Op-ed: Post-election, strong state leadership on the environment is critical (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Saturday, Nov. 19, the Richmond Times-Dispatch published the below op-ed by Michael Town, Executive Director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, focusing on what a Trump presidency means for conservation efforts in Virginia.

Post-election, strong state leadership on the environment is critical

Donald Trump is headed to the White House. And according to his “First 100 Days” plan, environmentalists’ greatest fear during this election is about to come true: Our nation’s bedrock environmental protections are now under attack.

The president-elect is a climate denier, and he has placed executives of big oil companies and other climate deniers on his transition team. One of these people is Virginia’s own Becky Norton Dunlop, former secretary of natural resources under Gov. George Allen, who not only had to resign from the Reagan administration for replacing career staff with political appointees, but was also rebuffed in her efforts to turn state parks and state environmental protections over to private companies. Since her days wreaking havoc on Virginia’s environment, Dunlop has spent most of that time working for the inside-the-beltway conservative think tank, The Heritage Foundation.

Another transition team member, Mike McKenna, a current energy industry lobbyist and former director of external affairs at the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, is infamous for helping lead DEQ when it was accused in a bipartisan legislative report of “coddling industrial polluters and neglecting to enforce water-quality laws,” according to The Washington Post.

So much for “draining the swamp.”

It’s clear just from the people he’s surrounding himself with that President-elect Trump is already pursuing an anti-environmental agenda that will attempt to tear down much of the progress we’ve made. With an impotent Environmental Protection Agency, core safeguards that protect the Chesapeake Bay, our drinking water, and special places like Shenandoah National Park will be under constant attack.

A Trump administration will also attack the strong climate legacy of the past eight years, including President Obama’s signature climate effort, the Clean Power Plan, as well as an international accord to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

So how then do we move forward?

Strong environmental leadership at the state level is more important now than ever, and it’s up to Gov. Terry McAuliffe to do everything within his power to stand up to the reckless, radical and irresponsible erosion of environmental protections that are sure to come with Trump.

First and foremost, McAuliffe should see through the important work on climate change he put into motion last summer with Executive Order 57, which directs his agencies to draft a state-based regulation that reduces the carbon footprint of our state’s fleet of power plants. Climate change is too great a threat not to make the heavy lift now when it’s needed most. This translates into at least a 40 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and the deployment of at least 1500 megawatts of clean solar power by 2025.

Work on this plan is underway, with a final recommendation due to McAuliffe in May. Virginia can’t solve the climate crisis on its own, but with federal action on climate on hiatus until at least the 2018 midterms, it’s up to states to lead. This makes implementing a strong carbon reduction plan in Virginia and growing our renewable energy sector even more paramount. McAuliffe needs to finish what he started, knowing the electorate is with him.

Virginia rejected Trump and his regressive policies while other important swing states went his way. In the 2008, 2012 and 2016 presidential elections, as well as the 2013 gubernatorial contest, Virginia voters have embraced candidates who have run on strong environmental policies, including expanding renewable energy and addressing climate change. Nov. 8 also yielded the election to Congress of a Virginia climate champion with the victory of longtime state Sen. Don McEachin in the 4th District.

This should send a signal to anyone seeking statewide office in Virginia that a strong environmental platform matters in a state on the front lines of the climate crisis. McAuliffe and his successor have a clear mandate to take meaningful action on climate and to protect our state’s clean water and open spaces against attacks at the federal level.

Nov. 8, 2016, will no doubt go down as a dark day in the climate fight and for our environment in general. But we hopefully have brighter days ahead of us in Virginia.

The 2017 gubernatorial election will be huge for the future of conservation in the commonwealth, and fortunately the electorate is clearly with us — supporting clean air and water, combating climate change, and ensuring people have dignity in their lives. These should not be partisan issues. Let’s hope leaders in the General Assembly and those vying for statewide office in 2017 recognize that fact.