Q4 2020 Newsletter

Q4 2020 Newsletter

Chairman’s Message

VIRGINIAforever supporters,

As we close the book on 2020, I would like to thank all of our VIRGINIAforever members and friends for their work to preserve and enhance the Commonwealth’s natural resources funding during an incredibly tumultuous year. I am pleased with how VIRGINIAforever, as an organization, has been able to grow and continue our work in a new virtual age, including hosting over 100 guests for our online Bridge Builder Celebration honoring the late Gov. Gerald Baliles.

For all of its challenges, 2020 has reinforced the value of our natural spaces as a refuge and a lifeline in difficult times.  That brings opportunities to not only introduce Virginians of all ages to our parks, forests, rivers, lakes and open spaces, but also to highlight the need for continued investment to protect these resources.  With your help, I look forward to carrying that message during the 2021 General Assembly Session, which as we note below, will continue to be a challenging environment for advocacy work.

Heading into 2021, I am hopeful that we have turned a corner and that next year we will be able to gather in person for the fellowship that is such an important part of our efforts.  Until then, stay safe, and I wish you all Happy Holidays and much success in the New Year.

Matt Wells
VIRGINIAforever chair

Legislative Update: 2021 General Assembly is Upon Us; Governor Northam Proposes Budget Amendments

The 2020 General Assembly’s two-month Special Session adjourned on November 9, and now we are preparing for the 2021 Regular Session to begin on January 13. There is little rest for weary legislators in this pandemic-ridden year or those trying to keep up with what they are doing.

And given the just-completed Special Session, there’s been some talk of the upcoming Regular Session being an abbreviated one, perhaps as short as 30 days, though nothing is set in stone and don’t be surprised if it runs something akin to its usual six weeks.

VIRGINIAforever lobbying this year will take on a different flavor as the House of Delegates and Senate, for health safety reasons, will be at arm’s length from the general public. The House will meet virtually, the Senate will meet in person at the Science Museum of Virginia, and all public buildings usually open to the public to access legislators will be closed. VIRGINIAforever’s lobbying work will be by email, telephone, Zoom and other similar platforms, carrier pigeon and smoke signal.

In preparation for the 2021 Regular Session, Governor Ralph Northam presented on December 16 to the legislature’s appropriations committees a number of proposed budget amendments for their consideration. In natural resources, it is all good – no cuts, with some additional funding in targeted areas.

VIRGINIAforever has advocated in recent years for additional funding for the Department of Environmental Quality and other regulatory agencies for more staff for permit writing, enforcement and stakeholder outreach. Governor Northam is now proposing nearly $12 million to boost staff ranks for just these purposes.

The Department of Conservation and Recreation is slated to receive an additional $13.5 million to support agricultural BMPs, more than $500,000 for state park operations, and about $400,000 for additional staff in its dam safety and floodplain management program.

And especially exciting is the Governor’s proposal to provide the Department of Forestry some $522,000 for its hardwood habitat program, nearly $480,000 to staff its watershed implementation program, and authorization for a new 2,500-acre state forest in Charlotte County.

Supporting these new funding items will be atop VIRGINIAforever’s 2021 legislative agenda as we prepare to lobby – virtually – the 2021 General Assembly.

VIRGINIAforever also will be support other funding proposals consistent with our Five-Year Plan , including funds for the Virginia Land Conservation Fund, the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund and the Water Quality Improvement Fund.

VIRGINIAforever Holds Annual Budget Briefing on Natural Resources Funding

On December 17, VIRGINIAforever held its Annual Budget Briefing on Natural Resources Funding. The virtual gathering had more than 50 attendees, including agency heads, members of the administration and VIRGINIAforever members. VIRGINIAforever chair Matt Wells gave welcome remarks, and VIRGINIAforever lobbyist Preston Bryant shared an overview of VIRGINIAforever’s legislative priorities, which are rooted in the organization’s Five-Year Funding Plan.

Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources Joshua Saks and Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Betting Ring delivered presentations with details on the Governor’s proposed budget amendments for natural resources funding. VIRGINIAforever vice chair Kendall Tyree facilitated two Q&A sessions in which representatives from the Natural Resources and Agriculture and Forestry Secretariats drilled down into the details of topics such as funding for environmental justice, plans for a new state forest, and a carve out of the Water Quality Improvement Fund for a pilot program.

VIRGINIAforever thanks all participants, especially Deputy Secretary Saks and Secretary Ring, who joined us for this informative event.

Membership Update

Despite the challenging times of the pandemic that kept us apart physically, VIRGINIAforever continued to strengthen its membership by adding to our roster of board members.

We welcome Dr. Mamie Parker to our executive board, effective January 1, 2021. Dr. Parker is a retired fish and wildlife biologist who rose to the rank of Assistant Director for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in Washington, DC. She made history when appointed the first African American USFWS Northeast Regional Director in the Senior Executive Service.  She also served as Chief of Staff and Chief of Fisheries. Mamie has vast experience in water resources planning, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Clean Water Act, wetland protection and restoration.

On our general board, we welcomed five new members in 2020. We are very pleased to have the support of these important voices:

  • DuPont
  • Keep Virginia Beautiful
  • Enviva Biomass
  • Elizabeth Andrews
  • Northern Virginia Conservation Trust

If you’re interested in learning about membership in VIRGINIAforever, please contact info@virginiaforever.org.

Environmental Justice: Preston Bryant Pens Article in VML Magazine

Preston Bryant, former Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources and current VIRGINIAforever lobbyist, authored an article centered on environmental justice in the November 2020 issue of Virginia Town & City, the magazine of the Virginia Municipal League. Titled “Three steps forward for environmental justice in Virginia,” the article outlines legislatives actions taken by the General Assembly that will shape environmental justice in Virginia for years to come. These include passing the Virginia Environmental Justice Act, adding environmental justice considerations to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s mission and establishing the Virginia Council on Environmental Justice. The article can be found here.

Remember to “Like” VIRGINIAforever on Facebook

VIRGINIAforever is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ourlandourwater. “Like” our page to stay in touch about VIRGINIAforever announcements as well as natural resources funding news from across the Commonwealth.  You are encouraged to “share” and “comment” on our content.

News from the Administration

Below is a compilation of recent natural resources-related news from the Governor’s Office:

  • Governor Northam announced that Fauquier County, Pulaski County and Roanoke County will each receive a grant of $20,000 from the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development (AFID) Fund Planning Grant program to support local agriculture and forestry initiatives amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. These grants will be matched by more than $67,000 in additional funding from the applicant communities, non-profit organizations, and local governments. Read more here.
  • As the Commonwealth continues to experience flooding and extreme weather events, Governor Northam announced new executive actions to improve coastal resilience and protect Virginia communities. The three actions include (1) elevating the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program to report to the Commonwealth’s Chief Resilience Officer, (2) issuing a statewide request for proposal for technical engineering assistance in developing the Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Plan, and (3) formally establishing the Virginia Coastal Resilience Technical Advisory Committee. These steps will directly support the Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Planning Framework announced in October. Read more here.
  • Governor Northam visited the Elizabeth River Project’s Learning Barge where he celebrated the restoration of the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River and announced $10 million in new funding to support future oyster restoration in the Chesapeake Bay. This spending commitment marks the first time that capital funds, which are typically reserved for infrastructure projects, have been explicitly used to restore Virginia’s natural resources. Read more here.
  • Governor Northam released the Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Planning Framework, which lays out the core principles of the Commonwealth’s approach to coastal protection and adaptation, and will serve as a blueprint for implementing Virginia’s first project-driven Coastal Resilience Master Plan by the end of 2021. The Virginia Coastal Master Planning Framework is the result of a nearly two-year process initiated by the Governor in Executive Order Twenty-Four involving state agencies, key stakeholders and local and regional partners to develop mitigation strategies to reduce the near and long term impacts of natural hazards and extreme weather. Read more here.