RICHMOND Governor Ralph Northam announced a legislative package focused on improving environmental quality and management of natural resources in Virginia. The package includes the Coastal Protection Act, the Water Quality and Safety Act, the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund Amendments Act, and two bills designed to reduce conflicts between shellfish growers and other users of tidal waters.

“During my first year in office, we have taken bold steps to address the pressing environmental threats facing our Commonwealth, and I look forward to building on that progress this session,” said Governor Northam. “With this legislative package, we have a critical opportunity to strengthen our communities and our regional economies, while also ensuring sound stewardship of our natural resources and protecting public health.”

The Coastal Protection Act, patroned by Senator Lynwood Lewis, would allow the Commonwealth to use an estimated $50 million in revenue generated by the sale of carbon pollution credits to be used for coastal resilience projects, and dedicate significant funds to low income energy efficiency and economic transition for coal communities.

“The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative has the potential to bring millions of dollars to the Commonwealth that would go towards addressing coastal resiliency and sea level rise, as well as energy efficiency and renewable resources,” said Senator Lynwood Lewis. “As the legislature seeks creative ways to fund critical priorities every year, we have an opportunity through RGGI to instead establish a reliable revenue stream while simultaneously lowering utility bills and bringing new jobs to the state. It’s a win-win-win.”

“I thank the patrons of these bills for their leadership, and I am looking forward to working with them and the rest of the General Assembly to advance these important proposals during session,” said Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew J. Strickler. “Protecting our coasts, improving water quality, reducing carbon pollution, and promoting sustainable and conflict-free shellfish aquaculture are significant priorities for the Northam Administration.”

The Water Quality and Safety Act, which will be introduced by Senator Scott Surovell and Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, will end Virginia’s moratorium on closing coal ash dumps in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and require that all of the material is removed from unlined pits and either recycled or transferred to a safe, lined landfill.

The two bills related to shellfish aquaculture are the product of consensus recommendations delivered to the Secretary of Natural Resources last month by a stakeholder working group that focused on strategies for reducing user conflicts on the water. The first bill, patroned by Delegate Chris Stolle, will improve the process for allowing municipal dredging projects in the Lynnhaven River in Virginia Beach, while also ensuring fair compensation for oyster lease holders that are impacted by the projects. The second bill, which will be introduced by Senator Monty Mason, improves the review of lease applications by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission and raises some one-time fees to help weed out bad actors who may lease ground purely for speculative purposes.

“I am honored to represent Virginians who have the opportunity to work and play on the most beautiful waters in the world,” said Delegate Chris Stolle. “We have been trying for several years to find the right balance to the complex issues surrounding the commercial and recreational use of our waterways. I am thankful to Secretary Strickler and the Governor for bringing stakeholders to the table to learn from each other and who were open to finding workable solutions. I look forward to presenting the workgroup’s consensus bill that will advance dredging along the Lynnhaven River while protecting oyster leases for those active in the aquaculture industry.”

“Modernizing the leasing program for shellfish planting grounds is necessary to weed out bad actors and maximize beneficial use while minimizing user conflicts and abuses of the system,” said Senator Monty Mason. “This legislation will allow us to carry out consensus recommendations of the shellfish aquaculture working group in which I participated over the summer and fall, and create lasting stability for the aquaculture industry and others who work or play on Virginia’s waters.”