Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Terry McAuliffe announced a plan Thursday that he says will help combat the harmful effects of climate change in Virginia. The plan includes an effort to secure a clean energy future for Virginia by setting a target to reach 100% clean energy by 2035, aligning the Commonwealth with President Biden’s climate goals and efforts to pass a federal climate and infrastructure bill this year.
The plan received pushback almost immediately, however.
State Senator Jennifer McClellan championed the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) in 2020. The VCEA requires Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power to be 100 percent carbon-free by 2050 and that nearly all coal-fired plants close by the end of 2024.
McClellan, who is also seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, said in a statement Thursday that McAuliffe failed to take any actions to address climate change when he was governor and accused him of building a plan based on her work.
“Gov. McAuliffe failed to make climate change a priority as governor. Now his new plan is entirely built on the Virginia Clean Economy Act that Del. Sullivan and I passed,” she said Thursday. “I’m proud to have been the chief patron of the Virginia Clean Economy Act, the most significant climate bill in Virginia history,” she continued.
The plan that McAuliffe announced Thursday includes investing in energy efficiency, restructuring Virginia’s regulatory structure to protect consumers and incentivize the transition, and decarbonizing Virginia’s transportation sector.
“Securing our clean energy future is critical to securing our future, and I promise you that Virginia will lead the nation in tackling climate change and transitioning to clean energy,” McAuliffe said Thursday in a statement. “We’re going to get Virginia to 100% clean energy by 2035 by partnering with President Biden and investing critical federal dollars, secure our vital coastal communities like Hampton Roads, tackle inequities and environmental racism, and build a brighter future for all Virginians.”
Both McClellan and McAuliffe have stated that they believe 13,000 new jobs a year will become available to help Virginia transfer to new energy. Part of McAuliffe’s plan includes collaborating with Virginia’s institutions of higher education and clean energy industries to expand capacity for relevant courses, develop curriculum, and expand apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs for those jobs.
McAuliffe also said he also wants to prioritize re-training for the 24,000 Virginians who currently work in predominantly rural fossil fuel industries so they can access clean energy jobs in the future.
State Delegates Alex Askew and Shelly Simonds spoke alongside McAuliffe on Thursday in a Facebook live conversation. “Virginia needs bold, proven leadership that can bring us out of this climate crisis and into a stronger, more equitable future. That’s why I’m so proud to support Terry and his plan,” Askew said in a prepared statement.
Askew and Simonds both represent districts in Hampton Roads, a part of the state with a disproportionally higher chance of experiencing the negative impacts of extreme weather events fueled by climate change. “Fighting against climate change and fighting against racial injustice are deeply intertwined. I think the communities, as [Terry] mentioned, that are affected most by COVID, or by pollution, or any respiratory disease, are the ones who will be impacted by extreme weather events,” Askew said during the Facebook live event. “In Virginia Beach and across Hampton Roads, climate change disproportionately affects these communities.”
McClellan said she appreciates the effort that McAuliffe is making now, but she believes voters have an obvious choice as to who is the better candidate on climate change. “I’m glad to see Gov. McAuliffe supports the principles of the VCEA, but if voters want a candidate who has led the biggest climate progress in Virginia history, there is a clear choice in this election.”
In addition to McAuliffe and McClellan, former-Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, Delegate Lee Carter, and Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax are seeking the Democratic nomination to run for governor. The primary will take place on June 8 for Democratic voters to choose the nominee that runs against the Republican candidate in November.
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