RICHMOND AP — Gov. Ralph Northam on Wednesday called for “historic” investments in a cleaner Chesapeake Bay, proposing a five-year plan that he said would represent the largest investment ever in Virginia’s water quality.
Northam (D) said his plan would help farmers as well as urban and suburban communities limit runoff that pollutes the bay, boost staff at the Department of Environmental Quality and add funding for land conservation.
“There is no time like the present to take action to ensure the protection of Virginia’s natural resources, and these historic investments will ensure that the Commonwealth honors its commitments to improve water quality and to protect the progress we’ve made on restoring the Chesapeake Bay,” Northam said in a statement.
The measures, which Northam will formally propose Tuesday in a speech to the General Assembly’s money committees, drew praise from environmentalists, who helped bankroll his 2017 bid for governor but have been bitterly disappointed by his handling of two natural gas pipelines being built in the state.
The governor has been criticized for seeming to clear the way for two major gas pipelines being built across the state, the 300-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline and the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Critics cry hypocrisy–Northam has put the region’s rivers, streams, and forests in the crosshairs of a massive, highly controversial proposed interstate natural gas pipeline. Designed to move natural gas from the Marcellus Shale to the mid-Atlantic and Southeast, the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline would fragment some of the most intact, forested landscapes in the Southeast—including the George Washington National Forest. Cutting across steep slopes and through rivers, streams, and wetlands, the pipeline would put Carolina’s waters at risk of increased sedimentation and harm to sensitive species like brook trout. Not only would the project harm our region’s environment and communities, critics say, but it is not necessary to meet the region’s demand for natural gas.
The plan Northam rolled out Wednesday would increase funding for controlling agricultural runoff and other water-quality programs to $90 million a year and dedicate $50 million to a storm-water assistance fund that helps urban and suburban areas reduce pollution coming off parking lots, roads and other impervious surfaces.
He presented that spending as “first installments” on a five-year plan that would bring total water-quality spending to $773 million through 2024.
Northam also proposed adding $11 million for land conservation and $2.5 million to beef up staffing at the Department of Environmental Quality, which regulates and enforces the state’s environmental standards.