Category Archives: Environment

Atlantic Coast Pipeline Inks Labor Contracts

Now that the State Water Control Board has approved water-quality permits for the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), the odds look exceedingly good that the board will approve comparable permits for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) as well. Indeed, state regulatory approval looks like such a lock that the ACP has signed project labor agreements with four major construction trade unions.

The agreements cover these four unions:

  • Laborers’ International Union of North America. Laborers install environmental control devices, perform ground clearing, coat and install the pipe and restore the right of way.
  • Teamsters National Pipeline. Teamsters transport personnel, materials and equipment.
  • International Union of Operating Engineers. Operators operate excavators, bull dozers, pipe bending and laying machines, cranes, forklifts and other construction equipment.
  • The United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States. Welders weld and bend the pipe, install road bores and perform hydrostatic testing.

“This is the biggest job-creating infrastructure project we’ve seen in our region for many decades,” said Dennis Martire, LiUNA’s Vice President & Mid-Atlantic Regional Manager. “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebuild our region’s infrastructure and bring back the middle class jobs that have disappeared from too many of our communities. Our members live in these communities, so we have a personal stake in doing this the right way and with the utmost care for safety and the environment.”

While the two pipeline projects will be a boon to the construction unions — 13,000 workers will be needed to build the ACP — landowners and others living along the path of the pipeline routes remain adamantly opposed to both projects.

“[Governor] Terry McAuliffe has harmed farmers, consumers, drinking water, and the climate by pushing the Virginia Water Control Board to give final approval today of the Mountain Valley Pipeline,” said Mike Tidwell, executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network said after the 5 to 2 vote. “The 301-mile pipeline for fracked gas constitutes a colossal misallocation of resources and will permanently harm the Governor’s economic and environmental legacies.”

“We are thoroughly disappointed by the board’s decision. Thousands voiced their opposition to this pipeline based on evidence that it cannot be built without violating the federal Clean Water Act and the board’s obligation under Virginia law,” said Tom Cormons, executive director of Appalachian Voices. “DEQ created a rushed, haphazard process, limited the scope of the board’s review, and abdicated the state’s authority to the Corps of Engineers for oversight of pipeline construction at almost 400 water crossings.”

While pipeline foes have cited many reasons for opposing the two projects, they have focused in recent months on blocking state regulatory approval on the grounds that the regs cannot adequately protect water quality from construction on steep mountain slopes in karst terrain riddled with underground streams.

Having met defeat at every turn at the federal and state levels, the last resort is the courts. “We are considering all options,” said Cormons, “and expect the outcome will be determined in the courts.”

If Mountain Valley Pipeline breaks ground on the project, he added, “citizens along the entire route are prepared to watchdog every action, along every mile, every day of construction and afterwards, and compel agencies to act when violations inevitably occur.”

The water control board is expected to vote on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline this Monday.

Update: That was fast! Minutes after I posted this story, Appalachian Mountain Advocates announced that it has filed suit in Richmond’s U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. “The DEQ’s erosion and sediment control plans and stormwater control plans are incomplete and have not been presented to the Board,” said David Sligh, conservation director of Wild Virginia, which is allied with Appalachian Mountain Advocates. “Karst analyses are incomplete. Data related to specific waterbody crossings is non-existent. The Nationwide 12 permit has not yet been authorized and determined to be applicable.  The procedure is not based on sound science and is legally flawed. We cannot accept this betrayal of our trust and our rights without challenge.”

Follow the Dark Money

Yes, it’s a legitimate story when Dominion spend big bucks supporting grassroots groups that favor the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Why isn’t it also a story when out-of-state billionaires underwrite pipeline foes?

We learn from the Washington Post today how Dominion Energy, its partners in the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, and the American Gas Association poured resources into groups called EnergySure and Your Energy Virginia to “whip up” a grassroots campaign in support of the project.

Quoting from a presentation made by Dominion executive Bruce McKay to an industry conference in Arizona last month, the Post described the scope of the effort:

As of early October, Dominion had compiled a “supporter database” of more than 23,000 names, generated 150 letters to the editor, sent more than 9,000 cards and letters to federal regulators and local elected officials, and directed more than 11,000 calls to outgoing Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Virginia’s U.S. senators.

Pipeline foes criticize Dominion for its outsized influence in Virginia state politics, characterizing the pipeline conflict as a David vs. Goliath contest. “Dominion is by far more well-resourced,” the Post quotes Denise Robbins of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network as saying. “What we have is public support and the will of the people who don’t want these pipelines in their communities.” Continues the article:

The protesters also have criticized Northam for failing to disclose that several members of his 85-person transition advisory team have ties to Dominion – a company that has given extensively to Virginia politicians of both parties, and in which Northam owns stock. Dominion and its executives gave Northam’s campaign more than $87,000 this year, according to the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project.

Bacon’s bottom line: The Post article highlights a legitimate story. Dominion is a dominant player in Virginia’s political process, and the public has a right to know how it conducts business. If Dominion, a regulated utility whose fortunes depend upon achieving favorable political outcomes, pours money into campaign contributions, lobbying and grassroots activities, that’s a fair topic of inquiry by the press.

What bothers me is that the Washington Post and other media show no comparable curiosity about Dominion’s opponents. What do we know about the groups contesting the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines? What do we know about the resources poured into the campaign to halt the pipelines? Where do these groups raise money for economic studies, cable television ads, and the organizing of protest marches?

To take a concrete example, what do we know about the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN), the environmental justice-oriented group quoted by the Post, which has organized many of the anti-pipeline protests in Richmond?

Well, we know that the group is based in Takoma, Md., and maintains offices in Richmond and Norfolk. In fiscal 2015 it listed 22 employees. According to its latest 990 form and a 2016 audited report posted on its website, the group raised $263,000 in 2016 through contributions, another $1,043,000 through grants (including the release of previously restricted grants), and a nominal sum from other sources. While we know how much money it brought in, we don’t know where that money came from. Nowhere on its website, in its audited report, or its 990 form does CCAN reveal how many donors contributed, or who they were. Restricted grants (presumably from foundations) account for 80% of its revenue. Who is CCAN beholden to? The public doesn’t know. The Washington Post is happy to quote CCAN in its article but displays no curiosity about whose interests it serves.

Contrast CCAN to a true grassroots environmental organization like the Piedmont Environmental Council. The 2016 PEC annual report lists every donor — literally hundreds of them — who contributed $100 or more. The PEC makes no secret of the fact that its biggest backers of $100,000 or more include the Aqua Fund, the William M. Backer Foundation, the Loudoun Soil and Conservation District, Jacqueline B. Mars, Jean Perin, the Prince Charitable Trusts, and the Wrinkle in Time Foundation. It’s all there for the public to see and evaluate.

A look at the CCAN’s board of directors suggests that the group’s support comes mainly from Maryland and Washington, D.C., not Virginia. Only two of the 13 board members have identifiable Virginia connections: April Moore, vice-president of Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, and Tony Noerpel, founder of Sustainable Loudoun. Another board member has West Virginia ties, and the rest hail from the Baltimore-Washington area. CCAN lays claim to “public support and the will of the people who don’t want these pipelines” in Virginia. But how do we know that it reflects the will of “the people” any more than does Dominion, which cites the support of construction unions, chambers of commerce, and economic developers?

We know where Dominion’s money comes from — from Dominion rate payers and shareholders. It’s pretty straightforward. We don’t know where CCAN’s money comes from. Could some or most of it come from out-of-state millionaires and billionaires who could care a fig about Virginia’s economic development?

A 2014 minority staff report of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environmental and Public Works, “The Chain of Environmental Command: How a Club of Billionaires and Their Foundations Control the Environmental Movement and Obama’s EPA,” reached the following conclusions:

  • The “Billionaire’s Club,” an exclusive group of wealthy individuals, directs the far-left environmental movement. The members of this elite liberal club funnel their fortunes through private foundations to execute their personal political agenda, which is centered around restricting the use of fossil fuels in the United States.
  • Public charity activist groups propagate the false notion that they are independent, citizen-funded groups working altruistically. In reality, they work in tandem with wealthy donors to maximize the value of the donors’ tax deductible donations and leverage their combined resources to influence elections and policy outcomes.
  • Far-left environmental activists, while benefiting from nonprofit status, essentially sell a product to wealthy foundations who are seeking to drive policy and political outcomes.
  • The Billionaire’s Club knowingly collaborates with questionable offshore funders to maximize support for the far-left environmental movement.

The “offshore funders” are associated with Russian energy interests who share the environmentalists’ goal of curtailing U.S. fracking of natural gas.

In their coverage of President Trump, Post reporters frequently allude to findings of the U.S. Intelligence community, in particular the report, “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections,” which argued that Vladimir Putin-directed initiatives aimed at discrediting Hillary Clinton and helping Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential election. But I have yet to see the Post cite the passage that says RT (formerly Russia Today) ran anti-fracking programming highlighting environmental issues and the impact on public health. The anti-fracking stance, states the report, “is likely reflective of the Russian Government’s concern about the impact of fracking and US natural gas production on the global energy market and the potential challenges to Gazprom’s profitability.”

Ken Stiles, a Virginia Tech geography instructor who used to work for the Central Intelligence Agency, has traced the flow of dollars from Russian energy interests through the Bermuda-based Klein Fund to the California-based Sea Change Foundation, and then from Sea Change to the Charlottesville-based social/environmental activist group Virginia Organizing. Virginia Organizing provides administrative support for anti-pipeline groups such as Preserve Montgomery County and the Friends of Nelson County. (This article in the Daily Signal provides the details.)

Virginia Organizing, which describes itself as “a statewide grassroots organization dedicated to challenging injustice by empowering people in local communities,” had a 2015 budget of $4.5 million. The group did not acknowledge the fact that it was a recipient of Sea Change Foundation money in either its website or its 990 form.

Stiles approached Bacon’s Rebellion before he contacted the Daily Signal. While I was intrigued by his findings, I thought it was a stretch to link Russian anti-fracking money with what appeared to me to be genuine, NIMBY-inspired grassroots groups like Preserve Montgomery County and the Friends of Nelson County. There was no way to know where the Russian money went once it reached the Sea Change Foundation. In all likelihood, I felt, the Russian money was so co-mingled with the contributions of rich American donors that it was meaningless to trace a trail from Russian oligarchs to an organization like Virginia Organizing, much less to groups one step removed from Virginia Organizing. I think Stiles got impatient with my journalistic standards of proof, so he went to the conservative Daily Signal instead.

Still, I believe that Stiles raised an important pointMuch of the anti-pipeline money in Virginia comes from wealthy out-of-state environmentalists (with a few rubles mixed in). These big donors have funded an archipelago of grassroots groups dedicated to fighting fracking and natural gas pipelines across the country.

When Dominion spends money supporting grassroots movements to influence public policy, yes, that is a news story. When out-of-state billionaires spend money, an unknown fraction of which came from Russian energy interests, to support grassroots movements to shut down fracking and pipelines, that is a news story, too — just not one that the Washington Post is interested in telling.

Virginians have a right to know who is influencing the public policy process in their state, and how much these shadowy interests are spending. It’s easy to follow the dollars going to campaign finances because campaigns are obligated by law to report them. Thus, we know that California billionaire and global warming activist Tom Steyer funneled almost $1 million through his organization NextGen Climate Action into Governor-elect Ralph Northam’s gubernatorial campaign this year, and $1.6 million into Governor Terry McAuliffe’s campaign four years before that. But there are millions of dollars of dark money sloshing around Virginia through social-justice and environmental foundations and activist groups which go mostly unreported. The public has a right to know where all the money is coming from and which groups are beholden to that money.

Eco-Districts as Competitive Advantage for Edge Cities

Speaking at a TedxTysons conference, my friend Dan Slone describes his vision for eco-districts in edge cities. Eco-districts integrate urban farming, renewable energy, microgrids, water recycling and even wildlife habitat with a walkable, mixed-use built environment to create resiliency and business continuity in the face of natural disasters and social upheaval.

Air Board Approves Carbon Caps for Electric Utilities

The Virginia Air Pollution Board unanimously approved today regulations to reduce carbon from electric utilities by 30% between 2020 and 2030. The rule also will link Virginia to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which will allow Virginia utilities to swap carbon allowances with power companies in other states.

The vote “will make this Commonwealth a leader in the global fight to cut carbon and promote clean energy technologies,” said Governor Terry McAuliffe in a prepared statement. “This will allow us to achieve carbon reductions in the most innovative and cost-effective way possible with minimal impact on customer bills.”

Virginia is uniquely vulnerable to the threat of climate change and many of our residents are already experiencing its impacts. We do not have the luxury of waiting for Washington to wake up to this threat – we must act now. I am proud that Virginia is joining states around the nation that are filling the void of leadership that President Trump has left on transforming the energy sector and protecting our environment. With these regulations, we will significantly cut carbon emissions, continue our state’s explosive growth in the clean energy sector, and set an example for leadership in Washington, other states, and the entire world.

The public comment period and on-going enactment process is expected to be lengthy, especially if lawsuits are filed challenging the legality of the regulations. McAuliffe’s statement was short on details on how the regional greenhouse initiative will work.

Here follow responses from various parties as they come in.

House of Delegates Republicans: “This is a clear attempt by Governor McAuliffe’s Administration to circumvent the appropriate legislative process to impose wide-ranging regulations that, simply put, will necessitate higher electricity prices and discourage businesses from investing in the Commonwealth,” said House Speaker-designee Kirk Cox.

“Democrats purport to be champions of the poor and working class, but this policy will lead to higher electric bills for families, small businesses, seniors, and the working poor,” said Majority Leader-designee Todd Gilbert. “It will directly hurt people already anxious about making ends meet and getting through a cold winter, but it sure will please Governor-elect Northam’s California billionaire donors.”

“The Air Pollution Control Board does not have the authority to promulgate regulations at the state level that exceed those at the federal level,” said Commerce & Labor Committee Chairman Terry Kilgore. “Today’s action is clearly inconsistent with Virginia law and a gross example of bureaucratic overreach.”

Dominion Energy Virginia. “We already are a low-carbon producer of energy, and have continued to work to lower emissions both in anticipation of future state or federal regulation and because it’s the right thing to do,” said Dominion spokesman David Botkins. “We have plans to build more than 5,200 megawatts of solar arrays in Virginia, extend the lifespan of our nuclear plants and have closed or converted coal-fired generation. While we haven’t yet had a chance to fully study the state’s draft proposal, we expect to fully meet whatever regulatory requirements that result. We’ll review today’s vote and participate in the public comment period in due course.”

Appalachian Power: “Appalachian Power is reviewing the proposed regulations. Given uncertainties in the ultimate Virginia carbon budget, allocations, and allowance pricing, we are unable to estimate the impact of the proposal on our customers at this time” said Apco spokesman John Shepelwich. “But the company will participate in the public notice and comment process to ensure any final rule, if/when/promulgated, will have the least impact possible on our customers.”

APCo has already reduced CO2 generation emissions in Virginia by 96% since the year 2005, he added.

Update: I normally get a slew of press releases from environmental groups, but nothing has arrived in my inbox on this. But in its story the Richmond Times-Dispatch quotes the Virginia Conservation Network as calling the draft regulation “a critical first step in addressing the threat of climate change and spurring investments in clean energy in Virginia.”

Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time, especially when it comes to its devastating impacts on Virginia’s most vulnerable communities. It is imperative that every level of government steps up to be a part of the solution.

Virginia Could Get Its Own Clean Power Plan

Would the Chesterfield Power Station get the axe under new state carbon emission rules? (Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Terry McAuliffe’s days as governor of Virginia are rapidly drawing to a close, but proposed carbon-dioxide regulations working through the administrative process could prove to be his most lasting legacy. If adopted, the rule would cap carbon emissions at large power plants in 2020 and then require 3% reductions annually for 10 years, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

After convening a working group more than a year ago to develop recommendations on cutting power plant emissions, McAuliffe signed an executive order in May directing the Department of Environmental Quality to prepare the regulations. The State Air Pollution Control Board is expected to vote on the measure Thursday.

The regulations will be tied to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cooperative including nine other states in the Mid-Atlantic and New England. The regional initiative will allow power companies to purchase carbon allowances from one another. The regional approach allows utilities in one state to purchase offsets from utilities in other states that might be able to reduce carbon output more cheaply.

DEQ models indicate that Virginia’s rule could increase the wholesale cost of electricity by about 7% by 2030, although the actual impact on consumers should be lower, say backers of the rule. In other states, expanded energy efficiency programs have offset the higher electricity rates with lower consumption with the result that electric bills are no higher.

While Attorney General Mark Herring has rendered the opinion that the state air board has the power to regulate carbon under its existing authority, others disagree. Air board regulations prevent it from enacting regulations more stringent than federal requirements, Jay Holloway, a partner with Williams Mullen, told the Times-Dispatch.

Republicans also have problems with the rule, arguing that it will weaken the Virginia economy. John Whitbeck, Republican Party chairman, accused McAuliffe of catering to liberal votes in Iowa and New Hampshire for his presidential bid.

Dominion Energy has remain notably silent as the carbon-cap proposal has wended its way through the system. “We already are a low-carbon producer of energy, and have continued to work to lower emissions both in anticipation of future state or federal regulation and because it’s the right thing to do,” said Dominion spokesman David Botkins.

The carbon-cap initiative ties back to the debate over the electricity rate freeze. Critics have lambasted Dominion for the freeze, which arose from fears of the impact of the Obama administration’s proposed Clean Power Plan. Dominion agreed to keep its base rates fixed, which has locked in excess profits for the first couple of years, in exchange for taking the risk of asset write-downs if the federal carbon regulations forced the utility to close one or more of its coal-fired power plants. The Trump administration is rolling back the Clean Power Plan, so Dominion critics say the freeze is no longer justified. But Dominion countered that the McAuliffe initiative still could compel a reduction in carbon emissions, and that the company still is at financial risk.

Bacon’s bottom line: The point that intrigues me is the argument that a 7% increase in electricity rates would not harm Virginia consumers because, by adopting energy efficiency measures, they would offset the higher rates with lower consumption. Voila! With this new alchemy, we can impose regulations that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to comply with, and miraculously, everybody wins and nobody loses! 

Pardon my skepticism. The carbon-reduction rule may be justified (if you buy into the more alarmist predictions of the global warming movement) but let’s not pretend there is no cost to consumers. Yes, it’s true, business and homeowner investments in energy efficiency can counter the higher rates. But someone has to pay for those investments!

Dominion Announces Intention to Renew North Anna Nukes

Dominion Energy Virginia has informed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) of its intention to file for licenses to operate two nuclear units at its North Anna Power Station in Louisa County for another 20 years.

North Anna One began commercial service in 1978, North Anna Two in 1980.  Originally licensed to operate for 40 years, both had their licenses renewed for an additional 20 years. The pair provides 1,892 net megawatts of electricity, enough electricity to power 473,000 homes. As base-load plants, they operate around the clock, except when they are taken off-line for periodic maintenance.

“Renewing North Anna Power Station’s licenses for a second 20-year period is the right thing to do for our customers, the regional economy and the environment,” said Daniel G. Stoddard, chief nuclear officer for Dominion’s nuclear generation division. “The planned relicensing of North Anna and Surry ensures that the benefits of these clean energy sources will continue to provide affordable, reliable, carbon-free electricity to our customers through the middle of the century. Our nuclear power stations have proven to be among the most-efficient and most-reliable sources of electricity in our fleet.”

North Anna directly support more than 2,000 high-paying jobs in Virginia and pays millions of dollars yearly in state and local taxes, Stoddard said. Continued operation of the units will help Dominion meet state goals for lowering carbon dioxide emissions from its fleet of power plants.

Despite nuclear’s zero-carbon attribute, many environmental groups oppose the technology on the grounds that the disposal of nuclear fuel creates its own set of environmental hazards. If the company were thwarted in its effort to re-license the nukes, it would have to acquire base-load capacity from another source. Coal, which emits more CO2 than any other power source, is out. Natural gas is much cleaner than coal, but still emits CO2, and environmentalists say that it is no better than coal once the full “life cycle,” including gas drilling and collector pipelines, is taken into account. The problem is that the environmentalists’ preferred power sources, wind and solar, are intermittent, which means they often do not produce electricity when it is needed. Battery storage is seen as solution to the intermittentcy issue, but batteries add a big new layer of cost.

Dominion argues that re-licensing its existing nuclear units, which have operated efficiently for five to six decades, (a) is not coal and does not emit CO2, (b) provides a stable source of electricity, and (c) keeps economic activity, jobs, and taxes in Virginia.

The company, which says that it foresees “no significant barriers” to renewal of the North Anna nuclear units, estimates that re-licensing and refurbishing the North Anna and Surry power stations will cost a total of $4 billion. That is roughly comparable to the cost of building four state-of-the-art gas-fired power units that provide roughly the same amount of electricity. The difference is that the cost of nuclear fuel is cheaper and less volatile than the cost of natural gas.

Another Arcane Obstacle to Solar Power

Virginia Comptroller David Von Moll

Some of the barriers to solar energy in Virginia are tucked away in the bowels of state government and the byzantine rules by which it operates.

One obstacle, since resolved, was a state rule granting solar projects an 80% tax exemption from property taxes under the guise of pollution control equipment. One would think the tax break would improve the economics of solar projects, but through a circuitous set of linkages involving the calculation of the Composite Index used in distributing state education dollars (described here) local governments would lose tax revenue from solar deals, which discouraged them from granting the necessary zoning and permitting approvals.

Jim Pierobon, writing in Southeast Energy News, has identified another obscure regulation: “An accounting rule, as interpreted by the Virginia Comptroller, effectively prevents Virginia from using a financing option used by many local governments: contracting through long-term power-purchase agreements (PPAs) with third parties to buy electricity.”

In a solar PPA, a third party project developer owns the solar farm and contracts to sell electricity to buyers such as universities or state agencies that are unable to take advantage of solar tax credits. Without the credits, many solar projects do not pencil out, and will be never be built. Writes Pierobon:

The Comptroller currently interprets a PPA to be a lease of capital equipment, and thus a debt owed by the state. Under that scenario, solar developers don’t own the electricity that they supply. That means a developer cannot claim the existing 30% federal Investment Tax Credit.

Why the state Comptroller, David Von Moll, interprets PPAs to be capital leases is a unclear to many solar developers. Neither he nor his office responded to requests for comment.

The McAuliffe administration had planned to do 25% of the installed solar capacity in state facilities as third-party PPAs, but were told by the Department of Accounts that the state could not enter into long-term PPAs.

“We’ve been trying to educate [Von Moll and his staff] as much as possible. We’re just not there yet. It’s incredibly frustrating,” said Hayes Framme, Deputy Secretary of Commerce and Trade. “State governments work certain ways to make their decisions. It’s our job to try to convince them otherwise.”

To be fair to Von Moll, there is a thin and tenuous line between solar PPAs and solar leases. Here’s how Energy Sage describes the difference:

While the terms “solar lease” and “solar PPA” are used interchangeably on this page, and are very similar in practice, there is a key difference between the two. With a solar lease, you agree to pay a fixed monthly “rent” or lease payment, which is calculated using the estimated amount of electricity the system will produce, in exchange for the right to use the solar energy system. With a solar PPA, instead of paying to “rent” the solar panel system, you agree to purchase the power generated by the system at a set per-kWh price.

Von Moll, who has worked in various positions in the Department of Public Accounts for 22 years, oversees the state’s financial management and internal control policies. He may be part of the executive branch, but it appears that he doesn’t knuckle under to pressure from the governor’s office. Whether that’s a sign of rock-ribbed integrity or pure bull-headedness, I’ll let readers render judgment.

Virginia Air Getting Cleaner

Good news is hard to find these days, so let’s celebrate what crumbs we can find: Virginia’s air is the cleanest it has been in years, the Department of Environmental Quality has announced. States the press release:

For years now, the trend for air quality in Virginia has been one of steady improvement. Pollutants such as ozone, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and particles have shown consistent declines for 20 years or more. Emissions of these pollutants in Virginia have decreased by almost 60 percent in the past 20 years. This has happened in the face of increased demand for electricity and many more vehicles on Virginia’s highways.

Twenty years ago, the ozone health standard was 120 parts per billion, and dozens of Virginia localities failed to meet it. Since then, the standard has been strengthened to 70 parts per billion. Yet only on four days this summer, the season of peak ozone, did ozone readings surpass the tighter limits, and even then exceedances were limited to four localities.

Ozone is an important pollutant to control because it is commonly said to be a cause of asthma, a health issue that affects millions of Americans. States the Environmental Protection Agency: “Although the data are inconsistent, some epidemiological studies suggest that long-term exposure to ozone could play a role in the development of asthma.” There is greater scientific certainty that high ozone levels create health issues for people who already have asthma.

While the incidence and severity of asthma is tied to many things other than ozone, such as obesity and smoking, the trend to cleaner air in Virginia coincides with a decline in asthma-related fatalities. In fact, the rate of such fatalities in Virginia, once higher than the national average, was lower in 2010, the most recent year for which I could find data.

So, rejoice, people, political conflict may be driving us to despair, but life is getting better in many ways. The hundreds of billions of dollars invested in cleaning up smokestacks and auto exhaust is paying off.

Rocky Forge Wind Project Stalled: No Buyer for Its Electricity

Simulated view of Rocky Forge wind project.

The developer of what could be Virginia’s first commercial wind farm has lined up all the regulatory permits it needs, but it hasn’t started site work yet because it can’t find a buyer for the electricity. Apex Energy will not start construction by the end of this year, as planned, on the Rocky Forge project in Botetourt County, reports the Roanoke Times.

“We’re working to find the right partner to commercialize Rocky Forge,” said Apex spokeswoman Brooke Beaver wrote. “We do not yet have a specific date for the start of construction, but are working steadfastly toward that goal.”

On the positive side, Beaver said a later start date would allow Apex to take advantage of “even newer technology that will make the project even more competitive.”

Project critic Steve Neas told the Roanoke Times that he believes the wind farm’s 75-megawatt capacity is not enough to make it attractive to either a power company shopping for renewable energy or investors willing to commit to the project. “My guess is that they’re having a hard time lining up people to buy their power.”

Continues the Roanoke Times:

Apex contended in its statement that with the latest delay, the company has “the opportunity to utilize newer turbine technology, making Rocky Forge even more competitive in the market and further decreasing the cost of the energy it can produce.”

“Virginia has experienced tremendous growth in solar energy in the past year, and we look forward to adding wind energy to the generation mix.”

One Environmental Calamity I’m Not Mourning

Whatever happened to bug splats on windshields? I was actually asking myself that question a couple of months ago. Now comes a Washington Post article suggesting that other people are asking the same question — and worrying about the implications.

I remember taking road trips in the family station wagon — this would have been 50 years ago — and marveling at the bug goo that smeared the windshield like a bad Jackson Pollack painting. After a couple hundred miles, the windshield looked like a flock of starlings had unloaded on the car. Every time my dad filled up with gasoline, he’d dip a squeegee-like scraper into a bucket of soap, which every gas station kept by the gas pumps, and swiped the windshield clean.

Nobody does that anymore. I can’t remember the last time I saw a bug splat on my car. I can’t remember the last time I felt moved to squeegee the windshield.

According to the Washington Post, the decline in flying insects appears to be worldwide. Between 1989 and 2016, according to a new report, the biomass of flying insects captured in German nature preserves, all protected areas, decreased by a seasonal average of 76 percent. Other estimates have put rates of global insect biomass loss at 50 percent.

I confess, while I do worry that something dire might be happening to the environment, I don’t miss the bug splats — or the bugs. I vividly remember a movie from my youth, “The Hellstrom Chronicle.” As I recall, the moral of the movie was that insects would inherit the planet after mankind finished pillaging it. (This was before anyone worried about global warming!) Well, it turns out, the insects apparently are not taking over, not yet, and I’m OK with that.