The Climate Action Legislative Playbook for Winter 2020

Major Climate Action Opportunities Will Pass through the VA Capitol in 2020

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As the most historic General Assembly session in recent memory embarks on its first full week, here is the skinny on the “Who, What, Where, and When” of the most promising opportunities for climate and clean energy issues. To ensure Virginia’s leaders deliver on the Three E’s of bold action, this is what to look out for in the coming weeks of a sure to be fast-paced session.

WHO AND WHERE: The Leaders Most Responsible for Virginia Climate Action

Legislative “ground zero” for climate action and clean energy (or, conversely, climate obstruction and dirty energy) is the Senate Commerce & Labor and House Labor & Commerce committees.

Just as important, each of those has an energy subcommittee: the Senate’s energy “sub” is comprised of the Chair Lionel Spruill, Senator Louise Lucas, Senator David Marsden, Senator Newman, and Senator Norment. Here is the membership of the full committee.

On the House side, the energy “sub” #3 has not yet been announced, but here is the full committee.

WHAT: 2020’s Most Promising Legislation for Commonsense Climate Action

The Three E’s of Efficiency, Emissions-zero, and Equity can best be met, respectively, by the following three must-pass pieces of legislation.

Efficiency, to lower bills and carbon pollution: SB 354 & HB 1450

(1) An “energy efficiency resource standard” (or EERS) is the best and most-widely adopted policy to directly lower carbon pollution and Virginia’s Top-10-highest-in-the-nation electric bills. Indeed, an EERS could lower some electric bills in Virginia by nearly 30%, while also delivering over a third of Virginia’s required carbon pollution reductions by 2030, according to a recent in-depth analysis by Optimal Energy. 

Senator John Bell is carrying the Senate version (SB 354) of a Virginia EERS through Senate Commerce & Labor; Delegate Rip Sullivan is carrying the House version (HB 1450) through the House Labor & Commerce committee.

Emissions-zero, to take bold climate action: SB 851 & HB

(2) The Virginia Clean Economy Act is Virginia’s best vehicle to ensure Virginia vaults into a leadership position among U.S. states taking decisive and historic climate action, as it combines an EERS with a binding commitment to transition the state’s electric grid to 100% clean energy by 2050. This will sharply cut carbon emissions and invest in clean energy, creating thousands of good jobs while making power cheaper.

Senator Jennifer McClellan is carrying the Senate’s Virginia Clean Economy Act (SB 851, also through Senate Commerce & Labor); Delegates Jennifer Carroll-Foy and Rip Sullivan are carrying the House version (HB 1526) through the House Labor & Commerce committee.

Equity, to direct RGGI-revenue to reduce Virginia’s low-income energy burden: HB 981

(3) RGGI-revenue from Virginia’s soon-to-begin in 2021 participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (“RGGI”) is an over $1 billion, decade-long equity investment opportunity, that would directly tackle Virginia’s outsized low-income energy burden with efficiency investment through 2030.

Specifically, by addressing the lion’s share of Virginia’s approximately $1.1 billion in expected RGGI carbon revenue toward low-income community homes, public housing, K-12 schools, hospitals, and municipality buildings, as well as HBCUs, the legislature can help lower energy costs through efficiency upgrades where they’re needed the most.

Senators Mamie Locke and Lynwood Lewis are expected to carry the Senate’s RGGI-revenue bill (probably through the Senate Ag committee); Delegate Charniele Herring is carrying the House’s RGGI-revenue bill (HB 981, also probably through the House Ag committee).

WHEN the Legislature Will Flex Its 2020 Climate Action Muscle (very soon!)

The key times are simple: Monday and Tuesday afternoons: that’s when the respective Senate and House energy subcommittees will meet (upon adjournment of the full committees) to vote on the most impactful efficiency and emissions-zero pieces of legislation.

If the past is any indication, all energy-related legislation originating in the House, both good and bad, will be heard on a marathon Subcommittee # 3 “energy night,” most likely Tuesday January 28.

The RGGI-revenue equity legislation will likely be heard over in the Senate and House Ag committees, which meet Tuesday afternoons and Wednesday mornings, respectively.

Crossover Day, the deadline by which to move legislation from one chamber to the other, is a month from now, on Tuesday February 11.

Next Steps

We’ll keep a sharp eye out for when this triad of Three E’s climate legislation will be heard, to ensure that the priorities of Efficiency, Emissions-zero, and Equity are tackled by the 2020 legislature.

Good things are moving!

About the Authors

Walton Shepherd

Virginia Policy Director, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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