Rep. Abigail Spanberger says she's focusing on clean energy and conservation legislation in Congress Rep. Abigail Spanberger says she's focusing on clean energy and conservation legislation in Congress

RICHMOND – Politicians love to talk about protecting the environment on the campaign trail, but after an election many are left wondering what’s happening in Richmond and DC to actually put conservation practices in place.

To answer that question, Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D – VA) and Karla Loeb, chief policy and development officer of the energy technology provider Sigora Solar, participated in a Virginia League of Conservation Voters town hall Thursday afternoon. Both agree that Virginia and the country as a whole are making progress towards encouraging environmentally responsible industry practices.

“Despite some of the setbacks we saw during the pandemic, clean energy continues to grow very quickly,” Spanberger said.

Expanding Access to Voluntary Carbon Markets

Virginia’s 7th District representative serves as the chair of the House Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee. In that role, she says this year she’s focusing on four pieces of legislation that encourage farmers across the US to embrace natural climate solutions.

One of these bills is the Growing Climate Solutions Act. This legislation, proposed by Sen. Mike Braun (R – IN), breaks down barriers for farmers who want to participate in voluntary environmental credit markets.

These markets are for farmers, ranchers, and private forest landowners that volunteer to adhere to carbon dioxide limits. If they produce less than their designated limit, they are then able to sell their allocation to other participating businesses.

Incentivizing Farmers to Use Conservation Strategies

Spanberger also spoke about the Healthy Soils, Resilient Farmers Act, which she’s reintroducing later this year. The bill would create flexibility for existing Farm Service Agency loans to help new farmers embrace conservation practices. If passed, these loans could pay for the cost of cover cropping, organic production, and rotational grazing for farmers.

“There’s such a risk that comes to farmers who may be looking to employ new practices,” said Spanberger.

The congresswoman also highlighted the Climate Stewardship Act in her remarks Thursday. The bill, which she reintroduced with Sen. Cory Booker (D – NJ) in April, creates incentives for farmers to implement climate stewardship practices. If passed, that bill would also encourage farmers to increase their reforestation practices. And, it would establish a national Coastal and Estuary Resilience Grant Program.

Another forthcoming bill on its way to her committee could significantly reform the USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program, Spanberger said. That program creates loans for farmers and rural small businesses to invest in renewable energy. She says in order to help smaller farming operations, it needs some changes.

“As it is currently structured, too many farmers have expressed to me that the cost share elements are really very burdensome for small family farmers,” Spanberger said.

Clean Energy Efforts in the Commonwealth

Loeb spoke Thursday about the advocacy her company did to help with the passage of the Virginia Clean Economy Act.

Key highlights of the law include new measures to promote energy efficiency, the setting of a schedule for the closing of old fossil fuel power plants, and the establishment of a requirement that the Commonwealth’s electrical grid come from 100% renewable sources within the next three decades.

“In one fell swoop, we took Virginia and put us on a pathway from less than one percent clean energy to one hundred percent clean energy by 2050 in the electricity sector,” Leob said.

However, an Energy Innovation report last year said that the legislation “will fall short of the emissions reductions required to put Virginia on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recommended pathway to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius for a safe climate future.”

Aila Boyd is a freelance reporter for Dogwood. You can reach her at info@vadogwood.com.