Coastal flooding and sea level rise are the topic of much discussion across Hampton Roads. That is, until the dialogue segues to exactly what we are going to do about it. We know that our neighborhoods are flooding more and more often. We know that the storms are getting stronger. We know there are ways to make our communities more resilient. But how are we going to pay for it?
Luckily, bipartisan leaders across the Commonwealth are joining forces to advocate for a proven, win-win solution — a way to fund resiliency efforts in our flooding neighborhoods while cutting pollution.
The program is called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative: a nine-state cap and-trade system that has been generating revenue and cutting carbon emissions since 2009. Participating states from Maine to Maryland have used the RGGI program to invest over $1 billion into clean energy and other practical climate solutions, while reducing pollution and growing their economies faster than other states. Through investments in energy efficiency, citizens of RGGI states pay lower average monthly electric bills and use much less energy per household than Virginians.
This is all thanks to a simple, market-based process: under RGGI, participating states set a regional cap on emissions. Power plants in each state purchase allowances to stay under the cap. Each state then uses that revenue to invest in programs of their choosing, like helping communities combat flooding.
Virginia has the opportunity to join this great program — and kick-start solutions to flooding — via the Virginia Coastal Protection Act. This bipartisan bill will be introduced by Delegate Ron Villanueva (R – Virginia Beach) and Senator Donald McEachin (D – Henrico) in the 2016 General Assembly session. By adding Virginia to the RGGI program, the bill would generate about $250 million per year in new revenue for our state. It would ensure half of that money goes to help communities like ours deal with and prepare for the increasing impacts of flooding.
That’s right, about $125 million each year to finally address a problem that has been plaguing Hampton Roads for generations, a problem that is due to get a lot worse unless we act now. This is our chance to not only address the issue of sea level rise, but to also become a trailblazer in resiliency efforts for our neighbors to the south.
Momentum is growing. On December 9, a bipartisan group of coastal leaders, including Delegate Villanueva, Virginia Beach Councilmember Rosemary Wilson, and retired Navy Captain Joe Bouchard, stood just a few feet from the Elizabeth River at Town Point Park to announce their support for this bill (below). Supporters stood behind them wearing yellow rain boots to signify that just a few feet of sea-level rise could submerge the very ground they stood on. The Spirit of Norfolk was to their right and Washington Point was behind them: two staples of our livelihood as a coastal community. They had one message: the time to act on climate change is now and we have a plan to get Virginia on track.
The Virginia Coastal Protection Act has the support of city councils in Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Hampton, Newport News, Fredericksburg and more. Both the Virginia Municipal League and the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission have endorsed the bill. Climate, environmental, health, housing and justice advocates across the state are calling on the General Assembly to pass it. And over 6,000 Virginians have called on the Governor to support it as well. Now it’s time for the Governor, and the rest of the General Assembly, to get on board.
That’s where you come in. We need you to urge your leaders to stand up for our coast and vulnerable communities across Virginia as the General Assembly session nears. Please call or email Governor McAuliffe and your legislator, and write to your local paper. We have a chance to turn Hampton Roads into a resilient community — and we can overcome the challenge of climate change — but only with a groundswell of support. Future generations will only be able to enjoy the beauty of coastal Virginia if we act now in order to protect it.