With the General Assembly elections this November, we’re looking at how candidates in competitive races stand on the issues that matter. Now up: environmental issues.
Virginia is no stranger to the effects of climate change. Recent extreme weather events, like Hurricane Dorian, 90+ degree heat in September, and the ongoing drought throughout the state, are hallmarks of our changing environment.
Plenty of legislation to protect the environment has been introduced in Virginia’s General Assembly, but Republicans in control of the House of Delegates and Senate have let very few bills make it to the floor for a vote. There have been more defeats than wins, though one recent bright spot was the passage of a bill requiring Dominion Energy to clean up toxic ash from Virginia’s waterways.
Democrats have started refusing corporate donations from Dominion Energy, the state’s main power company. Dominion has faced ongoing opposition to their controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline project, which critics say threatens multiple endangered species.
Below we’ve rounded up where the candidates stand on these issues, which will likely come up again in the 2020 General Assembly session. For candidates who don’t have a voting record we assessed their position based on their current platform and past statements.
Senate District 8 (Virginia Beach City)
Missy Cotter Smasal (D): Cotter Smasal listed environmental sustainability as a central issue for her campaign, saying the General Assembly needs to “enact legislation to deal with the immediate threat that sea level rise and flooding pose to our homes and businesses.” She has also called for the General Assembly to invest in Virginia Beach to become a leader in offshore wind power. In August, she received an endorsement from the Virginia Sierra Club.
William DeSteph Jr. (R): DeSteph has a mixed record on environmental issues. In a move that environmental groups praised, he introduced a bill to prohibit offshore oil and gas drilling, but it ultimately never made it out of committee. However, he received a “D” rating overall from the Sierra Club for his votes this past year, including a vote to prohibit the state from joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
Senate District 13 (Parts of Loudon and Prince William counties)
John Bell (D): Bell has a robust pro-environment voting record and has personally introduced several environmentally-conscious bills. This year he pledged to no longer accept donations from Dominion Energy. He was endorsed by both Clean Virginia and the Virginia League of Conservation Voters and earned a solid “B” rating from The Sierra Club’s Virginia Chapter after receiving an “A+” rating the previous three years. If elected to the state Senate, he has vowed to advocate for green energy technology tax credits, the cleanup of environmentally protected areas, and developing a clean energy economy.
Geary Higgins (R): The Dogwood was unable to locate any statements from Higgins, a first-time candidate, on his stance on environmental issues.
House District 85 (Virginia Beach City)
Alex Askew (D): Askew has made environmental policy a central part of his campaign for the House of Delegates, writing that Richmond “must hold polluters accountable for their actions, and we must act immediately to ensure a clean and sustainable environment.” Askew has been endorsed by several environmental groups, including the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, Blue Uprising, and the Sierra Club.
Rocky Holcomb (R): Holcomb doesn’t list environmental issues on his campaign site. During his brief time in Virginia’s House in 2017, however, Holcomb had a dismal record on environmental issues, earning him an “F” score from Virginia Sierra Club. Specifically, he voted for HB 1678, which would have protected companies like Dominion Energy from being held accountable for the exact concentrations of chemicals they used for fracking in Virginia.
House District 28 (Parts of Stafford County and Fredericksburg City)
Joshua Cole (D): Cole has committed to fighting climate change, saying he will “work with, and for, the communities of our district so that we can leave behind a Virginia that is greener and greater than it is today.” During the campaign, Cole has frequently discussed Climate change on social media, and he has been endorsed by both Clean Virginia and the Sierra Club
Paul Milde (R): Milde has not discussed environmental issues in-depth during the campaign. In a debate with Cole, Milde said that environmental protections were a “no-brainer,” but added that he didn’t want the United States to be dependent on foreign sources of oil. He also said the country would be in more danger if it was not the world’s leading economy versus if our energy comes from a “clean coal-fired power plant or a windmill.”
House District 66 (Parts of Chesterfield County, Colonial Heights City and Richmond City)
Sheila Bynum-Coleman (D): Bynum-Coleman has made protecting the environment central to her campaign, writing that she “strongly believes climate change represents an existential threat to Virginia and the country at-large, especially to communities of color.” She also wants to “accelerate Virginia’s timeline to become a carbon-neutral economy and a regional hub for green jobs.” Additionally, she has pledged not to accept any donations from Dominion Energy and was endorsed by both Clean Virginia and the Virginia League of Conservation Voters.
Kirk Cox (R): In his 29 years in Virginia’s House, House Speaker Cox has an extensive record of failing to protect the environment. Since 2015, the Virginia Sierra Club’s rating for Cox has vacillated between a “D” and an “F.” During the campaign, Cox has spoken explicitly about his desire to continue blocking Virginia from joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cooperative effort between various states to limit their carbon dioxide emissions. Cox has also pocketed significant money from Dominion Energy, including $116,711 during his time in the House and separate donations to two of Cox’s PACS totaling over $180,000.
House District 76 (Parts of Suffolk City and Chesapeake City)
Clint Jenkins (D): Jenkins has committed to sustainability and protecting the environment. He has been endorsed by the Virginia League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club. He has also taken the pledge not to accept Dominion donations.
Chris Jones (R): Jones has not listed his stance on environmental protections on his website. However, in 2019 he received a “D” rating from the Sierra Club, an improvement over the “F” he received in two years before. Additionally, he accepted a $41,432 donation from Dominion and a combined $48,000 from Dominion executives.
House District 83 (Parts of Virginia Beach City and Norfolk City)
Nancy Guy (D): Guy has made environmental issues a cornerstone of her campaign saying, “Climate change is the great challenge of our time. We live in the second most imperiled region in the country to the threats of sea level rise and climate change.” She has received endorsements from Clean Virginia, the Virginia league of conservation voters, Blue uprising, and the Sierra Club . Guy is a member of Under2 Coalition, which is committed to support the goals of the Paris Climate Accord and has taken the pledge not to accept dominion donations.
Chris Stolle (R): Stolle has a complicated record on environmental issues. He has both introduced bold legislation to combat climate change’s impact on his community but also has regularly voted against environmentally-friendly policies. On his website, he proudly touts that he was the recipient of a Sierra Club Leadership Award for his work but he currently holds a “D” rating from the same institution for his voting record. The Dogwood also reported Del. Chris Stolle (R-Virginia Beach) has received $11,500 from the company and $3,500 from its CEO.
House District 94 (Newport News City)
Shelly Simonds (D): Simonds has made a commitment to protect the environment if elected. On her website, she has laid out several sustainability initiatives she plans on pursuing, saying she “knows the threat climate change poses to coastal Virginia. We need to act now.” She has stated that she will oppose fracking and uranium mining and will support solar and offshore wind power. Simonds is endorsed by Clean Virginia, the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, and the Sierra Club and has pledged not to take donations from Dominion Energy.
David Yancey (R): On his website, Yancey discusses the threat of “rising waters” in Virginia but does not explicitly mention climate change. While he promotes a Sierra Club award he collected for introducing solar-friendly legislation, he also received a “D” rating from them in their latest scorecard. Perhaps most notably, however, Yancey voted last January for the bill that blocked Virginia from joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.Yancey’s PAC has also taken sizable donations from Dominion Energy over the years.