Category Archives: Environment

Omega Protein Exceeds ASMFC Catch Limit of Menhaden

Photo credit: Stephan Lowy

by Don Rippert

What, me worry? Omega Protein has admitted exceeding its menhaden catch limit for 2019 in the Chesapeake Bay. Omega Protein, a Houston-based company and wholly owned subsidiary of Cooke, Inc, a Canadian firm, operates a fishing fleet based in Reedville, Va. Employing about 300 Virginians, Omega Protein has been mired in controversy over the years regarding its heavy catch of menhaden.  Since this topic has been repeatedly covered on Bacon’s Rebellion, I won’t provide detailed background. However, the environmental group Menhaden Defenders operates an informative website describing the situation.

Menhaden Defenders writes, “The commercial menhaden fishery is made up of two sectors, a reduction fishery, which grinds billions of bunker up for fish meal and oil, and the bait fishery which supplies menhaden for lobster and crab traps. Reduction fishing is an antiquated practice that has been banned in every east coast state, except Virginia.” Virginia is the only east coast state that allows reduction fishing and is also the only east coast state that allows unlimited contributions to state politicians. Over the last 26 years Omega Protein has donated just under $600,000 to Virginia politicians, political committees and PACs with the majority going to Republicans.

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Republicans Must Find a New Way Forward

by James A. Bacon

Virginia is a blue state now. Not only do Democrats occupy all statewide elected positions — two U.S. senators, governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general — with yesterday’s election, they control both houses of the General Assembly.

Republicans got their booties  kicked. And the butt-stomping is not likely to subside. The Dems will control the next redistricting, which will cement their dominance of the legislature. Auguring well for the blue team in the future, the fastest-growing region of the state, Northern Virginia, now is pure blue with bits  of purple on the exurban fringe. By contrast, Republican strongholds in rural Virginia have shrinking or stagnant populations. Also favoring Democrats in the long run is the increasing percentage of racial/ethnic minorities in the state and the declining percentage of whites.

Republicans need to re-define who they are and what they stand for, or they will become a permanent minority. News reports say that dislike of Donald Trump drove Democratic voter turnout, but the Blue Tide is much broader and deeper than voter animus of one man. Take Trump out of the equation after the 2020 election, and Virginia Republicans still have a huge problem.

Can the Republicans re-calibrate? I certainly hope so, because I’m terrified of the Democratic Party agenda of $15 minimum wage, spiking the right-to-work law, a damn-the-torpedoes-full-speed-ahead rush to a 100% renewable electric grid, spending and taxing, taxing and spending, and injecting its grievance-and-victimhood agenda into the consideration of every issue. But Republican priorities on culture war issues — guns, abortion, transgenders — are not winning issues statewide. As long as Republicans remain captive to its rural/small-town base, I don’t see how it can reinvent itself.

What does a rejuvenated Republican Party look like? (Or, if the GOP is incapable of reinventing itself, what does a successor party look like?) Continue reading

Virginia Air Pollution Continues Downward Trend

Switching topics from reading test scores, here’s a downward trend Virginians can appreciate. Air pollution emissions in the Old Dominion continued their long-term downward trend in 2017 for most categories of emissions, according to an analysis of federal data by the Consumer Energy Alliance, an organization of major energy consumers.

Between 1990 and 2017 Virginia has seen the following:

• 68 percent reduction in carbon monoxide (CO)
• 51 percent reduction in ammonia (NH3)
• 61 percent reduction in nitrogen oxides (NOx)
• 30 percent reduction in coarse particulate matter (PM10)
• 35 percent reduction in fine particulate matter (PM2.5)
• 89 percent reduction in sulfur dioxide (SO2)
• 60 percent reduction in volatile organic compounds (VOCs

The state has achieved these gains despite a 35% increase in population, a 252% increase in GDP, and a 4% increase in vehicle miles driven per capita, says the report. Continue reading

Dominion Goes Whole Hog for Waste-to-Energy

Hog waste farm: from methane polluter to renewable energy source.

by James A. Bacon

Dominion Energy and Smithfield Foods are investing a half billion dollars to capture methane from hog farms and convert it to “renewable natural gas.” The partnership aims to become the “largest renewable natural gas supplier in the U.S.,” according to a press release issued Wednesday.

A few days ago, I noted how Dominion had sold a $2 billion stake in its Cove Point liquefied natural gas project as part of a larger restructuring of the company away from businesses exposed to market forces in favor of regulated businesses like electric utilities and gas distribution companies. I wondered if Dominion now sees its competitive advantage as its ability to manipulate the regulatory and legislative process.

This new venture, Align Renewable Natural Gas, suggests that Dominion hasn’t abandoned risk-taking ventures entirely. Dominion is making a $250 million bet that a “waste-to-energy” model, demonstrated only in pilot projects, can be implemented nationally. I don’t recall the company having taken a risk of this magnitude to create an entirely new business model before. Continue reading

Electric Vehicles Are Punishingly Overtaxed in Virginia


by Alleyn Harned

In an October 15th post, James Bacon asked the question: How should we tax electric vehicles?

Bacon’s bottom line is reasonable, and it is worth noting that electric vehicles (EVs) and clean fuels already pay more than their fair share in Virginia with equivalent or excessive taxes, according to Consumer Reports. It is easy to agree with Bacon’s ideas of user fees and externalities, where EVs also pay, and where pollution externalities are integrated into state fee structures.

However, Virginia has not ignored the transportation revenue potential of EVs and reaps a high tax on these vehicles. Since the McDonnell administration, electric vehicles been assessed a punishing $64 a year fee in order to gather an approximate amount of revenue equivalent to somewhat more than traditional vehicles pay in gas tax. This fee has been used by the oil industry to justify high fees nationwide.

A recent Consumer Reports study in September showed that now in many states, electric-car fees often cost far more than what owners of gasoline-powered cars pay in gas tax. Virginia’s fee is 5% higher, even though EVs and clean fuel vehicles have great benefit to the Commonwealth through emissions reduction.

I suggest we should tax electric vehicles no greater than gasoline and diesel vehicles. Other financing mechanisms are great, but punishing cleaner vehicles fueled by domestic energy creates an unbalanced playing field favoring high cost oil. Continue reading

Bye, Bye, Smokey Stacks

By Peter Galuszka

Many years ago, when I was a young cub reporter at The Virginian-Pilot, I had a lonely assignment that had me spending some of my mornings watching big ships come and go into Chesapeake Bay.

I worked a night police beat until at least midnight with Wednesdays and Thursdays off, ruining my social life. I saw on occasion many horrible things. For therapy, if I got up early enough and the weather was good, I might go to Fort Story, a military base in Virginia Beach, where I could sit on a bluff at Cape Henry and watch ships come and go. They were easy to see if it wasn’t windy since they emitted tall plumes of pale yellow and dirty brown smoke visible from miles away.

That smoke came from burning cheap, low grade, viscous bunker oil. It was like this for years until recently when the International Maritime Organization (IMO) of the United Nations issued strict new rules to cut sulfur oxides that pollute the air globally and could cause acid rain not to mention some carbon pollution.

Burning such oil had become a bigger problem since container or bulk carrying ships have gotten much bigger, especially as trade with strong economies such as China’s has greatly expanded.

On Jan. 1, ships around the world must use fuel with only 0.5% sulfur, rather than the 3.5% sulfur level that had been using. The levels will be measured by maritime enforcement agencies such as the Coast Guard and shippers who fail to comply will face stiff fines. Continue reading

Dominion Vies to Become Sustainability Leader — at What Cost?

by James A. Bacon

Dominion Energy is aggressively positioning itself as a leader among U.S. electric utilities in renewable energy and environmental stewardship. Whether the shift in strategic direction will win it any friends among Democrats and environmentalists who increasingly dominate Virginia politics is an open question. The environmental wing of the Democratic Party of Virginia continues to move the goal posts, now embracing the goal of a zero-carbon (and likely a zero-nuclear) electric grid for Virginia by 2050, a vision that is irreconcilable with Dominion’s commitment to nuclear and natural gas for the foreseeable future.

Regardless, like most other electric utilities, Dominion sees the direction the country is heading and is running to catch up. The company has detailed its move toward a renewable energy future in its just-issued Sustainability & Corporate Responsibility Report.

“The people of Dominion Energy are leading the country’s transition to clean energy,” said CEO Thomas F. Farrell, II, in a statement accompany the release of the report. “We are transforming everything we do to build a more sustainable future for our customers, the planet and our company. … We intend to become one of the most sustainable companies in the United States.”

The report highlights the following: Continue reading

Carbon Tax for Your Car, SUV Takes Shape at TCI

 

By Steve Haner

In this politically sensitive moment, they don’t call it “cap and tax” but instead “cap and invest.” Yet, the recently released draft Transportation and Climate Initiative proposal fits a Bacon’s Rebellion prediction in March that next they would be coming to tax your SUV.

Reducing CO2 emissions from electric power plants with a cap and tax scheme is not enough, of course. More of those dread emissions (you and I call it exhaling) come from vehicles, despite rapid improvements in engine efficiency and alternatives to fossil fuel combustion. The Northam Administration has Virginia fully engaged. Legislation to require General Assembly approval for this regional compact was vetoed.

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A Sound Business Decision… or More Virtue Signaling?

Recharging an electric school bus. Photo credit: Dominion Energy

Governor Ralph Northam has pledged to put $20 million from the Volkswagen diesel-emissions settlement toward the purchase of zero-emission school buses, the governor’s office has announced. The program, to be administered by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), will help local school systems to replace about 75 diesel-fueled buses and reduce CO2 emissions by 36 million pounds per year, the administration says.

It’s a nice little feel-good story. But, as I attempted to conduct some elementary cost-benefit analysis, I found that the numbers don’t make sense. And even if they did, there are probably more cost-effective ways to save the planet from the climate apocalypse.

Here’s how it works. DEQ will reimburse local school systems up to $265,000 per electric bus, which is approximately the difference in cost between purchasing a diesel-powered bus and an electric bus. While the electric buses can save $2,000 a year in fuel costs and $4,400 and maintenance, the extra up-front investment is a big hurdle. The new program eliminates that barrier, creating financial savings for the locality and a reduction in CO2 emissions as well. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Many Grand Schemes but No Numbers on Cost

VCU’s new master plan. You can tell when you’ve entered most universities because you must pass through impressive-looking gates. You don’t know when you’ve entered Virginia Commonwealth University because the urban university bleeds into the surrounding community. The university’s new ONE VCU master plan will address that by creating two create two “Front Door” projects identifying entrances to the campus, reports Virginia Business. The land use/facilities planning document also calls for improving pedestrian safety — there were 47 pedestrian accidents in 2018-19 — addressing the parking shortage at the medical campus, and providing more bike lanes, among other initiatives. No numbers on cost.

Carbon Neutrality by 2050. Governor Ralph Northam set a goal earlier this month of a zero-carbon electric grid by 2050. Arlington County has gone one better: total carbon neutrality within three decades. The plan approved Saturday envisions a locality where “all electricity will come from renewable sources, where more residents will drive electric vehicles and more will use transit, and where homes and buildings will be more energy efficient,” reports ARL Now. While some hailed the plan, others said it wasn’t ambitious enough and relies too much on technology-based solutions. No numbers on cost.

Mo’ money for schools! Adjusted for inflation, state funding for K-12 education per student is still down 8% from pre-recession levels, finds the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis (CI) in a new report. That sounds terrible — no wonder our schools are having so much trouble! — but the report doesn’t tell us the full picture of what student funding looks like when accounting for federal support and local spending. Is per student spending up, down, the same? CI doesn’t say. However, the report does contain some useful information on inputs — changes in the number of teachers, instructors, support staff, and teacher aides. The assumption is that more spending and more staff = better outcomes. Does it? No numbers on that.

— JAB

Update: I have re-written the original post on “Mo’ money for schools” to reflect the fact that CI provides more data in its report than I originally acknowledged. Further update: Upon reflection, I regret my knee-jerk reaction to CI’s implicit call for mo’ money. The statistical profiles of each school district contain loads of information — especially on staffing levels — not readily available anywhere else.  Kudos to CI to bringing more transparency to school funding and staffing. I fully intend to draw upon this data in future posts.

Environmental Balderdash: Exporting CO2 to EU

Source: Rachel Carson Council, cited by Cindy Elmore in RTD. Click for larger view.

by Steve Haner

In parts of Virginia, conservation groups are being paid by California to preserve forest land because trees capture the CO2 considered the culprit in global warming. In other parts of Virginia, large swaths of trees are being cut to convert into biomass fuel for European power plants, based on a claim that is a way to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere.

It would be so much easier to accept the climate crisis doomsday scenario if the proponents were not so contradictory and hypocritical. In both cases, the Californians and Europeans are doing this so they can keep pumping CO2-rich emissions into their atmosphere. They obviously don’t really fear CO2.  Continue reading

Bacon Bits: River Preservation, Truth in Tuition, and Election Interference

Goat Island

Good deed of the day. Riverside Outfitters, which provides guided kayak, raft, tube, and paddleboard trips, has paid $11,000 to purchase Goat Island, a one-acre islet in the James River. The outfitting company will make the island openly available for public use as a destination for canoers and paddleboarders, reports Richmond BizSense. The company plans to rid non-native plants from the islet and, if legal, bring back some goats, but has no plans to develop it. The James River may not be as big and powerful as other rivers, but it is more beautiful than most. While other metropolitan develop their riverfronts, the Richmond region has moved to preserve the James as an environmental and recreational treasure. Smart move!

Truth in tuition. Randolph College has slashed its list price for tuition, room, and board from $54,101 to $36,000. Pursuing a high-tuition, high-discount model, the small liberal arts college near Lynchburg had been discounting heavily from that price. But administrators concluded that the high sticker price was scaring away potential applicants, reports the News & Advance. Not realizing that the average discount rate for freshmen at private colleges averages more than 50%, many families don’t even bother applying to schools with high list prices. Randolph College, which has 620 students enrolled, hopes to increase the entering class by 5% yearly over the next five years.

Dodge Challenger has become a verb. Daniel McMahon of Brandon, Fla., has been arrested for charges relating to cyber-stalking and threats that led to an African-American activist, Don Gathers, dropping out of a race for Charlottesville City Council. McMahon, a white supremacist, “was motivated by racial animus and used his social-media accounts to threaten and intimidate a potential candidate for elective office,” said U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen, in a statement. “Hey Antifa, it’s simple,” McMahon wrote online, reports the Washington Post. “Wanna know how to not get Dodge Challenged or shot? Don’t attack Right Wingers ever.” James Fields, the white supremacist who killed Heather Heyer during the Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville two years ago, drove a Dodge Challenger. Disgusting.

— JAB

Dominion’s Move Against Green Competitors Fails

by Steve Haner

The verdict is in and green energy virtue in Virginia’s electricity market remains available in monthly increments. You do not need to be green twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, tracking every change of demand.

That was the requirement demanded by Dominion Energy Virginia in its recent effort to block competitive service providers who are taking away customers who want 100% renewable power. In a 22-page opinion issued today (here), the State Corporation Commission rejected every Dominion assertion across the board. It said the two companies, Calpine Energy Solutions and Direct Energy Business, are operating within Virginia law.  Continue reading

Northam: 100% Clean Energy by 2050

by James A. Bacon

Governor Ralph Northam has issued an executive order outlining how Virginia can reach the goals of producing 30% of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030 and 100% from carbon-free sources by 2050. The governor’s vision relies heavily upon solar power, offshore wind, and energy storage, while emphasizing “energy equity” for “communities of color” and lower-income Virginians.

Northam’s plan relies heavily upon Virginia’s investor-owned utilities, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power Co., to make investments in solar, wind, and energy-storage, and contemplates no significant changes to the existing electric-utility framework. The plan also has won the blessing of at least one of Virginia’s leading environmental groups.

“Governor Northam’s announcement today shows real leadership on climate change in the face of its absence at the federal level,” said Will Cleveland, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center in a prepared statement. “It’s time for this kind of cost effective, smart and modern solution to bring Virginia into the future.” Continue reading

Down to the Nitty Gritty on Solar Farm Development

by James A. Bacon

If Virginians want more renewable energy, they need to solve a number of practical problems. One of those is how to decommission old solar panels and wind turbines. When their useful lives have expired, we can’t just let these devices litter the landscape and collect rust. In particular the question of what happens to old solar panels, which contain high levels of heavy metals like cadmium, is one that has concerned many residents of rural counties where solar farms have been proposed.

SolUnesco, a Reston-based developer of solar farms, has given considerable thought to how to plan for the end of utility-scale solar projects. As Lea Maamari and Melody S. Gee write in a company blog post, “finding a good balance of shared benefits, costs, and risks is in the best interest of all stakeholders.” Continue reading