Following a large banner reading, "Stop the Assault on Climate Solutions!," and with messages like "tax pollution, not solutions" painted across their vehicles, hybrid car owners led a honking caravan around Capitol Square, joining picketers on the sidewalk carrying signs calling for "wind and solar now!."
"I invested in a hybrid car to do my part to make the air we breathe cleaner and our climate safer," said Chester resident Laurel Snode, owner of a hybrid Honda Insight and a participant in the car parade. "We wouldn't tax non-smokers to fund more public ash trays. Punishing Virginians who want to be part of the solution and pollute less makes absolutely no sense. It will only do more harm."
The protesters decried Governor Bob McDonnell's proposed transportation plan as an irresponsible political ploy that singles out people trying to reduce their climate footprint and would only encourage more consumption of oil. The legislation would slap a $100 tax on owners of hybrid and electric cars while eliminating the state's gas tax altogether, making Virginia the only state in the union without one. The picketers also urged lawmakers to reject legislation backed by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, known nationally as a global warming denier, that would dismantle the state's only broad clean energy law, the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). Thousands of Virginians have called on lawmakers to instead strengthen the law to ensure the development of wind and solar power in Virginia.
"If the General Assembly approves this trifecta of anti-environment proposals, lawmakers will earn Virginia a reputation as a state that penalizes innovation and rewards pollution," said Dawone Robinson, Virginia Policy Coordinator at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. "Virginia already lags behind its neighbors in developing clean, 21st century wind and solar power, and these bills would set us further back."
The proposed $100 tax on cleaner cars, which the Governor has said would apply to 91,000 vehicles, would only provide a small sliver of the $3 billion he says is necessary to fund the state's transportation needs in coming years. After spirited discussion, the House bill reflecting the Governor's plan (HB2313) passed out of the House Finance committee yesterday and the Senate version (SB1355) is on the docket for today's Senate Finance committee meeting at 4:30 p.m.
Separately, Attorney General Cuccinelli's electric utility legislation would effectively render Virginia's Renewable Portfolio Standard law meaningless by removing the performance incentive for utilities to meet their clean energy goals, which are already voluntary. Neighboring North Carolina and Maryland are among the 29 states that have mandatory RPS laws requiring utilities to get a certain portion of their energy from clean sources or face penalties for non-compliance. The House of Delegates passed the Attorney General's plan (HB2261) on Monday and the Senate is poised to pass it (SB1339) tomorrow.
The protesters called instead for real solutions: strengthening, not dismantling, the state's clean electricity standard so that it requires utilities to invest in wind and solar power in Virginia; and keeping the gas tax in place to encourage less gasoline consumption, instead of punishing people who have chosen to reduce their impact on the climate by driving cleaner cars.
"Virginians are already experiencing the effects of climate change—higher property taxes due to more frequent extreme weather events and, in coastal neighborhoods, frequent flooding from sea-level rise," said Robinson. "We want to see legislators move us forward to address climate change, not backward."
The Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) is the first grassroots, nonprofit organization dedicated exclusively to fighting global warming in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. Our mission is to build and mobilize a powerful grassroots movement in this unique region that surrounds our nation's capital to call for state, national and international policies that will put us on a path to climate stability.