Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held public hearings in Washington, D.C., on the agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan, a set of standards that would regulate and reduce carbon pollution from existing, mostly coal-fired, power plants. These standards come on the heels of the authoritative, Congressionally-mandated National Climate Assessment, which was released in early May. This report found “unambiguous” evidence that human activities - particularly the burning of fossil fuels - are causing global warming, and that this warming “is already affecting the American people in far-reaching ways.”
The EPA hearings in D.C. featured a large presence of speakers from Virginia, with most of them overwhelmingly supporting the regulation of carbon from old, dirty, coal-fired power plants. At the same time, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) was holding a well-attended listening session in Northern Virginia. Councilwoman Del Pepper of Alexandria Council testified at this session to re-iterate the city’s strong support for the president’s Climate Action Plan and the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan. A total of 26 Virginians testified -- all in support of regulating carbon from power plants. For instance, my friend Delegate Alfonso Lopez (D-Alexandria) testified that, in addition to its environmental benefits, “limits on carbon pollution could create more than 5,600 new jobs in Virginia and contribute $517 million in energy savings for Virginia households.” Del. Lopez also noted that “the solution is clear” and strongly urged the Virginia DEQ “to adopt the guidelines of the president’s Clean Power Plan to address climate change in the U.S.” I couldn’t agree more with Delegate Lopez on this. It’s long past time for us to take strong action on this urgent problem.
As mayor and a lifelong resident of Alexandria, I have been concerned about the present and future impacts climate change may have on our coastal city and its 140,000 residents. I endorsed and signed the 2005 U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement along with 278 other mayors, committing Alexandria to meet or exceed the Kyoto Protocol greenhouse gas reduction targets through the use of local land use planning, urban forest restoration, public outreach campaigns, and other greenhouse gas reduction strategies. In 2007 the Alexandria Council initiated the award-winning Eco-City Alexandria initiative which established an Eco-City Charter and Environmental Action Plan 2030 to lead the city further toward sustainability. Strategies to mitigate climate change impacts are a significant part of this initiative. I testified in 2009 before the U.S. Senate about three critical environmental challenges: climate change, clean energy, and the new green economy. Furthermore, under my leadership and with strong support from our city council and the community, the city was successful in shutting down GenOn’s antiquated 63-year-old, coal-fired power plant in 2012. This power plant was the single largest air pollution source in Northern Virginia and the Metropolitan Washington area.
I am expressing my enthusiastic support for the new EPA carbon rules, as they represent yet another step in the right direction in terms of protecting our environment. Here in Virginia that includes taking steps to head off threats such as sea-level rise in the Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia areas; public health issues such as the spread of diseases that thrive in warmer climates; and the potential damage to our economy from the impacts of climate disruption, e.g., stronger storms, including increased risks from flooding and more frequent and severe heat waves.
In working to head off the many dangers of global warming, we need the cooperation of everybody affected. That’s all of us. Just as importantly, we must not permit our future well-being to be held hostage by fossil fuel companies and interests with a vested interest in maintaining the dangerous, unsustainable status quo. That means we must push back hard against groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization which has expressively opposed the EPA’s effort to curb carbon pollution from power plants as well as renewable energy while promoting dirty fossil fuels.
Sad to say, but one of the members (and funders) of that organization is Dominion Virginia Power, not coincidentally the largest emitter of carbon pollution in Virginia. In my personal opinion, Dominion Virginia Power should take a leadership role in mitigating climate change impacts by focusing on systematically replacing its coal-fired power plants with those using cleaner fuels and/or progressively installing new power sources using renewable energy. Also, Dominion Virginia Power should provide even more incentives for consumers such as residential and building owners to implement energy conservation measures. If you agree that it’s time for action, I encourage you to join me in Crystal City at the Sept. 4 rally calling on Dominion to sever its ties with ALEC. Together, we can make our voices heard, fight back against the polluters and protect our planet for generations to come.
City of Alexandria