We’ve made it halfway through the 2016 General Assembly Session! Thanks to your help, we’ve made our priorities clear to legislators. Below is an update on each of our key priorities:

Priority One: Support Water Quality and Land Conservation Funding

Background: Virginia has made significant investments in water quality and land conservation over the last two decades resulting in major pollution reductions and improvements to local water quality. In order to keep Virginia’s on track with meeting our restoration goals, continued investment is necessary.

Update: The budget debate is heating up on the hill. This week, legislators will vote on funding that could determine whether the Commonwealth continues to make progress towards cleaner rivers and streams — or falls short on its goals. We will be there making the case for the James River!

Priority Two: Support Proper Coal Ash Pond Closure (Senate Bill 537)

Background: The James River watershed is home to coal ash ponds capable of holding five billion gallons of coal ash. Each pond in the watershed is adjacent to the river or one of its tributaries. Coal ash, which is a waste product of the electricity generation process, contains arsenic, lead and mercury among other toxics. Simply capping coal ash ponds in place, as currently proposed, does not stop the potential of groundwater contamination or leaching in to surface waters. Every North Carolina pond that has been tested has been shown to be contaminating the surrounding groundwater. Despite this track record of contamination, Virginia’s code does not require lining, capping and long-term monitoring for these facilities. Passing this critical bill will provide that protection to Virginia’s waterways and will allow power generating companies to recover the costs.

Update: This bill spurred great conversation of the coal ash issue with Virginia legislators. Unfortunately, the coal ash pond closure bill died in the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources committee on a 7-7-1 vote. But do not fear — this conversation will not stop here. A dewatering permit to drain the ponds at Chesterfield Power Station is coming soon, as well as permits for the ultimate closure of the ponds. We still need your help in this fight!

Priority Three: Support Swifter Spill Notification (Senate Bill 581 & House Bill 977)

Background: Current law requires the spill of a dangerous substance be reported within 24 hours to the Department of Environmental Quality. We believe that this timeline leaves our waterways, citizens and economy at risk. Accelerating that timeline to 12 hours and enhancing public notification will better protect us all.

Update: After working with stakeholders to address opposition to this bill, we reached a compromise that removed the 12 hour timeline for notification (leaving it at the current 24 hours) but still increased spill notification from just newspapers to also include radio and television. The bill successfully made it out of the House of Delegates, but did not make it out of the Senate. We will work tirelessly to ensure that we can be successful when the House bill comes before the Senate again.

Priority Four: Support Proper Menhaden Management (Senate Bill 98 & House Bill 150)

Background: Menhaden have been called “the most important fish in the sea.” Menhaden are both filter feeders and a primary food source for striped bass, bluefish, sharks, ospreys, brown pelicans, and dolphin. Beyond its ecological importance, the menhaden fishery is very important economically to the Commonwealth, supporting hundreds of jobs. JRA urges legislators to transfer management of the menhaden fishery from the General Assembly to the experienced fishery professionals at the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC). VMRC currently manages all of the Commonwealth’s fisheries except menhaden.

Update: Both bills have been defeated, due to the delicate relationship between menhaden management and jobs. This is a conversation that will continue at the General Assembly level in the future.