Conservation watchdog releases study of state lawmakers' environmental voting records

Area lawmakers generally voted along party lines on conservation issues.

The Virginia League of Conservation Voters released its 17th annual conservation score card on Wednesday, showing how state lawmakers voted on 15 pieces of environmental legislation during the 2016 General Assembly session. The report revealed that Williamsburg-area lawmakers often voted on party lines but also came together on environmental bills.

The nonpartisan LCV advocates for pro-environmental public policy legislation and endorses candidates. Its score card is based on how lawmakers vote on legislation with an environmental impact. A score is generated by votes considered by the LCV to be favorable to the environment, divided by the legislator’s total number of possible votes. 

The LCV recognized the late Sen. John Miller, D-Newport News, and Del. Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg, as Legislative Heroes—lawmakers with a 100 percent voting score on legislation related to conservationism. Sen. Tommy Norment, R-James City, Del. Brenda Pogge, R-James City, and Del. Chris Peace, R-New Kent, received a 57 percent, 22 percent and a 33 percent score respectively.

House Bill 977, which would have reduced the allowable time to report unlawful discharge into state water from 24 to 12 hours and require media notification of spills that threatened public health, was killed in the House. Mason voted in favor of the bill, while Pogge and Peace voted against it. The identical Senate Bill 581 was defeated as well; Miller voted in favor of it. Norment didn't vote on the bill.

HB 2, and its identical counterpart SB 21, passed but was vetoed  by Gov. Terry McAuliffe. The bill required the Department of Environmental Quality to get approval from the General Assembly for an implementation plan for carbon dioxide regulation. The LCV considered HB 2 and SB 21 a rewrite of state energy oversight “to give the General Assembly unprecedented and unconstitutional authority,” and applauded McAuliffe’s veto of the legislation. The Senate sustained the veto. In the House, Mason voted against the bill while Pogge and Peace voted in favor. In the Senate, Miller voted against it while Norment voted in favor.

SB 282 showed bipartisanship among the region’s lawmakers, who helped pass the legislation. The bill created a fund to provide businesses and residents with a low-interest loan program for flood mitigation. According to the report, no money has been allocated to the fund yet. Norment and Miller voted in favor of the bill in the Senate. Both Pogge and Mason voted in favor of the legislation when it reached the House. Peace didn’t vote on the bill. 

Pogge said in a phone interview that the initiative is in its planning stages and that the program would "be valuable to Norfolk but it's going to affect other parts of Hampton Roads" as well. She said the program could be used to provide funds to raise houses to protect against flooding.

The report hailed the creation of a $40 million conservation plan for the state’s budget, though the plan’s funding was halved in the final version of the budget. According to the report, this amount still represents the largest funding for protection of historical sites, open spaces and working farms. The report said McAuliffe’s use of executive authority was an important tool in checking legislation passed by the General Assembly the LCV considered a danger to the environment. However, the report criticized McAuliffe’s support for interstate natural gas pipelines and offshore drilling. The report recognized that despite victories for environmentalism in funding, divisions exist in the General Assembly over conservation and climate change.

“We made some modest gains while defending our top conservation issues from attacks,” said Executive Director Michael Town in the report.

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