Latest update: 5/2/16
The Virginia General Assembly convenes each year at noon on the second Wednesday in January. The 2016 General Assembly convened on January 13 and adjourned on March 11. This was a so-called “long session” of 60 days, which is held in all even-numbered years. “Short sessions”–required by law to be at least 30 days, but often extended–are scheduled for each odd-numbered year. During long sessions, the Commonwealth’s budget for the upcoming two years is set; amendments to the current biennial budget may be considered both in long and short sessions. In some years, sessions are extended beyond the scheduled length, particularly for budget discussions (any session may be extended for up to 30 days). The General Assembly’s main Web page is http://virginiageneralassembly.gov/index.php; at that site, click on the “Members and Sessions” for session calendars.
In this post, the Virginia Water Central News Grouper reviews some notable water-related bill in the 2016 Virginia General Assembly. The items are grouped in categories based on the main subject of the legislation in each article. Summaries and status information for bills (as of 3/14/16) are from the Virginia Legislative Information System (LIS), online at http://leg1.state.va.us/lis.htm. Wherever specific bill numbers are given, they are hyperlinked to the LIS’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.
Several of the bills have received attention from various news media. The post lists examples of articles related to the topics/bills whenever such information was available at the time of the posting.
For an inventory of 140 water-related bills in the 2016 General Assembly, please visit the Virginia Water Resources Research Center’s “Virginia Water Legislation” page, online at http://www.vwrrc.vt.edu/virginia-water-legislation/.
For other Water Central News Grouper items on the 2016 General Assembly, please go to this link: https://vawatercentralnewsgrouper.wordpress.com/category/2016-virginia-general-assembly/.
To find posts for 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.
BUDGET FOR FISCAL YEAR 2016-17
Agricultural Best Management Practices Cost-share Funds
Va. Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s proposed budget, as submitted to the General Assembly in December 2015, included $21 million in fiscal year 2017 and $86 million in 2018 for agricultural best management practices cost-share programs. Ultimately the General Assembly approved $61.7 million for agricultural BMPs and technical assistance for the upcoming two years. MD, VA lawmakers grapple with Bay-related issues, Bay Journal, 2/2/16; Virginia lawmakers OK millions for farm BMPs, sewage plants, Bay Journal, 3/31/16. Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts “Legislative Issues” Web page, online at http://vaswcd.org/conservation-issues.
On December 9, 2015, Va. Governor Terry McAuliffe announced a $2.43 billion bond package for higher education research and development, the Port of Virginia, Virginia state parks, veterans care, corrections, and wastewater-treatment infrastructure to support Chesapeake Bay restoration goals. The bond proposal was offered as part of the Fiscal Year 2017-18 budget that the General Assembly considered in the 2016 session. But both the House of Delegates and the State Senate included the bond proposals in legislation separate from the biennial budget: a $1.6 billion package proposed by the House in HB 477 ($29.3 million for veterans care centers), HB 1063 ($41 million for higher education capital projects), HB 1344 ($1.5 billion of various projects); and an approximately $1.4 billion package proposed by the Senate in SB 61 ($41 million for higher education capital projects; companion to HB 1063) and SB 731 (about $1.36 billion for various projects). Ultimately the General Assembly passed a $2.1 billion bond package. In late March, Gov. McAuliffe and General Assembly leaders disagreed over language in the Assembly-approved package that linked $1.6 billion of the package to approval of construction contracts for projects approved in 2014 to renovate the General Assembly Building and other parts of Richmond’s Capitol Square, but in early April the governor and budget leaders in the Assembly agreed upon governor amendments that would allow both the bond package and the Capitol area renovations to proceed. Sources: “Governor McAuliffe Announces $2.43 Billion Bond Package to Fund Key Research and Economic Development Projects,” Virginia Governor’s Office News Release, 12/9/15. Size, contents of Virginia bond package a budget mystery, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 3/5/16. $2.1 billion bond bill ties new capital spending to completing Capitol Square project, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 3/11/16. 25 reasons the General Assembly session mattered, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 3/12/16. McAuliffe faults assembly for linking Capitol Square projects to bonds for universities, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 3/28/16. McAuliffe, lawmakers reach deal that allows $2.1 billion in capital projects to proceed, Richmond Times-Dispatch, as published by Roanoke Times, 4/11/16.
CLIMATE CHANGE/CARBON REGULATION
HB 2, sponsored by Del. Israel O’Quinn (R-5th District) of Bristol, would require the governor to get approval by the General Assembly before implementing any plan for the state to comply with the U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan for regulating carbon emissions from existing power plants (for EPA information on the regulation, see http://www2.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan/clean-power-plan-existing-power-plants). SB 21, sponsored by Sen. by Ben Chafin (R-38th) of Lebanon (Russell County) would require that the General Assembly grant approval before the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) may submit a state implementation plan to the U.S. EPA under the Clean Power Plan for regulating carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. As of 3/2/16, the House had passed HB 2 and both houses had passed SB 21. On 3/2/16, Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed SB 21, and on 3/3/16, the Senate failed to override the governor’s veto (21-19 in favor of overriding; 27 votes were needed to override). The Assembly, however, added an amendment to the Commonwealth’s biennial budget for 2016-17 (Item 369 #1h, available online at http://budget.lis.virginia.gov/amendment/2016/1/HB30/Introduced/FA/369/1h/) prohibiting the DEQ from spending any funds to prepare a state implementation plan for the Clean Power Plan as long as the U.S. Supreme Court’s February 2016 stay on the regulation remains in effect, pending the outcome of litigation against the EPA over the plan (see 4/28/16 Roanoke Times article listed below). Gov. McAuliffe proposed an amendment to remove that restriction on DEQ spending, but in the reconvened session on April 20, the Assembly did not approve the governor’s amendment. Early General Assembly bills deal with sludge, gift certificates and dogs in cars, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 11/23/15. Budget, gun rights among top issues facing Va. lawmakers in new session, Bristol Herald Courier, 1/10/16 (see this item near the end of article; most of the article is about non-water issues). House committee passes bill on oversight of global warming plan, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 1/19/16. Bill will give state approval over plan to meet emission guidelines, Lynchburg News & Advance, 1/21/16. Environmentalists blast Dominion’s response to energy plan, WTVR TV Richmond, 1/26/16. House passes bill to give legislature oversight of sweeping energy plan, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 1/27/16. House passes legislation to restore oversight on energy policy, Augusta Free Press, 1/27/16. House passes bill [HB 2] to give legislature oversight of sweeping energy plan, Charlottesville Daily Progress, 1/27/16. Sparks Will Fly, Bacon’s Rebellion, 1/28/16. MD, VA lawmakers grapple with Bay-related issues, Bay Journal, 2/2/16. Editorial: Assembly should not meddle on energy, Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, 2/3/16. Virginia Senate Passes Bill Setting Foundation to Reject EPA Clean Power Plan, Tenth Amendment Center, 2/3/16. General Assembly Moving Forward with Oversight of Clean Power Plan, WVIR TV-Charlottesville, 2/16/16. McAuliffe vetoes bill to give legislature oversight of clean energy plan, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 3/2/16. Clean Power Plan in limbo, but that hasn’t stopped wrangling over it in Virginia, Virginian-Pilot, 4/25/16. McAuliffe gets poor marks from environmental coalition, Roanoke Times, 4/28/16.
HB 351, sponsored by Del. Ronald Villanueva (R-21st) of Virginia Beach, would have had Virginia develop a carbon-trading program, join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI, an existing interstate carbon-trading organization), and would deposit revenue from the sale of carbon allowances in a new Commonwealth Resilience Fund, a revolving fund to assist localities with the implementation of adaptation efforts to combat sea level rise and recurrent flooding. The fund would have been used for energy efficiency and conservation programs; economic assistance for families and businesses in Southwest Virginia; renewable energy generation programs; and costs of administering the program. HB 351 failed in the House Commerce and Labor Committee. A similar proposal, called the Virginia Alternative Energy and Coastal Protection Act, was part of HB 2205 and SB 1428 in the 2015 General Assembly, both of which failed. Virginia state leaders push bill to help fight flooding in Hampton Roads, WTKR TV-Hampton Roads, 12/9/15; and Virginia leaders meet, discuss flood protection for Hampton Roads, WAVY TV-Norfolk, 12/9/15.
COASTAL ZONE JURISDICTION
HB 813, sponsored by Del. Barry Knight (R-81st) of Virginia Beach, would update the description of the offshore waters over which the Commonwealth has jurisdiction. In place of a reference to certain seas claimed in the Virginia Constitution of 1776, the bill provides for jurisdiction over offshore waters for a distance of three geographical miles as determined by metes and bounds surveys. The bill would also direct the Secretary of Natural Resources to conduct surveys of the three-mile boundary and to request that the Attorney General file the surveys in the United States Supreme Court. The bill passed the Assembly.
HB 576, sponsored by Del. Richard Sullivan (D-48th) of Arlington, would require investor-owned electric utilities, cooperative electric utilities, and investor-owned natural gas distribution utilities to meet incremental annual energy efficiency goals. Electric utilities would be required to implement cost-effective energy efficiency measures to achieve the goal of two percent savings by 2031 and thereafter, with interim goals that start at 0.25 percent for 2017-2018 and increase in biennial increments of 0.25 percent until 2031. Gas utilities would be required to achieve the goal of one percent savings by 2031 and thereafter, with interim goals that start at 0.125 percent for 2017-2018 and increase in biennial increments of 0.125 percent until 2031. The bill was carried over to 2017 in the House Commerce and Labor Committee.
EROSION AND SEDIMENT CONTROL
SB 726, sponsored by Sen. John Edwards (D-21st) of Roanoke, would have clarified that the permission given to utility companies to file annual general erosion and sediment control standards and specifications with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality does not apply to a project that disturbs 50 acres of land or more in any one locality; for projects of that size, a utility company would be required to file a project-specific plan. The bill failed in the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee. Del. Greg Habeeb, Sen. John Edwards file natural gas pipeline-related bills, Roanoke Times, 1/26/16. Pipeline erosion control bill swept away in committee, Roanoke Times, 2/4/16.
FISH AND FISHERIES
HB 150, sponsored by Del. Barry Knight (R-81st) of Virginia Beach, would have allowed the Virginia Marine Resources Commission to regulate the Atlantic Menhaden fishery without having to get General Assembly approval, except in the case of a moratorium on taking Menhaden. The bill failed in the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee. MD, VA lawmakers grapple with Bay-related issues, Bay Journal, 2/2/16. Bill Cochran Outdoors: Not a big year for bills relating to hunting and fishing, Roanoke Times, 2/9/16.
SB 349, sponsored by Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-25th) of Bath County, extends to stocked trout streams the permission to fish without a license on “Free Fishing Days” sponsored by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. The bill passed the Assembly and was signed by the governor. Bill Cochran Outdoors: Not a big year for bills relating to hunting and fishing, Roanoke Times, 2/9/16.
SB 254, sponsored by Sen. Bill DeSteph, Jr. (R-8th) of Virginia Beach, would have suspended until July 1, 2017, the assignment or transfer by the VMRC of general oyster grounds in the Lynnhaven River or its tributaries. SB 397, also sponsored by Sen. DeSteph, would have required any person who seeks to open a channel that is necessary for waterfront property owners to be able to navigate the waters of the Lynnhaven River and its tributaries, and who is not a lessee or riparian holder of oyster or clam grounds, to give 12 months’ notice of his intention; and any person constructing a channel would have been required to compensate the lessee of oyster grounds for all losses of commercially productive oyster beds within the affected area. The bill failed in the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee. Both bills were related to conflicts arising from an increase in oyster-bed leasing in the Hampton Roads area, particularly the Lynnhaven River. In lieu of the legislation, the Virginia Marine Resources Commisoisn agreed to form the Lynnhaven Shellfish Work Group to examine the issues. Group formed to tackle Lynnhaven oyster disputes, Virginian-Pilot, 3/30/16. Group takes first steps toward addressing Lynnhaven oyster disputes, Virginian-Pilot, 4/15/16. The oyster cage debate: Is there enough Lynnhaven River for everyone?, Virginian-Pilot, 6/2/16.
Voluntary groundwater conservation program – SB 118, sponsored by Sen. Louise Lucas (D-8th) of Portsmouth, would have directed the State Water Control Board to establish a voluntary groundwater conservation incentive program, designed to provide incentives to those groundwater permittees who agree to adopt measures that would substantially reduce their reliance on groundwater, transition to alternative water sources, or develop necessary infrastructure. Permittees would have to agree to either a 50-percent reduction in the amount authorized by its permit or certificate that is in effect on January 1, 2015, or achieve a comparable level of conservation by any combination of authorized withdrawal amount reduction and alternative options approved by the Board. Each permittee that agreed to the conditions would have had the benefit of a “regulatory certainty” period of 20 years during which the amount of withdrawal could not be reduced, except in limited circumstances. The bill failed in Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources (stricken at request of the patron).
HB 137, sponsored by Del. Barry Knight (R-81st) of Virginia Beach, allows employees of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and federal agencies having responsibility for fisheries and wildlife management to hunt or kill, from aircraft and with the permission of the landowner, feral hogs in False Cape State Park and Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, except during waterfowl season. The bill passed the Assembly and was signed by the governor. Bill Cochran Outdoors: Not a big year for bills relating to hunting and fishing, Roanoke Times, 2/9/16.
Zebra mussels; education program – HB 1115, sponsored by Del. Kaye Kory (D-38th) of Falls Church, would require the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to establish a program of education in methods of preventing zebra mussels or other nonindigenous aquatic nuisance species from infesting Virginia waters. The bill requires the program to include cleaning and draining guidelines, designated dry times, a standard boat inspection form, and public outreach. The bill allows the Board of Game and Inland Fisheries to deliver the education program through the mandatory boating safety education program. The bill passed the Assembly.
Coal Tax Credit
HB 298, sponsored by Del. Terry Kilgore (R-1st) of Gate City, and SB 44, sponsored by Sen. Charles Carrico (R-40th) of Galax, would extend the sunset date of the coalfield employment enhancement tax credit through taxable years beginning before January 1, 2022, and would have limited the Commonwealth’s aggregate amount of credits tax credit to $7.5 million for each fiscal year. Both HB 298 and SB 44 passed the General Assembly. SB 44 was vetoed by the governor on March 11, and HB 298 was vetoed on March 23, and both vetoes were sustained. Senate OKs coal tax credit extension with veto-proof margin, Roanoke Times, 2/15/16. McAuliffe to ‘review’ coal tax credits after legislature votes for extension, Richmond Times Dispatch, 2/19/16. Vote puts McAuliffe in tight spot on coal tax credits, Associated Press, as published by Richmond Times Dispatch, 2/19/16. Senators claim McAuliffe veto on coal tax credits was retaliation for Supreme Court vote, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 3/11/16. 25 reasons the General Assembly session mattered, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 3/12/16. McAuliffe vetoes bill on voter registration requirements, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 3/23/16 [includes information on veto of HB 298]. Effort to override veto of coal mine tax credit fails in General Assembly, Roanoke Times, 4/20/16.
NATURAL GAS PIPELINES
HB 1118, sponsored by Del. Joseph Yost (R-12th) of Pearisburg (Giles County) and SB 614, sponsored by Sen. John Edwards (D-21st) of Roanoke, would have repealed the 2004 law (Senate Bill 663, now Va. Code Sec. 56-49.01, Chapter 829), that allows interstate natural gas companies to enter upon property to make examinations, tests, hand auger borings, appraisals, and surveys without the written consent of the owner if the companies seek the landowner’s permission to inspect and give notice of intent to enter. On February 8, SB 614 failed (was “passed by indefinitely”) in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. On February 9, HB 1118 failed in a special energy sub-committee of the House Commerce and Labor Committee. Lawmakers seek to scrap law on pipeline, property rights; the law allows companies to conduct surveys as long as they give advance notice, Roanoke Times, 1/13/16. WVIR TV-Charlottesville, 1/19/16. Pipeline foes rally for repeal of surveying law, but face uphill fight, Roanoke Times, 1/19/16. Bill to repeal pipeline surveying law killed in Senate committee, Roanoke Times, 2/8/16. General Assembly Notebook: House version of pipeline surveying law repeal dies, Roanoke Times, 2/9/16.
HB 1261, sponsored by Del. Gregory Habeeb (R-8th) of Salem, authorizes the State Corporation Commission (SCC) to seek delegation from the U.S. Secretary of Transportation of authority to implement the safety inspection provisions of the federal Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act of 1968 (the federal Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration has jurisdiction over interstate gas pipeline safety programs). The bill passed the Assembly and was signed by the governor. Del. Greg Habeeb, Sen. John Edwards file natural gas pipeline-related bills, Roanoke Times, 1/26/16. Proposed legislation addresses some pipeline concerns, Franklin News-Post, 1/29/16. General Assembly Notebook: Bill to allow state inspections of interstate gas pipelines moves forward, Roanoke Times, 2/11/16.
HB 438, sponsored by Del. David Bulova (D-37th) of Fairfax Station, and companion bill SB 292, sponsored by Sen. Emmet Hanger (R-24th) of Mt. Solon, authorize Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4) permittees to acquire and use sediment-reduction credits as part of a compliance strategy for implementing the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) pollution-reduction plan published by the U.S. EPA in 2010. Currently, MS4s have similar authority for nitrogen and phosphorous; the bill adds a third pollutant, sediment. The sediment credits could not be used if they are associated with phosphorous credits used for compliance with stormwater runoff water quality criteria. The bills passed the Assembly and were signed by the governor.
Virginia Erosion and Stormwater Management Act HB 1250, sponsored by Del. Tony Wilt (R-26th) of Harrisonburg, and SB 673, sponsored by Sen. Emmet Hanger (R-24th) of Mt. Solon, combine existing statutory programs relating to soil erosion and stormwater management, directing the State Water Control Board (the Board) to permit, regulate, and control both erosion and stormwater runoff. The bill requires any locality that operates a municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) or a Virginia Stormwater Management Program (VSMP) to adopt a Virginia Erosion and Stormwater Management Program (VESMP) that regulates any land-disturbing activity that disturbs an area of 10,000 square feet or more, or 2,500 square feet or more if in a Chesapeake Bay Preservation Area. A locality that lacks an MS4 and for which the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is currently administering a VSMP is required to (i) adopt such a VESMP, (ii) adopt such a VESMP with DEQ conducting plan review and making recommendations on the compliance of each plan with technical criteria, or (iii) continue to operate a separate Virginia Erosion and Sediment Control Program (VESCP) that regulates any disturbance of 10,000 square feet or more and, in a Preservation Area, regulates a disturbance of 2,500 square feet or more and meets certain other requirements. Any eligible locality that chooses the third option is to have a VSMP administered on its behalf by the Board for any land-disturbing activity that disturbs one acre or more of land, including an activity that disturbs a smaller area but is part of a larger development that results in a disturbance of one acre or more. Towns are afforded additional options in relation to the counties in which they are located. The bill directs certain charges or penalties to the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund, which provides matching grants to local governments for stormwater best management practices. Finally, the bill directs DEQ to evaluate fees related to the consolidated Virginia Erosion and Stormwater Management Program and directs the Board to adopt regulations to carry out the purposes of the bill, delaying the effective date of the bill until the later of July 1, 2017, or 30 days after the adoption of such regulations. Both bills passed the Assembly, and, as of March 14, SB 673 had been signed by the governor.
SB 468, sponsored by Sen. Frank Wagner (R-7th) of Virginia Beach, would authorize localities to create public-private stormwater management programs and adds contracting for the construction and operation of stormwater management facilities to the list of activities for which a local stormwater utility is authorized to recover charges. As passed by the Senate, the bill also would have provided a waiver from local stormwater-utility fees for the part of railroad right-of-way that is covered by rail and ballast (large gravel). In conference between the House and Senate, that wavier was rejected by the House conferees, and the final bill did not include the waiver. Roanoke council criticizes bill that would cut Norfolk Southern’s storm water fees, Roanoke Times, 2/16/16. Senate votes to reject changes to stormwater legislation, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 3/3/16. Roanoke repels NS attempt to influence storm water standards—The railroad had asked for a legal amendment that would have exempted its railway beds, Roanoke Times, 3/17/16.
SB 537, sponsored by Sen. Scott Surovell (D-36th) of Mt. Vernon (Fairfax County), would have required the closure of surface impoundments of coal combustion by-products, commonly called “coal ash ponds,” by July 1, 2020. The bill would have applied to impoundments that managed such by-products from the generation of electricity by an electric utility or independent power producer prior to December 4, 2015, including those impoundments that, prior to December 4, 2015, had been closed by capping in place or had received Department approval for closure by capping in place; this made the bill applicable to the current coal-ash removal plan by Dominion Virginia Power, according to news accounts. The bill would have required that the coal combustion by-products be removed for disposal in a permitted landfill meeting federal criteria. The bill would also have required that, for closure to be deemed complete, the coal ash must be removed for disposal in a permitted landfill meeting federal criteria and the impoundment site must be reclaimed in a manner consistent with federal mine reclamation standards. The bill failed in the Senate Agriculture, Conservation, and Natural Resources Committee. MD, VA lawmakers grapple with Bay-related issues, Bay Journal, 2/2/16. Bill to require Dominion to move coal ash to landfills fails, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2/4/16. Dominion under fire for coal ash disposal in county, state, Chesterfield Observer, 2/3/16.
HB 17, sponsored by Del. R. Lee Ware (R-65th) of Powhatan would have required the owner of land upon which industrial waste or sewage sludge has been stored, or to which industrial waste or sewage sludge has been applied pursuant to a permit issued by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), to disclose such storage or application to a prospective purchaser or lessee of the land. The bill failed in the House Agriculture, Chesapeake, and Natural Resources Committee. Industrial sludge use grows in Tidewater, Tidewater Review, 12/1/15. Early General Assembly bills deal with sludge, gift certificates and dogs in cars, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 11/23/15.
Biosolids and industrial wastes report – HB 56, sponsored by Del. R. Lee Ware (R-65th) of Powhatan, would have requested the secretaries of Natural Resources and of Health and Human Resources to convene a panel of experts to study the short-term and long-term effects of the storage and land application of industrial wastes and treated sewage sludge (biosolids) on public health, residential wells, surface water, and groundwater. The bill failed in the House Rules Committee.
SB 227, sponsored by Sen. Donald McEachin (D-9th) of Richmond, would have directed the Department of Environmental Quality to inventory—by July 1, 2017—non-federally managed toxic waste sites in the Commonwealth and publish the inventory at that time and annually thereafter. The bill passed the Senate but failed in the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee.