Michael Town is executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters.

Virginia voters spoke loudly on Nov. 5. Given the choice between maintaining the status quo of climate obstruction and modest — if any — gains to protect our environment, or bold action to hold corporate polluters accountable and address the climate crisis, voters chose the latter in sweeping fashion.

With a decisive conservation majority in place, lawmakers have a clear mandate in 2020 to take bold action to address climate change, safeguard our natural resources and ensure all Virginians have access to clean air and water.

After years of obstruction at Virginia’s legislature, the commonwealth is way behind when it comes to cutting carbon, protecting our environment and expanding clean energy. Solutions to these problems simply can’t wait; they deserve to be top priorities in January when the next General Assembly gavels in.

With the need for swift action in mind, the Virginia League of Conservation Voters deployed its largest and most sophisticated electoral program to date for legislative races, investing $1.5 million overall in the lead-up to Election Day.

The lion’s share of this investment went toward speaking directly to voters about environmental issues. Our goal was to let voters know what was at stake for our environment and which candidates were committed to protecting clean air, clean water and our health. We succeeded, and voters throughout Virginia listened.

At the end of the day, we held every pro-environment seat at the legislature, while replacing anti-environmental lawmakers in two House districts and two Senate districts where we made significant investments. Of the eight total seats that flipped, we endorsed the winning candidate in every race; overall, 57 of our 63 endorsed candidates won their contests.

With these lawmakers in place, we expect to be able to drive an ambitious agenda in 2020.

A chief priority is finalizing Virginia’s membership in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multistate carbon cap-and-invest marketplace, and to begin the immediate 30 percent drawdown of carbon pollution from our state’s biggest and dirtiest fossil-fuel-fired power plants over the next decade.

Though the previous General Assembly blocked Virginia from joining the RGGI, Virginia now has a prime opportunity to hold corporate polluters accountable by putting a price on carbon, and we expect it to act.

According to the latest carbon auction, this program is estimated to generate more than $100 million of revenue every year in Virginia. We will press lawmakers to dedicate a majority of this funding to energy-efficiency programs for low-income households, reducing energy usage and cutting electric bills. A portion should go to coastal resiliency efforts to protect our most vulnerable communities from the ravages of rising seas and dangerous weather events.

We will also be pushing for a strong clean-energy mandate that gets Virginia to 100 percent clean energy by 2050 at the latest, a goal that’s not only achievable but also absolutely necessary. Virginia is one of the few states without a mandatory renewable portfolio standard. With a strong standard in place, we will be able to shift our trajectory toward a clean-energy future powered by renewable energy and the jobs that come with these fast-growing industries and away from the fossil fuels that threaten our health and climate.

Lawmakers should officially register Virginia’s opposition to offshore drilling in federal waters and protect our coast by banning offshore drilling and oil and gas infrastructure in state waters. An entire region’s economy shouldn’t be put in harm’s way in the quest for energy we simply don’t need.

We can also ensure that all Virginians have the same access to clean drinking water and that we’re addressing the toxic threats to water quality in Virginia.

For too long, the General Assembly has stood in the way of adequate funding to protect clean water and conserve important open spaces while making it harder for environmental regulators to hold corporate polluters accountable. Lawmakers now have the opportunity to fully fund Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts, expand public-lands protections and investment in land conservation and give Virginia’s DEQ the resources and personnel it needs to adequately enforce the laws of the commonwealth.

Solidifying a conservation majority has been an uphill battle and the goal of this organization over the past 20 years. With that majority in place, our work begins. This legislature has a mandate to act in 2020. We expect the environment to be a top-tier priority.

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