In Face of Federal Rollbacks, Environmental Advocates Emphasize Importance of State Policy

A Look at State Environmental Legislation in Maryland, Virginia and D.C.

Each year, advocacy organizations the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters analyze bills that state lawmakers propose that affect the environment and make recommendations for or against laws based on their environmental considerations. See below which laws these groups spoke out for and against, and how each state legislature ended up voting:

Source: Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters, State Legislature Websites
Graphic: Sam Hart/NBC
Additional reporting by Kelly Zegers, Nina Lin, Vrushank Nayak and Yuqing Liu

With Washington, D.C., following the lead of California and Hawaii toward 100 % renewable energy in the coming decades, environmental advocates in D.C., Maryland and Virginia emphasize the importance of state and local policy to cut greenhouse gases.

According to Lee Francis, the deputy director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, focusing on state environmental policy is especially important in the face of "a Trump administration that is working to roll back and reverse tried-and-true environmental policy."

For example, in the latest General Assembly session, Virginia passed a bi-partisan bill to clean up coal ash at power plants in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

However, the drive toward clean energy often encounters political hurdles. For example, tax credits for the coal industry became bargaining chips as Governor Northam worked to secure Medicaid expansion.

Another environmental legislation priority for advocates has been regional climate agreements. Maryland and eight other Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states belong to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative — a cap-and-trade program aimed at curbing state emissions. Both Maryland and Virginia are members of the broader U.S. Climate Alliance—an interstate agreement to uphold the stipulations of the Paris Agreement of 2015, which the Trump administration withdrew from. But in 2018 and 2019 Republican legislators in Virginia blocked their state from joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

In spite of political setbacks, Francis remains optimistic about green initiatives, particularly in light of the state’s coal ash cleanup effort.

"It’s great to be making progress at a time when we’re backsliding a federal level," Francis said.

An earlier version of this story misstated what the coal ash bill would do. It would clean up coal ash at four Dominion Energy power plant sites in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The story also mischaracterized the politics behind the passage of Virginia's coal tax credits.

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