Category Archives: Infrastructure

Sinking the Newest Sea Level Rise Exaggerations

NOAA chart of relative sea level rise at Sewell’s Point in Norfolk, showing a rate of 1.56 feet in rise per century, far lower than alarmist modelers project.

by Steve Haner

So, let me get this straight.  If we willingly keep paying the carbon tax on our electric bills, then thousands of parcels of prime Virginia waterfront won’t slip beneath the waves? Was that the point of these parallel prophecies of doom in the September 12 Richmond Times-Dispatch and Virginia Mercury?

Another day, another dire climate catastrophe story meant to scare readers into dumping fossil fuels. This claim was that sea level rise by 2050 will raise the low tide lines along Virginia’s thousands of miles of tidal waterways, including the creeks and rivers, and cover tens of thousands more acres. The RTD translated that into 160 square miles inundated.

Is there relative sea level rise underway? Yes. There has been since before Jamestown was settled, actually since the end of the Ice Age. Is it rising as fast as they claim? No. But exaggeration makes for more scary copy.

In fairness, it was only Sean Sublette with the Times-Dispatch who went on to link this coming financial calamity (Virginia only taxes land to the low tide line, you see) to the fight over the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and its resulting tax revenue. But the digital-only Virginia Mercury is also working overtime to prevent Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) from removing the state from that taxing compact. More on RGGI later. This column is to dispel the nonsense about the sea swallowing Virginia so rapidly. Continue reading

“Richmond Real” and the City’s Limited Pool Hours for Kids

Moses Foster of West Cary Group speaks in front of Mayor Stoney at public rollout of the Richmond Real marketing campaign

by James C. Sherlock

On June 9, the Richmond Times Dispatch (RTD) offered a story on Mayor Stoney’s new slogan for the City of Richmond: “Richmond Real.”

The RTD piece offered a positive account of the new marketing slogan devised under what Richmond Free Press (RFP) has called a “secretive” project led by the West Cary Group, a Richmond advertising and marketing company run by CEO Moses Foster.

It is indeed secretive to the extent that the city’s open data portal of existing contracts shows “no results found” for a contract the supplier of which is “West Cary Group,” so it is impossible to find more details there.

The RTD offered comments of city officials that the campaign had been developed with “inclusivity.”

With Richmond Real, we are listening, activating and we are continuing our commitment to serving every member of our community.

The RFP, the city’s excellent Black newspaper, had a different opinion, and summarized it as an “expensive dud.”

Some Richmond activists were less charitable. Continue reading

$93 Million for Virginia Trails

A newly opened hiking/mountain biking trail outside of Missoula, Montana, in land protected by conservation easements.

The Bacon Family has just returned from a nine-day hiking trip to Montana. We were not surprised that the trails at Glacier National Park, with its rivers and lakes and snow-capped peaks, were world-class spectacular. But we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the trails around Missoula, where we enjoyed two days of walking around the city’s highly walkable downtown and hiking the hills all around. Virginia has nothing resembling the Glacier National Park, a natural wonder that simply cannot be replicated (unless you have a few hundred-million years to work on it), but we do have college towns set in the mountains like Missoula (home to University of Montana). Blacksburg, Lexington and Harrisonburg come to mind.

What Missoula has done — setting aside land with conservation easements, and investing in hiking trails — can be replicated. Indeed, Virginia’s new budget contains $93 million for multi-use trails, eight times the previous year’s General Fund commitment of $10 million, according to the Virginia Bicycling Federation. Continue reading

America’s Petroleum Refining Capacity in the News – What is Going On?

By James C. Sherlock

This is a note about perhaps the highest profile national inflation issue, the price of gasoline and diesel.

The President is demanding more supply from U.S. refineries.  Headlines like this one blare at us today:

Biden threatens oil companies with ’emergency powers’ if they don’t boost supply amid inflation spike.

The letter behind such headlines, which is exactly what it seems to be, was sent to the largest refiners in the country.  Among other things, the President wrote:

My administration is prepared to use all reasonable and appropriate Federal Government tools and emergency authorities to increase refinery capacity and output in the near term, and to ensure that every region of this country is appropriately supplied.

I looked up the data on oil refining that Mr. Biden’s Energy Information Administration has published.

From the numbers on American refinery input and capacity, Mr. Biden will need more than “emergency powers” to increase refining output.

He will need a a genie.

Continue reading

Commonwealth Set for Major Broadband Expansion

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

One of the issues underlined by the pandemic was the need for all areas of the state to have access to broadband internet. Without access to broadband, kids (and adults) in rural areas cannot take advantage of courses offered online. To the extent that more people will be working remotely, rural areas need access to broadband in order for those people to move there. Broadband accessibility is necessary for almost all businesses and industries and rural areas will need to have such accessibility if they hope to convince private companies to bring new jobs to their areas.

Thanks to federal funding, the Commonwealth is well on its way to achieving universal availability. The source of most of that funding is the American Rescue Plan (ARP), enacted in early 2021 as part of the Biden administration’s efforts to offset the economic effects of the COVID pandemic. In July of last year, the Northam administration and the General Assembly announced an agreement to allocate $700 million of the state’s ARP funding to broadband expansion. Several months later, that amount grew by  $220 million as a result of an allocation from another section of the ARP. Finally, it is expected that Virginia will get $65 million for broadband expansion from the federal infrastructure bill passed last fall. Continue reading

The Defense Production Act as a Political Tool to Boost Solar Farms

Courtesy Dominion Energy

by James C. Sherlock

We have had multiple discussions, good ones, on the issues surrounding solar farms in Virginia.

Jim Bacon wrote an excellent column about it in February of 2021 titled “The Political Economy of Solar Farms.” It was good then and prescient as of yesterday.

He wrote another one two days earlier.  From that piece:

With the enactment of the (Virginia Clean Economy Act) VCEA, Freitas wrote in the press release, Virginia is experiencing extensive land leasing and acquisition by solar developers. More than 180 solar projects accounting for 140 million solar panels are in various stages of approval or construction. Full implementation of the ACT would consume 490 square miles of Virginia’s forests and farmland, an area twenty times the size of Manhattan.

Thanks to President Biden’s new political/industrial policy, those solar farms just got cheaper. And Chinese solar stocks just got more expensive.

Both of which were made to happen because the President removed the tariffs on Chinese solar panels. Readers rationally can be for that action or against it. But the left has settled on the Defense Production Act as a favored service animal.

So, the President, in addition to removing the tariffs, invoked that act as a national emergency response to mandate additional domestic production of solar panels.

Let’s try to pin down the nature of the emergency and the unintended consequences. Continue reading

Home Price Volatility and Virginia Property Taxes

Case-Schiller Home Price Index – National

by James C. Sherlock

Housing prices have more than doubled since 2012, reflecting shortages of supply and the resulting speculation. The increasing slope of those curves above is not comforting.

Prices have soared over 20% in a year. Mortgage rates are up. What could possibly happen next? Most can figure that out.

But this article is about the effects on local government property taxes of what most predict will be extreme volatility in the housing market going forward.

How are Virginia real property taxes adjusted to mitigate the effects on both property owner tax bills and government receipts in this boom and very likely bust cycle?

We’ll look at the law. Continue reading

Storm-Related Flood Mitigation – A Louisiana Example for Virginia

by James C. Sherlock

I have worked for at least ten years — many of those with now-Attorney General Miyares when he was my delegate — to get Virginia to step up to the Louisiana model for flood control.

Louisiana. The Louisiana model is a state-federal partnership in which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the federal executive agent in the Civil Works program and the state is the non-federal sponsor, a role with planning, funding and operational management responsibilities.

Today Louisiana celebrated the completion of the Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System (HSDRRS) that will defend the Greater New Orleans area against severe storms, including those with a one-percent chance of occurring in any given year.

HSDRRS is of similar complexity to a system to defend Hampton Roads. Continue reading

Talking Out of Both Sides of Their Mouths

Route of proposed Coalfields Expressway

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

While perusing today’s edition of the Roanoke Times, I ran across an article that astounded me.  It concerned a meeting recently in Southwest Virginia about the Coalfields Expressway.  I remembered hearing about this proposed highway many, many years ago and thought that it had been dismissed as a pipe dream.  It turns out that the idea (and hope) is still alive.

The Coalfields Expressway would be a 115-mile federal four-lane, divided highway running from the intersection of I-64 and I-77 near Beckley, West Virginia to U.S. Rt. 23 in Pound, in Wise County.  West Virginia has opened 15 miles of its 66-mile portion of the proposed highway and another 21 miles are in various stages of construction or planning.  Virginia has begun constructing 7 miles of its 50-mile portion.  That stretch overlaps with Rt. 460, linking Grundy to Kentucky.  The cost of the Virginia portion is estimated at over $3 billion. Continue reading

Planning for Telecommuting’s Effects on Virginia

By James C. Sherlock

I think that we don’t yet realize the full impact of the revolution being wrought by the telecommuting that accelerated during COVID.

Virginia Railway Express Route Map

I am sure I don’t.  But Virginians, and our state and local governments, must try to figure it out.

We are moving towards a world in which white collar workers will be increasingly exempt from commutes.

We have already seen during COVID the leading edge of the migration of workers and their families away from many of America’s cities, especially those with increasing crime, closed businesses and otherwise lowered quality of life.

Look at New York City.  I visited it a couple of months ago.  Many places I used to enjoy have become an urban wasteland.  D.C. is not far behind.

Virginia urban areas and some of our suburbs have experienced COVID-related business failures and are threatened with more that result from the lifestyle changes that COVID brought.

The attractions in these places are not directly related to employment, but rather to population density. Restaurants, night life and the arts were exposed by COVID as vulnerable.  Some people got out of the habit of centering their social lives on them.

The costs of cities and suburbs, especially housing, are less and less affordable.  Prices have continued to increase in the face of fast-rising mortgage rates (Note 1).  This cannot continue, so it will not.

Other Virginia locations that offer attractive lifestyles, lower costs of living and the communications infrastructure to support telecommuting with bandwidth and speed at scale can expect to see in-migration and its economic benefits if they both prepare for and solicit them.

The knock-on effects may prove far-reaching.  I will offer a few of them for consideration.  Virginia state and local governments will either plan to accommodate them or be run over by effects which, planned for or not, they cannot control.

Continue reading

Does This Highway Need to be Widened to Six Lanes?

i-64 in New Kent County  Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

There is a campaign underway to expand a stretch of I-64 from Richmond to James City County.  Currently, the Interstate highway is a four-lane divided highway.  The proposal is to add an additional lane in each direction.

The Department of Transportation estimates the cost of the project at $750 million.

The first public evidence of the campaign came in the form of proposed amendments to the state budget bill.  The House of Delegates has proposed dedicating $30 million in general fund revenues to the project.  The Senate has gone bigger; it proposes $190 million in general fund appropriation. Continue reading

Virginia’s Greens Need an Epiphany

Green Party leader and German Economy and Climate Minister and Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck

by James C. Sherlock

Headlines from the war in Ukraine have raised exponentially the interest in natural gas and the extreme price volatility caused by supply constraints.

It is perhaps useful to understand the uses of natural gas, the prices Virginians pay relative to West Virginians, the decline of production in Virginia, and the costs and risks of supply constraints by the actions of green energy absolutists.

Not the enthusiasts, but the come-hell-or-high-water absolutists, who get way out in front of the thoughtful left. In Europe, greens let slip the dogs of war.

Putin thought Europe, with its far too early and thoughtless response to green pressure, too dependent upon Russian energy to oppose him.  He proved wrong, but now both free Europeans and Russians will suffer. Ukrainians and Russians are dying for that miscalculation.

Virginia greens need to reconsider the value of natural gas and the risks of insufficient supply. And, like the German Green Party this week, get over their opposition to gas until real renewable alternatives at the scale of the economy are, well, real.

Continue reading

Infrastructure Bill, Meet Richmond’s United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit Richmond, Va.

by James C. Sherlock

The President and members of Congress have celebrated the enactment of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act into law.

In Virginia and the other states (Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia) of the federal Fourth Circuit, good luck with that.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit just published two related decisions on January 29th and February 4th, 2022 decided by the same three-judge panel, all appointees of Democratic presidents.

Both decisions remanded to federal agencies for reconsideration years of federal assessments that have supported the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Those agencies are now run by Biden appointees. They won’t be back.

The court is populated with a majority of judges appointed by Democratic presidents. There is a vacancy awaiting a Biden appointment. The Chief Judge faces mandatory retirement next year.

So no relief in sight except the Supreme Court.

The decisions clearly demonstrate what will happen to Virginia public infrastructure projects that are opposed by the greens and/or protected classes or both, which will be nearly all of them.

Roads, bridges, pipelines, large solar panel projects, airport expansions, new rail lines, you name it. Flood control? Forget it. They are headed into the federal and state bureaucracies and then to court and then back again.

For years. Continue reading

Infrastructure Vote? Oh No, That’s Their Bill

Photo credit Verizon

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

There has long been a consensus that America needs to pay more attention to its infrastructure. Last week, the House of Representatives passed President Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure package and sent it to the President for his signature. Of the total amount, $550 billion was new money; the remainder was funding normally allocated each year for highways and other infrastructure projects.

The bill had passed the Senate earlier in the year on a bipartisan vote, 69-30. Even Mitch McConnell voted for it. However, in the House, only 13 Republicans voted for the bill. The rest of the House Republicans were angry over the support given the bill by some of their fellow Republicans. Probably the most galling aspect was that the 13 Republican votes were needed to pass the bill after six far-left Democrats, who refuse to, and do not understand the need for, compromise, voted against the legislation. Continue reading

The Other Side of the “Intensifying Rain” Claim

Prepared by Kip Hansen. Data sources cited. Click for larger view.

by Steve Haner and Kip Hansen

With the rainy remnants of another hurricane heading for Virginia from battered Louisiana, the stories of a coming Climate Armageddon will again ramp up. A couple of good examples of what to expect recently appeared in Virginia Mercury, the main one quoting numerous sources claiming Virginia is seeing more and more intense rainfall and will suffer more flooding as a result. Continue reading