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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Kory’s Report from Richmond: Major environmental issues on the agenda

By Del. Kaye Kory

Next week the 2012 legislative assembly convenes in Richmond, and the governor will deliver his State of the Commonwealth Address. His themes will include the laudable economic performance of the commonwealth as compared to other states, as well as the responsible fiscal policy and pragmatic management accomplishments of his administration.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, though. While there is a certain attraction to a caretaker governing strategy in these troubling macroeconomic times, I do not think it is fair to praise Gov. Robert McDonnell for fiscal management prowess that is largely a result of revenue “gains” that reflect a budget based on artificially low revenue estimates.

The fact is that Virginia’s strong economic performance depends on continued federal spending in Northern Virginia (BRAC comes to mind), the Tidewater region, and other locations by the Obama Administration, which is so profoundly reviled by Republican congressional leaders and presidential candidates.

The McDonnell administration’s management record seems to be competent, if undistinguished. What is of more concern to me is the matter of policies that he and his allies in the legislature are pursuing. For instance, his record on environmental governance issues is worrying. He has already defunded, and this year is proposing to withdraw Virginia’s membership in the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin. He is also proposing withdrawal from the Atlantic Marine Fisheries Compact. These steps seem to be paving the way for unilateral actions by Virginia that affect water and wildlife resources, which are clearly multi-state concerns.

With effective Republican control of the legislature, Virginia seems now to be vulnerable to some of the more egregious “reforms” on the Republican national agenda. Constraints on facilities offering outpatient abortion services enacted last session have been implemented, further limiting access. I believe we will see new voter ID legislation, and I recently reviewed draft legislation that would increase criminal penalties for providing false information on applications for public assistance and require convicted offenders to repay three times the value of the benefits obtained.

I will, of course, oppose these sorts of ill-conceived efforts. I will be working with a number of other delegates who have formed a Progressive Caucus in an attempt to leverage one another’s joint efforts across a wide range of issues.

On at least one important issue—the question of whether or not Virginia will overturn the ban on uranium mining—a bipartisan group of legislators in the House of Delegates and the Senate will be working together. This group intends to ensure that all significant risks to public health, safety, and the economy will be fully factored into the ultimate decision.

My Republican colleague, Del. James Edmunds II, who represents the 60th District in Southside Virginia, prepared a thoughtful letter to fellow legislators urging the utmost caution in addressing what he calls “the most important public policy issue for the session.” His letter is based on several studies, including a report issued in December by National Academy of Sciences (NAS) that details the technical, environmental, health, safety, and regulatory challenges posed by lifting the 30-year ban.

Though the National Academy team was not asked to make a recommendation, the report concludes that there are “steep hurdles to be surmounted” to mitigate the risks of uranium mining. Edmunds and four other Southside Republican legislators who signed the letter live and work in the region of the commonwealth most affected by uranium mining. Based on the facts presented, they are clearly skeptical that any potential benefits could outweigh the significant risks that are simply beyond our ability to fully contain.

The 2012 legislative session promises to be hectic and challenging. Although Democrats are now a minority in the legislature, we have an obligation to contribute constructively to the governing process. I am committed to this goal and look forward to hearing from my constituents throughout the session.

Kaye Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates.

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