- The Washington Times - Monday, June 27, 2011

Environmental groups say Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is taking some positive strides toward cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay and conserving land, but they express frustration that he is still not doing enough.

Speaking in Richmond on Monday, Natural Resources Secretary Doug Domenech promoted Mr. McDonnell’s work on the environmental and energy fronts. Since Mr. McDonnell took office, Mr. Domenech said, 60,000 acres of land have been conserved, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved a state plan to reduce pollution flowing into the Chesapeake, and the governor has advocated for developing traditional and alternative fuels.

Virginia has been blessed with abundant natural resources,” he said. “The McDonnell administration is committed to protecting and enhancing our natural resources so that they can be enjoyed by generations to come.”

To environmental advocates, the positives are overshadowed by Mr. McDonnell’s support for overturning a federal moratorium on offshore drilling and his opposition to renewable energy mandates. Thirty states require energy companies to produce a specified percentage of their energy from renewable resources.

“We don’t need to be going to the energy of yesterday,” said Mary Rafferty, grass-roots organizing director for the Sierra Club Virginia chapter. “We need to be looking for the energy of today, and the real thing we need for that is a renewable energy standard for the state.”

When President Obama reversed a ban on oil drilling off most U.S. shores in March 2010, Mr. McDonnell applauded his decision. The governor said he hoped that drilling off Virginia’s coast would capture royalties for the state that could be used to fund transportation.

A month later, a BP PLC oil rig exploded, dumping millions of barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Although Mr. Obama canceled the planned lease sale off Virginia’s coast, Mr. McDonnell has continued to advocate for drilling.

The governor also is advocating for renewable energy. Last week, he signed eight bills intended to advance solar and other clean types of energy.

Ms. Rafferty said those are just small steps.

“Unfortunately, a lot of this stuff doesn’t go far enough when we’re talking about moving ourselves away from fossil fuels,” she said.

Dan Holmes, director of state policy for the Piedmont Environmental Council, said it’s good that 60,000 acres have been preserved under the Republican governor’s watch, but that the achievement falls far short of the 400,000-acre goal he set while running for office. Halfway through Mr. McDonnell’s term, that benchmark is still far in the distance, Mr. Holmes said.

“This is a very ambitious goal, and we have a very long way to go,” he said.

One of the biggest environmental concerns in Virginia is reducing pollutants flowing into the Chesapeake Bay. Last year, the EPA announced an initiative to purify 60 percent of its waters by 2025 after decades of largely failed efforts to clean up the Bay.

Mr. McDonnell will host a meeting of the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council on July 11 that will include the governors of Maryland and Pennsylvania, the mayor of the District and an administrator from the EPA, Mr. Domenech said. States submitted plans last year to the EPA for restoring the Bay.

Chuck Epes, a spokesman for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said the EPA criticized Virginia’s initial plan but approved a more “aggressive” proposal in January.

Story Continues →