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Feb. 4, 2021 by Katlyn Schmitt

Old Dominion Weighs Bills to Curb Climate Change, Protect Health and Environment

Virginia's General Assembly is more than halfway through its legislative session — and state lawmakers are considering several important bills that would address environmental justice, pipelines, climate change, and public health. If passed, these bills will establish lasting environmental, health, and climate change protections for Virginia and its communities. The bills we're watching would:

  • Turn the Commonwealth's stated environmental justice goals into a reality

    The Omnibus Environmental Justice Bill (House Bill 2074 and Senate Bill 1318) would direct Virginia's state and local agencies to adopt agency-specific environmental justice policies by October. Specifically, it would require agencies to evaluate the consequences of covered actions (such as approving a new natural gas pipeline or granting a permit to construct one) on low-income communities and communities of color, which face disproportionate harm from polluters.

    The bill would also require agencies to consider the cumulative impact of their actions on "frontline" workers and communities on the "fence line" of polluting industries and give these historically disenfranchised groups ample opportunity to participate in agency decision-making processes.

  • Increase oversight and accountability for pipeline companies

    Virginia's pipeline companies have a history of violating federal water quality standards when building new pipelines. Senate Bill 1265 would …

Dec. 10, 2020 by Katlyn Schmitt
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Ever since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a dangerous (and now-rescinded) policy relaxing enforcement of environmental protections in March, the Center for Progressive Reform has watchdogged responses from state environmental agencies in three states in the Chesapeake Bay Region — Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

While the EPA essentially gave companies a free pass to hide pollution violations during the pandemic, most states set up processes to handle COVID-19-related noncompliance. Environmental agencies in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania received dozens of waiver requests related to water, land, and air quality protections, pollution controls, sampling and monitoring, inspections, and critical infrastructure deadlines.

A majority of these requests were related to the pandemic. But others, such as those seeking to delay important deadlines for construction projects, were not. This suggests that some polluters are using COVID-19 as an excuse to subvert or delay deadlines that prevent further air or …

Nov. 4, 2020 by David Flores
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The Virginia General Assembly has wrapped a special legislative session to reform the Commonwealth’s budget. The story Virginians often hear is that lawmakers were busy pursuing social justice, spurred on by COVID-driven economic hardships and a historic demand for reforms. However, this story belies the fact that the Assembly failed to pass the meaningful social justice reforms called for by working-class Virginians, while giving away half a billion dollars in customer overcharges to Dominion Energy’s shareholders.

With the climate and COVID crises at the fore, state and local environmental regulation and decision-making has taken on greater weight. As CPR Policy Analyst Katlyn Schmitt points out in a new paper, there is still some low-hanging fruit to be picked before Virginians can be equitably served by and participate in the Commonwealth’s environmental decision-making process.

For one, public notice and comment procedures for proposed environmental rules …

Sept. 25, 2020 by David Flores
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An extraordinary Atlantic hurricane season is still underway, one that has seen the National Hurricane Center exhaust its supply of names and resort to Greek alphabet for remaining storms. This month was the worst September on record in terms of the number of named storms, and 2020 overall is second only to 2005’s devastating succession of hurricanes (which included Katrina) in the number of named storms over the entire season.

There's no mystery as to why: Climate change is driving an increase in the frequency and strength of Atlantic hurricanes. And it's doing it at a time when affected communities – especially Black, Brown, and low-income communities – are all the more vulnerable to natural disaster due to the Trump administration’s rollbacks of environmental safeguards and its reckless response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While Trump is pouring fuel on the fire, 2020’s portent of a future …

Aug. 11, 2020 by Samuel Boden, Kim Sudderth
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On October 20, 1994, rising floodwaters from the San Jacinto River in Houston, Texas, caused a pipeline to break open, allowing gasoline to gush out and the river to catch fire. Such flooding is increasingly likely as the effects of climate change take hold, and yet, in the quarter century since that disaster, the federal government has implemented no new regulations to ensure that oil and gas operators are adequately preparing for the risks from more frequent and intense floods caused by the climate crisis.

In April 2019, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued an unenforceable notice reminding pipeline operators that severe flooding still threatens the integrity of their infrastructure. Similarly, prompted by chemical disasters during recent hurricanes, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) alerted industrial facilities of the potential chemical disasters that could be …

Aug. 3, 2020 by Matt Shudtz, Brian Gumm
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Based on its current projected path, Tropical Storm Isaias could bring heavy rains up and down the East Coast, from the Carolinas and Virginia to the Delmarva Peninsula, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Along the way, the storm could swamp industrial facilities, coal ash ponds, concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), and more.

From Hurricane Florence to Hurricane Harvey and beyond, in the past 15 years, we've seen numerous tropical storms flood unprepared facilities. This has caused significant infrastructure damage and unleashed toxic floodwaters into nearby communities and waterways, threatening public health and making residents sick.

While no one can predict the exact path of any given storm, we do know the importance of preparing for extreme weather and adapting to the climate crisis. For resources on this issue, you can review CPR's report on toxic floodwaters in Virginia, our paper on toxic floodwaters and public health, and our …

May 16, 2019 by Brian Gumm
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In April, states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed published drafts of the latest iteration of plans to reduce pollution and protect their rivers and streams. New analyses from the Center for Progressive Reform show that the plans fall far short of what is needed to restore the health and ecological integrity of the Chesapeake Bay.

The draft plans, known as Phase III watershed implementation plans (WIPs), were developed as part of the Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) framework that includes all the states in the Chesapeake watershed. CPR Policy Analysts David Flores and Evan Isaacson focused on three states – Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia – that are responsible for nearly 90 percent of nitrogen pollution to the Chesapeake and represent more than 90 percent of the remaining pollution reductions needed to reach the final 2025 pollution reduction target.

Isaacson examined and evaluated the draft WIPs with several criteria …

March 6, 2019 by David Flores
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2018 was one of the wettest years on record in Virginia, causing catastrophic floods and landslides, as well as unexpectedly high levels of pollution in the Commonwealth’s waterways and the Chesapeake Bay. While the last waterlogged year is only a recent memory for Virginians, seemingly unremarkable snow and rainfall at the end of February caused the James River to crest last week at its highest level in Richmond in almost ten years. Climate change has clearly transformed our experience with weather and our relationship with water. In a new report published today, the Center for Progressive Reform explores how this drives environmental injustice in Virginia through toxic flooding and the increasing risk of chemical exposures.

Over the last two years, plant explosions in Texas and flooded coal ash impoundments in North Carolina have reminded us about an unmet need to adapt our approach to chemical safety. And …

Nov. 1, 2018 by David Flores
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This op-ed originally ran in the Bay Journal. Reprinted with permission.

Recent extreme weather — Hurricanes Harvey and Florence — caused widespread toxic contamination of floodwaters after low-lying chemical plants, coal ash storage facilities and hog waste lagoons were inundated.

Such storm-driven chemical disasters demonstrate that state water pollution permitting programs are overdue for reforms that account for stronger and more intense hurricanes and heavy rainfall events, sea level rise and extreme heat.

As the District of Columbia and the states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed prepare their final watershed implementation plans for cleaning up the Bay, two important lessons should be clear from the recent disasters: First, climate change will greatly complicate Bay cleanup efforts and must therefore be factored into planning. Second, the state regulation of pollution sources can and should be a critical component of the plan.

The potential pollution implications of climate change are many …

Aug. 27, 2018 by Elena Franco
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This post is part of a series about climate change and the increasing risk of floods releasing toxic chemicals from industrial facilities. It is based on a forthcoming article that will be published in the Sustainable Development Law & Policy Brief.

As climate change makes extreme weather events increasingly frequent, the risk of flooding on our rivers and shores increases. As I noted in a previous post in this series, this puts us at risk for toxic flooding – the combination of floodwaters and industrial toxic spills unleashed during flooding events. Although the storms themselves are not preventable, we can at least avoid placing toxic chemicals in the path of floodwaters. So what role can the American people play in developing stronger, more proactive policies designed to prevent, rather than merely respond to, toxic flooding? 

The good news is that existing federal and state environmental laws provide vehicles …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Feb. 4, 2021

Old Dominion Weighs Bills to Curb Climate Change, Protect Health and Environment

Dec. 10, 2020

Environmental Enforcement in the COVID-19 Era

Nov. 4, 2020

It's Time to Tear Down Barriers to Sensible Safeguards, Equity, and Justice in Virginia

Sept. 25, 2020

New Webinar Series on Toxic Floodwaters: Communities and Advocates Tackle Climate-Driven Chemical Disaster

Aug. 11, 2020

Toxic Floodwaters and Pipelines in Hampton Roads

Aug. 3, 2020

Will Isaias Unleash Toxic Floodwaters along the East Coast?

May 16, 2019

Chesapeake Bay State Plans to Protect Watershed, Reduce Pollution Fall Short