Virginia Delegate Ron Villanueva Proposes the Virginia Coastal Protection Act to Address Rising Sea Levels

VIRGINIA BEACH – Delegate Ron Villanueva (R-Virginia Beach) held a tele-press conference on December 22nd, alongside clean energy advocate Dawone Robinson, Virginia Policy Director for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and Norfolk resident Chris Scanton, who has experienced recurrent flooding. During the conference, Del. Villanueva introduced the upcoming legislation called The Virginia Coastal Protection Act, aimed at safeguarding coastal Virginia from the threat of rising sea levels.

Del. Villanueva emphasized the responsibility of legislators to protect the safety of constituents and their property, highlighting that rising sea levels driven by climate change pose one of the most significant risks to coastal Virginia’s safety. He further stressed the urgent need for significant funding dedicated to addressing this risk, and the importance of his bill in providing a starting point for solutions to tackle the issue, both publicly and privately.

Acknowledging the need for immediate action and substantial resources to prepare for the increasing impacts of sea-level rise, mayors, Navy officials, and legislators from both parties agree that Virginia lacks a dedicated funding source for this purpose. The Virginia Coastal Protection Act aims to address this by bringing Virginia into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a market-based system. Through emissions trading, Virginia’s participation in RGGI is expected to generate $200 million or more annually by 2020. The legislation specifies that half of the RGGI revenues would be allocated to fund projects for adapting to sea-level rise and recurrent flooding in Hampton Roads.

Chris Scanton, a resident of Norfolk, expressed the vulnerability of the area to sea-level rise caused by climate change, stating that his home, along with those of his friends and family, is already at risk. He expressed appreciation for Del. Villanueva’s leadership in introducing the Virginia Coastal Protection Act.

Virginia’s coastal region experiences one of the fastest rates of sea-level rise in the nation. Residents frequently alter their travel routes to avoid flooded roads. A recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists paints a grim future, projecting that minor tidal flooding due to sea-level rise could occur almost every other day by 2045.

Dawone Robinson, Virginia Policy Director for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, stressed the challenge of flooding as one of the most pressing policy issues facing coastal Virginia. He described the Virginia Coastal Protection Act as a critically needed bill for the 2015 General Assembly.

In addition to funding efforts for coastal climate resilience, the bill specifies that the remaining emissions trading revenues from Virginia’s participation in RGGI would be allocated to economic development in southwest Virginia, as well as investments in clean energy and energy efficiency throughout the Commonwealth.

Robinson emphasized that the Virginia Coastal Protection Act is a win-win for the entire state, providing funding for important programs during a time of harsh state budget cuts and serving as a viable option for Virginia to meet its carbon reduction goals.

Del. Villanueva also serves on a newly established special subcommittee tasked with reviewing and developing potential policy options to assist Virginia in complying with the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan. He believes that the Virginia Coastal Protection Act and Virginia’s potential participation in RGGI offer a practical and cost-effective approach to aligning with federal rules.

Del. Villanueva concluded by expressing his interest in initiating conversations about a multi-state approach to carbon reductions, such as RGGI, which experts suggest is beneficial for ratepayers. He stressed the importance of finding solutions and addressing the problems today, as they will persist if left unattended.