabel was more destructive because the storm rode atop seas that were 14 inches higher.
Every time coastal residents must change their route to work or school to avoid flooded roads or vacuum out water-logged basements, they are confronting the local impacts of global climate change, driven by the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas.
What’s at Risk?
The stakes for our communities and economy are high:
- Hampton Roads is home to about 1.7 million people, yet the region has no strong plan for evacuation and shelter in case of a weather disaster.
- The Tidewater region is critical to our national security, possessing the world’s largest naval base, and extensive military and federal infrastructure. Climate change poses a threat to these installations and our military readiness.
- Prominent historical sites like Jamestown Island and Colonial Williamsburg are at risk of disappearing due to sea level rise and stronger storms.
- A thriving beach industry which generated $1.28 billion in 2012 alone.
- Extensive import and export infrastructure, which supports the local economy and provides jobs. Port activity impacts the Hampton Roads economy substantially, generating $12.3 billion in local output.
In the U.S., the Hampton Roads region is second only to New Orleans as home to the most people at greatest risk from flooding caused by rising sea levels. Residents are already seeing the consequences – living on the front lines of climate impacts driven by fossil fuel industry pollution. Chronic flooding is forcing the raising of homes, roadways and naval infrastructure, and it’s only getting worse. Scientists predict that sea levels could rise by as much as seven feet within this century. In the event of a major storm, there is no effective plan to evacuate and shelter residents, even as warming ocean temperatures and longer hurricane seasons increase the risk of superstorms like Sandy.
To highlight the stories of Virginia’s coastal families living on the front lines of climate change we, along with our partners at Virginia Organizing and the Virginia Sierra Club, created Flood of Voices, a website dedicated to the stories of those being affected by rising tides and flooding, especially those whose voices are not normally heard. Click here to hear stories from Flood of Voices.
It’s Time to Make Virginia a Ground Zero for Solutions
While adapting to the sea level rise we’re locked into, we must invest in Virginia clean energy to reduce the pollution at the root of the problem.
If we’re serious about protecting Virginians from the effects of climate change, we must first dedicate revenue to fund resilience efforts. Virginia can generate millions of dollars annually to fight climate change impacts and protect citizens from sea level rise by linking with RGGI, a regional collaboration to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.
Revenue associated with the sale of carbon auction permits will fund climate resilience efforts, economic development assistance in Southwest Virginia, Agricultural BMPs to protect our the Chesapeake Bay, and clean energy and efficiency programs throughout the Commonwealth.
Fund Flooding Solutions in Virginia
The Dutch engineering firm Fugro estimates that Norfolk needs at least $1 billion to adapt to the flooding threat posed by climate change.[ii] The billion dollar price tag equals Norfolk’s entire annual operating budget.[iii] Other coastal cities face similar threats. Funding from the VCPA is the only viable solution to this growing problem.
Reduce Harmful Carbon Emissions
Since RGGI’s inception in 2009, emissions in RGGI states fell at a rate 2x greater than non-RGGI states even as the GDP in RGGI states grew 3% more than non-RGGI states.[iv] By joining RGGI, Virginia can cost-effectively cut our carbon emissions by 30% by the year 2031.[v]
Invest in Clean Energy and Efficiency
Virginia lags far behind neighboring states in solar energy development and has an enormous amount of untapped potential in energy efficiency. New investments in these areas will help Virginia catch up in the clean energy sector and reduce customers’ electricity bills.[vi]
Stimulate Job Growth in Southwest & Protect the Chesapeake Bay
New energy sources have led to historically low coal production in a region heavily dependent on it. The VCPA will invest in economic revitalization projects that will provide a much-needed economic boost for the region. New investments in Agricultural BMPs are also critical to many rural areas of Virginia after federal cuts to water quality programs.
If we’re going to protect Hampton Roads from the worst climate impacts, we need to build a climate movement that matches the scale of the problem. The energy choices our lawmakers make today will affect the height of the seas our children and grandchildren will have to contend with. Our politicians are tempted to not look past the length of their own term in office, so we have to push them to stop new investments in fossil fuels and build a clean energy economy.
To get involved, email Harrison Wallace, Virginia Policy Coordinator and Coastal Campaigns Manager, at Harrison@chesapeakeclimate.org.
- Fact Sheet: The Virginia Alternative Energy & Coastal Protection Act
- Text of Virginia Alternative Energy & Coastal Protection Act – House Version HB 2018
- Text of Virginia Alternative Energy & Coastal Protection Act – Senate Version SB 1471
- RGGI City EndorsementsEditorial Boards Have Spoken: Virginia Should Join RGGI
- Read more about Flood of Voices, and submit your own story
- Fact Sheet: The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative
- Infographic: The Power of Coastal Protection
- Analysis Group Fact Sheet: RGGI as a Blueprint for Clean Power Plan Success
- See the summary: Virginia Editorial Boards support RGGI as a climate solution
- Fact Sheet: Climate Change in Coastal Virginia: The Impacts Are Here Now, But So Are The Solutions
- Fact Sheet: The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative: How Virginia can Reduce Climate Pollution, Comply with Federal Standards, and Generate New and Significant Funds.
- Read the report: Safe Coast Virginia: Climate Change Threats and Practical Solutions for Coastal Virginia.
- White paper: Why RGGI would incentivize carbon-free energy — not new natural gas — in Virginia.
- Read the Virginia Coastal Policy Center’s report: “The Cost of Doing Nothing: A Sea Level Rise Synopsis for the Hampton Roads Region”
- Read the Reuters Special Report: “Water’s Edge: The Crisis of Sea Level Rise.”
- Read Mike Tidwell’s Virginian-Pilot op-ed, “Will Norfolk be the next New Orleans?”
- Watch PBS’s Need To Know 04/27/2012 episode: Sea-level rise in Norfolk
- Watch PBS’s Need To Know 06/24/2011 episode: Climate Change at the Doorstep
- National Journal Article: “The Scary Truth About How Much Climate Change is Costing You”
- The Virginian-Pilot Report: Virginia must lead in fighting sea level rise
- Learn more about how state shelters couldn’t hold half of expected evacuees
- Factsheet on the effect of global warming on hurricane behavior
- Presentation on the effect of accelerated sea level rise on the Norfolk Naval Station by Joe Bouchard, Ph.D