Category Archives: Environment

Extreme Weather Event, Extreme Weather Event, Go Away…

Now, we’re told, we have a new reason to fear climate change: Record rainfalls are straining the capacity of combined-sewer overflow (CSO) systems in Richmond, Lynchburg and Alexandria. In heavy rains, the antiquated systems, which combine stormwater runoff and wastewater, release untreated wastewater into the river.

“We’re on the frontlines dealing with climate change,” Grace LeRose, program manager for the Richmond public utilities, told The Virginia Mercury. “We’re seeing bigger and more frequent storms that are going to tax our system even more.”

In  May and June the city experienced 23 inches of rain, the highest ever recorded. That year, contends the Virginia Mercury, was indicative of a longer-term trend. There was a 33% increase in the number of heavy rainstorms in Virginia, and an 11% increase from the largest storms between 1948 and 2011.

Of course, you can make statistics say anything you want them to, so I thought I’d do some checking. Continue reading

Is Winter Coming For Virginia Pipeline Projects?

The Mountain Valley Pipeline route on Brush Mountain, July 18, 2018. (Heather Rousseau/The Roanoke Times)

The building season is here, but for developers of Virginia’s two hotly-contested natural gas pipelines, activity is back in the government agencies and courthouses.  The construction sites remain largely silent, delays running up the ultimate cost of the projects, including the cost of failure.

Here is my (probably flawed) attempt at a status report.  And you thought Game of Thrones is a complicated plot.  Continue reading

Northam Waters Down Virginia’s Livestock Fencing Plan

Northam Administration vs The Chesapeake Bay. Two disturbing facts were brought to light last week. First, a survey of two agriculture-intense Virginia counties found that the effort to reduce agricultural pollution by fencing off farm streams from cattle is far behind schedule. Second, our supposedly progressive governor put forth a very watered down Watershed Improvement Plan that effectively eliminates the livestock fencing goals in the Commonwealth.

Cows do more than fart and burp. U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, raised more than a few eyebrows when her New Green Deal included measures to curb the greenhouse gas effects of farting and burping cows. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez whimsically referenced the emissions of methane and nitrous oxide as digestive byproducts from many farm animals, especially cattle. While these emissions are a legitimate issue, a bovine prescription for Gas-X and Rolaids would not solve the problem. The production of meat in general, and beef in particular, has a sizable negative impact on the environment. Every step in raising, slaughtering, packaging and shipping meat adds to greenhouse gas emissions. Across the globe animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions (14-18%) than transportation (13.5%). However, the environmental impact of animal agriculture doesn’t end with greenhouse gas emissions. A 1400-pound Holstein steer produces 115 pounds of manure per day or about 21 tons per year. Some of this prodigious amount of manure finds its way from cows and steers to farm creeks and eventually into the Chesapeake Bay. The manure contains high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus which cause excess algae growth de-oxygenating the bay’s water. Many consider animal waste the biggest problem confronting the Chesapeake Bay. Continue reading

ConserveVirginia Makes Preservation Data More Easily Accessible

Virginia scenic rivers. Source: ConserveVirginia. Click for larger image.

The Northam administration has launched ConserveVirginia, a “smart map” that identifies 6.3 million acres of high priority conservation areas. The map draws upon 19 data sets in six broad categories: agriculture & forestry; natural habit and ecosystem diversity; floodplains and flooding resilience; cultural & historic preservation; scenic preservation; and landscape resilience.

“It is time to take a more scientific, data-driven, and accountable approach to land conservation in our Commonwealth — ConserveVirginia is about using the best information we have available to identify our true conservation needs and focus on protecting our limited resources,” said Northam in a press release earlier this week. “When Virginians invest their tax dollars in conservation projects, we have an obligation to ensure those efforts yield the greatest benefits in the most cost-effective manner for the Commonwealth.” Continue reading

Virginia Trophy Rockfish Season under Threat of Cancellation

Between a rock(fish) and a hard place.  Striped bass, locally known as rockfish, migrate up the coast of the Atlantic each spring to spawn. The biggest rockfish come into the Chesapeake Bay to mate and then leave the Bay to resume their trip north. Other smaller rockfish remain in the Bay. The period of time when the big oceanic rockfish come into the Bay is known to fishermen as the Spring Trophy Season. Regulations are strict but anglers flock to the Bay in the hope of landing a big striped bass. The trophy season starts after the spawn and runs from May 1 to June 15 in Virginia. At least, that’s usually the plan. Unfortunately, a recently completed fish assessment has shown a precipitous drop in rockfish. Scientists blame this on overfishing and are considering asking the Virginia Marine Resources Commission to ban fishing during this year’s trophy season. This is a startling development given the seemingly good news about the Bay in general and rockfish in particular over recent years.

Continue reading

DEQ Pushes Back on RGGI Costs; Meeting Set

Current RGGI States

Virginia’s Air Pollution Control Board will meet April 19 to consider the next regulatory step to limit CO2 emissions from Virginia electricity plants through membership in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

The agenda packet for the meeting, on-line here, contains more than 330 pages on the complicated issue, probably the best point counterpoint discussion on that already-voluminous record.  The entire record from the two comment periods is summarized, with DEQ staff politely thanking those who praise the regulation and vigorously disputing those who oppose it.   Continue reading

SCC Details High Customer Cost of RGGI

RGGI states

The State Corporation Commission staff has “shown its work” on an earlier estimate of electricity rate increases resulting from Virginia’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, despite a Democratic legislator’s complaint in Sunday’s Washington Post it was not being transparent.

“Even if you agree with the SCC, its analyses should be public information designed to inform the public debate. The SCC, however, has chosen a less transparent route, disadvantaging the public and the legislature from having all the necessary information to determine energy policy in the commonwealth,” Delegate David Toscano of Charlottesville wrote.   Continue reading

Next Up: Carbon Tax, Cap and Trade On Your SUV

They are coming next for your SUV.

While the Air Pollution Control Board still has steps to take, it is safe to consider Virginia’s membership in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative a done deal.  That will quickly hit you in your electric bill, as Virginia’s two major electricity generators will have to pay a tax on their carbon emissions and alter their generation fleets to steadily reduce their CO2 output.

Here is what’s next:  The counterpart to RGGI for another major sector of the economy is the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), which Virginia announced it would join in September.   In addition to Virginia, the current TCI member jurisdictions are Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont, with policy support from Georgetown University.   Continue reading

Conservation Vs. Solar in Powhatan County

Conservation easements don’t just block projects like pipelines, highways and electric transmission lines. As demonstrated in Powhatan County Monday, they can block solar farms as well.

Faced with skepticism from the Powhatan County Board of Supervisors, Cartersville Solar LLC has withdrawn a proposal to build a solar farm on a 3,000-acre tract of property, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The proposal had encountered opposition from Powhatan residents. Citizens commenting at public hearings cited negative ecological impact on protected wetlands — the only remaining wildlife corridor connecting the James and Appomattox rivers — and on rare and endangered species.

Cartersville Solar had acquired 2,998 acres near the intersection of Cartersville and Duke roads for the purpose of building a solar farm. (The RTD article does not say how much power it would generate.) In November, the Powhatan County Planning Commission voted to recommend denial of the project on the grounds that the proposed use is not consistent with the 2010 Long-Range Comprehensive Plan. Part of the project would fall into an area designed Priority Conservation Area and Protected Land. Continue reading

Are Chemical Storage Facilities Safe from Sea Level Rise?

Map source: “Toxic Floodwaters”

If the threat of leaking coal ash pits kept you up at night, wait until you read, “Toxic Floodwaters: The Threat of Climate-Driven Chemical Disaster in Virginia’s James River Watershed,” a report just published by the Center for Progressive Reform.

Authors Noah Sachs (a University of Richmond professor and a friend of mine) and David Flores argue that the James River watershed “is among the regions of the country most vulnerable to the consequences of climate change” due to higher-than-average sea-level rise, intensifying rainfall, and increased hurricane risk. “As major storms cause serious and potentially toxic flooding in the James River watershed … residents are reminded that the industries surrounding them are not doing enough to plan and adapt to our changing world.”

Also, as we have come to expect from the modern environmental movement, there is a social justice component to the report. “Social vulnerability interacts with geography and climate to produce a climate crisis,” the authors write.

The study raises some legitimate questions, but I can’t find any evidence to buttress its strongest assertions. I’ll get to those reservations in a moment. But first, let’s see what the report says. Continue reading

Virginia’s Water Quality Improving… Virginia’s Political Environment Not

Source: Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Draft 2018 Water Quality Assessment Integrated Report

The Department of Environmental Quality has published its draft 2018 Water Quality Assessment Report rating the conditions of Virginia rivers, streams and other waterways. You can read read impenetrable prose of the executive summary here, which is like hacking your way through the dense jungle of a ’30s-vintage Tarzan movie, or you can read Tamara Dietrich’s distillation in the Daily Press. Dietrich’s summary:

Virginia’s waters are by no means pristine, but they’re mostly holding their own or even improving a bit in water quality, despite an influx of 1.6 million people over the last 20 years. … Over the last six years, water clarity in particular shows “significant improvement” overall, the report states, particularly in the Chesapeake Bay. Underwater grasses are surging, hitting 55 percent of the statewide goal, up from 47 percent just two years ago. And several segments of the bay and its tributaries — the James and Elizabeth rivers, for instance — once listed as impaired are showing improvement, particularly in low-oxygen dead zones.

Bacon’s bottom line: One of the more useful aspects of the report is that it shows that impairments to Virginia’s waters are many and varied. Certain issues — such as coal ash disposal — hog the media spotlight, generate public hysteria, seize the attention of lawmakers, and grab disproportionate public funding, while other issues go neglected. Continue reading

Sow the Wind and Reap the Whirlwind

Environmentalists have created a monster. They have engendered a climate of hysteria by hyping risks for everything from global warming to coal ash, water quality to environmental racism. They have mastered the art of throwing every conceivable objection against the wall to see what sticks. They have perfected the strategy of question, question, delay, delay, obstruct, obstruct, sue, sue. Now, in the Spotsylvania County controversy over a solar farm, their tactics are biting them in the hindquarters.

After a nine-hour meeting at which more than 100 people spoke, reports the Virginia Mercury, the Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors delayed yesterday a decision on whether a 500-megawatt solar facility will be built in the western part of the county.

A large majority of the hundreds of people packing the Spotsylvania County auditorium opposed the sPower project, which would be the largest east of the Rocky Mountains and would almost double the amount of solar energy Virginia is currently producing. The concerns expressed seem utterly without merit, as far as I can tell. Yet hundreds of Spotsylvania citizens have convinced themselves that the 6,000-acre solar farm with 1.8 million solar panels would pose a hazard to their community. Continue reading

Sorry, Mr. Bloomberg, You Can’t Pay for Virginia Justice

Earlier this year I described how Attorney General Mark Herring had applied for funding from the Michael Bloomberg-funded New York University School of Law to hire a special assistant attorney to pursue climate-change and clean-energy initiatives. (See “Following the Dark Money.”) NYU had agreed to provide the funding but, for reasons as yet unclear, Herring’s office never made the hire.

Chris Horner, a Virginia resident and senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, raised the alarm — entirely ignored by Virginia’s mainstream media — about the potential danger of allowing private interests, in effect, to commandeer the police powers of the state.

Herring’s bid to use private funds to hire an attorney also raised a separation-of-powers issue. While the OAG is arguably free to accept outside money, it has no authority to spend it unless it is appropriated by the General Assembly. Clearly, someone in the General Assembly was paying attention to the matter. Language in the budget conference report directly addresses the ability of the AG’s office to hire mercenary attorneys: Continue reading

Data Centers Spur Electricity Demand in Virginia, Says Greenpeace

Continued expansion of data centers in Virginia is driving demand for electricity, which gives Dominion Energy the justification for expanding its gas-fired generating fleet and building the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, according to a new report by Greenpeace, “Clicking Clean Virginia: The Dirty Energy Powering Data Center Alley.”

While several major providers of cloud services — Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft most prominently — have committed to deriving their electricity from renewable energy sources, the boom in data centers has outpaced the ability of the data center industry, Amazon in particular, to line up renewable energy contracts.

“While electricity demand for utilities is flat or declining, electricity demand from data centers in Virginia has grown sharply, between 9 and 11 percent year year, offsetting declines elsewhere, with data center demand regularly touted by Dominion to its investors as a sign of continued growth,” states Greenpeace.

Ironically, although the Greenpeace opposes the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, information in the report undercuts an argument the environmental group’s Virginia allies use against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline: that Dominion forecasts have consistently overstated future electric load. While electricity load has plateaued or even declined in many states, demand from data centers continues to push demand incrementally higher in Virginia. Continue reading

Yum, Yum. Loblollies Love More CO2 Plant Food

Projected temperature increases in the range of loblolly pine in 2040-2059 time frame under IPCC worst case scenario

Despite rising temperatures, increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere will give a 30.4% productivity boost to the growth loblolly pine forests in Virginia and 11 other Southeastern U.S. states by 2060, according to recent research from Virginia Tech.

The research team lead by Harold Burkhart, professor of forestry, modeled the effects of increased ambient CO2 concentrations and the interaction of changing climate and C02 enrichment on loblolly pines, which constitutes more than half of total pine volume.

Change in precipitation in loblolly pine range in 2040-2059 time-frame under worst-case IPCC scenario.

The study, “Regional Simulations of Loblolly Pine Productivity with CO2 Enrichment and Changing Climate Scenarios,” assumed that CO2 levels will continue to increase in line with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s worst-case RCP 8.5 scenario. It modeled the impact on a stand of planted loblolly of about 500 trees per acre growing until harvested after 25 years. Continue reading