Latest update: 2/27/15
In this post, the Virginia Water Central News Grouper provides links to online news articles about water-related legislation in the 2015 Virginia General Assembly. The items are grouped in categories based on the main subject of the legislation in each article. Notes following each headline or group of headlines provide information on specific bills related to the subject of the respective article(s). Bill numbers are hyperlinked to the Virginia Legislative Information System’s online information about the bill; click on the link to access more information on the bill, including its sponsor, a summary, full text, and status within a committee or full house.
To find news items from previous General Assembly sessions (back to 2012), please click on “Select Categories” on the right of this page, then select your year(s) of interest.
For a weekly video review of the General Assembly (all topics, not just water), see “This Week in Richmond,” from Blue Ridge PBS, online at http://www.blueridgepbs.org/videos/local-productions/this-week-in-richmond.
HB 1400 and SB 800, the budget bills in House and Senate, respectively, have proposed amendments to the biennial budget approved by the 2014 Virginia General Assembly or Fiscal Years 2015 and 2016 (July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2016). Visit http://lis.virginia.gov/151/bud/TOC1.HTM for links to the Table of Contents of the budget bill (with links to the text of each section); visit http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?151+men+SB1 to be able to search the full text of the proposed bill; or visit http://leg2.state.va.us/MoneyWeb.NSF/sb2015 for links to sections of the governor’s proposed budget amendments.
Agricultural Best Management Practices: Virginia General Assembly tackles issues affecting the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed, Bay Journal, 1/28/15. Gov. McAuliffe’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year would reduce by about $10 million the currently authorization (by the 2014 General Assembly) for FY agricultural Best Management Practices (BMPs) to reduce water pollution. The governor’s proposed budget for the Department of Conservation requests to “transfer $10.0 million [Non-general Fund] in Soil and Water Conservation district cost share assistance funding from the first year to the second year based on year-to-date expenditures from the fund” (see the proposed budget amendments for the Natural Resources secretariat].
Leaking Fuel Tanks: State proposes to increase homeowners’ costs to clean leaking heating oil tanks, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 1/25/15. A budget amendment proposed by Gov. McAuliffe would transfer $2.4 million from Virginia’s Underground Petroleum Storage Tank Fund (or State Cleanup Fund) to the Commonwealth’s General Fund to help meet an anticipated budget shortfall in Fiscal Year 2015-16 (starting July 1, 2015).
Bill to exempt older boaters from education requirement dies, Lynchburg News & Advance, 2/25/15. SB 996, sponsored by Sen. Richard Stuart of Montross, would have waived for boaters born before July 1, 1972, the state’s requirement to take a boater-education course. The bill was defeated in the House of Delegates.
CLIMATE CHANGE/CARBON REGULATION
A cap-and-trade proposal for Virginia, Daily Press, 12/22/14; Virginia General Assembly tackles issues affecting the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed, Bay Journal, 1/28/15; No cap and trade for Virginia; Dominion gets way on energy, Daily Press, 2/4/15; and Virginia Lawmakers Fight EPA Over State Power, The Roanoke Star, 2/16/15. Several bills were proposed to guide Virginia’s response to the U.S. EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan regulation on carbon emissions from existing plants. EPA published the proposed regulation in June 2014 and closed the public-comment period on December 1, 2014; the agency expects to issue a final rule in summer 2015. 1) HB 2205, sponsored by Del. Ron Villaneuva of Virginia Beach, would have Virginia join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which has run a cap-and-trade program for carbon dioxide emissions in several northeastern states since 2008. The bill failed in the House Commerce and Labor Committee. 2) HB 2291, sponsored by Del. Israel O’Quinn of Bristol, SB 740, sponsored by Sen. Charles Carrico of Galax, and SB 1365, sponsored by Sen. John Watkins of Midlothian, all would establish criteria for the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to follow in developing a state plan under the U.S. EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan regulating carbon emissions from existing power plants (such requirements to include not submitting a plan unless the General Assembly approves it first). Neither HB 2291 nor SB 740 passed; but SB 1365, amended to require a report to the General Assembly but not the legislature’s express approval, passed the Senate and, as of February 18, was being considered by the House Agriculture, Chesapeake, and Natural Resources Committee. 3) SB 1442, sponsored by Sen. Frank Wagner of Virginia Beach, would have prohibited the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) from spending any funds on a state implementation plan of the regulation (once finalized by EPA) until any legal issues had been resolved, until the General Assembly approved such a plan, and until certain other conditions were met. The bill was stricken at the request of Sen. Wagner. 4) SJ 308, also sponsored by Sen. Wagner, would have requests the Joint Rules Committee of the General Assembly to employ legal counsel to represent the Commonwealth in litigation challenging the Clean Power Plan if Virginia’s attorney general had not, by July 1, 2015, begun such litigation. SJ 308 failed in the Senate Rules Committee. 5) SB 1349 – Information on this bill is given below under Energy/Electricity Rates.
CLIMATE CHANGE/RECURRENT FLOODING
Virginia General Assembly tackles issues affecting the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed, Bay Journal, 1/28/15; No cap and trade for Virginia; Dominion gets way on energy, Daily Press, 2/4/15; [Editorial] Turning away from rising seas , Virginian-Pilot, 2/5/15. SB 1317, sponsored by Sen. Lynwood Lewis of Accomac, would establish the Virginia Shoreline Resiliency Fund as a low-interest loan program to help residents and businesses that are subject to recurrent flooding (from any cause). HB 2205, sponsored by Del. Ron Villaneuva of Virginia Beach, would establish the Commonwealth Resilience Fund, a revolving fund to assist Hampton Roads localities with efforts to adapt to sea level rise and recurrent flooding.
EMINENT DOMAIN/NATURAL GAS PIPELINES
Pipelines prompt discussion of property rights law, Roanoke Times, 1/21/15; Virginia General Assembly tackles issues affecting the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed, Bay Journal, 1/28/15; Open records push for projects like the Atlantic Coast Pipeline dies in House, Lynchburg News & Advance, 1/29/15; and Pipeline bills fail in committee, Lynchburg News & Advance, 2/9/15. Sen. Emmett Hanger of Augusta County proposed two bills that would change a 2004 Virginia law (SB 663; in the Virginia Code at 56-49.01) allowing natural gas companies access to private property for surveying or for regulatory purposes, even without landowner permission: SB 1338 would repeal the 2004 bill; SB 1169 would require that the governing body of the locality where such private property is located pass a resolution in favor of a proposed natural-gas project before a company would be allowed access without landowner permission. Also, Sen. Hanger and Del. Richard Bell of Staunton introduced SB 1166 and HB 1696, respectively, which would subject public service corporations employing eminent domain to the same Freedom of Information Act requirements that governments must follow when exercising eminent domain powers. T he bills were introduced at least in part in response to property owners concerns over public utility corporation access to property for proposed natural gas pipelines in Virginia. HB 1696 had failed in the House Commerce and Labor Committee on January 29, and the three Senate bills failed in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee on February 9.
ENERGY/COAL TAX CREDITS
House panel backpedals on reduction in coal tax credit, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2/17/15; and House, Senate preserve coal tax credit for utilities, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2/18/15. Four bills would affect the Virginia Coal Employment and Production Incentive Tax Credit for Virginia-mined coal purchased by electricity generators. 1) As passed by the House on Feb. 10, HB 1879, sponsored by Del. Terry Gilgore of Gate City, limited the amount of the tax Credit to $500,000 per return, and reduced the tax credit from $3 per ton of coal purchased and consumed by an electricity generator to $2 per ton; a Senate substitute passed on Feb. 18 retained the $3 per ton credit and eliminated the $500,000 per return limit, but capped the annual statewide total tax credits at $7.5 million. On February 18, the House passed the Senate substitute measure. 2) HB 2181, sponsored by Del. David Toscano of Charlottesville, would also have limited the amount of the tax credit to $500,000 per return and would have reduced the tax credit to $2 per ton; HB 2181 failed in the House Finance Committee. 3) As passed by the Senate on Feb. 5, SB 1161, sponsored by Sen. Charles Colgan of Manassas, would also have limited the amount of the tax credit to $500,000 per return and reduced the tax credit to $2 per ton; a substitute passed by the House on Feb. 18 retained the $3 per ton credit and eliminated the $500,000 per return limit, but capped the annual statewide total tax credits at $7.5 million. On February 18, the House and Senate both passed a newly proposed House substitute that left the tax credit as is (with no annual cap). 4) SB 741, sponsored by Sen. Charles Carrico of Galax, originally proposed only to extend the expiration date of the tax credit from January 1, 2017, to January 1, 2019; the House substitute passed on Feb. 18 includes the same provisions as other bills mentioned: retaining a $3 per ton credit and eliminating the $500,000 per return limit but capping the annual statewide total tax credits at $7.5 million.
Dominion seeks rate freeze, looser regulatory review, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 1/29/15; Changes to Dominion regulations clear House committee, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2/10/15; [Column:] Schapiro: Dealmaker-in-chief does business with Dominion, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2/10/15; Utility, critics see rates bill differently, Associated Press, as published by Roanoke Times, 2/11/15 [second item in “General Assembly Notebook”]; and Bill to freeze APCO base rate for 5 years heads to governor, Richmond Times-Dispatch, as published by Roanoke Times, 2/12/15. SB 1349, sponsored by Sen. Frank Wagner of Virginia Beach, would remove the biennial review by the State Corporation Commission (SCC) of Dominion Virginia Powerbase rates, from 2016 through 2022 (according to the Times-Dispatch, base rates typically account for about 60 percent of a customer’s bill, with the rest resulting from fuel costs, rate-adjustment clauses to pay for specific SCC-approved projects, transmission costs, and taxes). As of 2/12/15, SB 1349 had passed the Senate and the House, moving on to the governor. The bill requires Dominion to freeze its base rate at the current level until 2020. The bill would also apply to reviews of, and increases to, Appalachian Power’s (APCO) base rates but for different time periods. The utilities would still have to file applications with SCC for rate adjustments to cover costs of new plants and changes in fuel costs. Amendments to the bill as approved by the Senate state that increasing solar-power generation is “in the public interest” and require Dominion and APCO to conduct a “pilot program for energy assistance and weatherization for low income, elderly, and disabled individuals.” According to news reports, in return for the rate-review freeze Dominion agreed to increase investment in solar power development; on Feb. 5, the company announced a plan to invest $700 million to develop 400 megawatts of solar-generation capacity by 2020 (Dominion Virginia Power planning large-scale solar projects totaling 400 megawatts of electricity, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2/5/15). As passed by the Senate, SB 1349 would also require the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to submit a report annually concerning the implementation of carbon-emission regulations for existing power generators, with the report to include “an analysis of…the impact of such federal regulations on the operation of any investor-owned incumbent electric utility’s electric power generation facilities and any changes, interdiction, or suspension of such regulations.” According to news reports, Dominion has asserted that it needs the rate-review freeze because of concerns over potential impacts on coal-fired power plants of the U.S. EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan regulation on carbon emissions from existing plants. EPA published the proposed regulation in June 2014 and closed the public-comment period on December 1, 2014. The agency expects to issue a final rule in summer 2015.
Virginia General Assembly tackles issues affecting the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed, Bay Journal, 1/28/15; No cap and trade for Virginia; Dominion gets way on energy, Daily Press, 2/4/15. Several bills—including HB 1446, HB 1650, HB 1665, HB 1925, HB 2075, HB 2219, HB 2237, and SB 801—would add new state law provisions, or modify existing laws, regarding development, financing, regulation, or use of renewable energy, particularly (but not limited to) solar power.
Bill heads to Senate in effort to establish solar development authority, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2/23/15. HB 2267, sponsored by Del. Timothy Hugo of Centreville, establishes the Virginia Solar Development Authority to facilitate the development of the solar energy industry in the Commonwealth. The bill passed both houses.
Virginia General Assembly tackles issues affecting the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed, Bay Journal, 1/28/15. HB 2195, sponsored by Del. Scott Lingamfelter of Woodbridge, would authorize the Virginia Marine Resources Commission to revoke the commercial fishing license of people convicted of unlawfully taking oysters or other shellfish from public oyster grounds. As of February 4, the bill has been reported from (passed) the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee.
Del. Peace wants to ban industrial sludge in certain areas, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 12/4/14. HB 1363, sponsored by Del. Christopher K. Peace of Hanover County, would ban the land application of treated waste from animal-processing facilities and similar operations in Hanover, King William, and New Kent counties.
House panel backs bill to curb overreach by land trusts, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 1/28/15. HB 1488, sponsored by Del. Brenda Pogge of James City County, would empower the Virginia Land Conservation to act as a mediator when there is a conflict over the administration of a permanent conservation easement.
Virginia General Assembly tackles issues affecting the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed, Bay Journal, 1/28/15; and Senate, House leaders shape several tax-credit curbs, Richmond Times-Dispatch, as published by Roanoke Times, 2/3/15. SB 1012, sponsored by Sen. John Watkins of Midlothian, would eliminate the income tax subtraction available for the gain derived from the sale of land for open-space use. As of February 3, SB 1012 had been reported from (passed by) the Senate Finance Committee. SB 1019, also sponsored by Sen. Watkins, and HB 2382, sponsored by Del. C. Matthew Farris of Rustburg, would reduce the maximum amount of the land preservation tax credit that may be claimed. As of February 3, SB 1019 had been reported from (passed by) the Senate Finance Committee, and HB 2382 was being considered by the House Finance Committee.
Virginia General Assembly tackles issues affecting the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed, Bay Journal, 1/28/15. HB 1293, sponsored by Del. Rick Morris of Carrollton, would exempt certain religious organizations from paying local stormwater-management fees; as of February 2, the bill was being considered by the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee. HB 2227, sponsored by Del. Michael Webert of Marshall, would expand stormwater-management exemptions to include agricultural structures covering less than 2,500 square feet and the bill would call for state regulations to define “impervious cover” in such a way that excludes unpaved farm roads closed to public travel; as of February 2, the bill was being considered by the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee.
STREAM BOTTOM OWNERSHIP
Sen. Creigh Deeds 1/23/15 General Assembly electronic newsletter, online at http://senatordeeds.com/category/virginia-general-assembly-2015. Sen. Creigh Deeds of Hot Springs (Bath County) introduced two bills related to legal conflicts over ownership of, and recreational access to, the beds of inland streams in Virginia. According to Sen. Deeds’ 1/23/15 newslettter, SB 1271 “sets up a means for people to determine, short of going to court, and ultimately to arbitrate whether a crown grant exists… [and SB 1266] would set up a process whereby a landowner could grant an easement across subaqueous land to the benefit of the Commonwealth, and incur a tax benefit if the public is granted use.
Governor McAuliffe Announces Transportation Reforms, Virginia Governor’s Office News Release, 1/13/15; McAuliffe official says politics and media drove McDonnell on U.S. 460 project, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 1/21/15; General Assembly notebook: House considers safeguards on public-private transportation deals, reported by Richmond Times-Dispatch and published by Roanoke Times, 2/2/15; and State panel allows scaled-back U.S. 460 project to move forward, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2/18/15. On January 13, 2015, Gov. McAuliffe announced proposals on the Public Private Transportation Act (PPTA) and transportation-funding distributions. The proposals are in HB 1886 and HB 1887, sponsored by Del. S. Chris Jones of Suffolk. According to the governor’s office news release on Jan. 13, the legislative package focused on the following areas: “Reforming the PPTA process, commonly referred to as the P3 program; Replacing the old transportation funding formula with a new system that will better meet transportation needs and improve reliability and transparency…; Focusing resources on fixing aging bridges and pavement; Improving oversight of project spending by creating a more independent Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) by establishing that the Governor can only terminate CTB members for cause; Providing stability in the funding stream for transit capital projects.” According to news reports and comments from Del. Jones, the bills were prompted particularly by problems that developed with a public-private partnership arrangement for a proposed expansion of U.S. 460 between Petersburg and Suffolk. As of February 18, both bills had passed the House and were being considered by the Senate Transportation Committee.
WASTE MANAGEMENT/ANIMAL CARCASSES
Suffolk might get a reprieve on roadkill incinerators, Virginian-Pilot, 2/18/15. SB 869, sponsored by Sen. John Cosgrove of Chesapeake, would exempts from state carbon-monoxide regulations the emissions from incinerators used to dispose of animal carcasses found on roadways; the bill is tailored to apply specifically to the City of Suffolk, and the exemption would expire in July 2019. As of February 13, the bill had passed the Senate and House and been sent to the governor.
WASTE MANAGEMENT/BALLOON RELEASES
Virginia may ban releasing balloons into the atmosphere, Associated Press, as published by Lynchburg News & Advance, 1/30/15; and Senate pops proposal to ban balloon releases, Capital News Service, as published by Charlottesville Daily Progress, 2/8/15. SB 1107, sponsored by Sen. Jeff McWaters of Virginia Beach, would have prohibited the intentional release into the atmosphere of any balloon inflated with a substance lighter than air (such as helium) and that requires more than five minutes to “degrade” upon contact with air or water. Violators would be subject to a civil penalty of $5 per balloon release. The bill was failed on the Senate floor on February 6.
Virginia General Assembly tackles issues affecting the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed, Bay Journal, 1/28/15; Every little bit counts: Microplastics plague Chesapeake waters, Bay Journal, January/February 2015. HB 1697, sponsored by Del. David Bulova of Fairfax Station, would prohibit the manufacture and sale within Virginia (as of 2018) of certain personal care products containing “synthetic plastic microbeads.” On February 10, the bill failed in the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources.
WASTE MANAGEMENT/PLASTIC BAGS
Virginia General Assembly tackles issues affecting the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed, Bay Journal, 1/28/15; Bill letting local cities and counties ban plastic bags may be boon for cotton farmers, Daily Press, 2/5/15; and Local option could pave way for successful plastic bag bill [an editorial, but has useful background information], Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, 2/12/15. SB 1103, sponsored by Sen. Jeffrey McWaters of Virginia Beach, would allow any locality to prohibit retailers from providing disposable plastic bags to consumers, with exceptions for certain kinds of plastic bags; on Feb. 2, the bill initially failed on the Senate floor, but it was brought up for reconsideration that same day and passed, moving it on to the House Commerce and Labor Committee. SB 880, sponsored by Sen. Lynwood Lewis of Accomac, had similar provisions as SB 1103; SB 880 failed in the Senate Committee on Local Government on Feb. 3. SB 886, sponsored by Sen. J. Chapman Petersen of Fairfax, would have imposed a five cents per bag tax on plastic bags provided to customers by certain retailers in localities located wholly within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, with revenues to be used to support the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan (under the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL, pollution-reduction plan published by the U.S. EPA in 2010). SB 886 failed in the Senate Committee on Finance on Jan. 21.
WASTE MANAGEMENT/TOXIC WASTE
Lift the blinds on toxic waste, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 1/24/15 [commentary by bills’ sponsor]; Virginia General Assembly tackles issues affecting the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed, Bay Journal, 1/28/15; and Pipeline to closely skirt giant Henrico reservoir, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2/8/15 (latter article is not primarily about 2015 General Assembly legislation on this issue but it does mention it). SB 771, sponsored by Sen. Donald McEachin of Henrico County, would direct the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to produce a comprehensive inventory of non-federally managed toxic waste sites in Virginia and annually publish information on the inventory. SB 1071, also sponsored by Sen. McEachin, would raise from $10,000 to $25,000 the amount of civil penalty that the DEQ can assess as part of a “special order” to violators of environmental laws or regulations.