Policy: Environment & Energy

Va. gov revives climate change panel, cites threat

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Local,Virginia,Climate Change,Energy and Environment

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Gov. Terry McAuliffe has resurrected a state climate change panel to come up with ways to blunt the impact of rising seas in highly vulnerable Virginia.

McAuliffe said Tuesday he's restoring the climate panel, dormant for the past four years, to deal with the "growing threat" of climate change to the state's coastal communities, among the most threatened in the U.S.

McAuliffe said the state has an opportunity to be a leader in finding creative ways to mitigate climate change.

Climate scientists have long warned that rising seas pose a serious threat to the Virginia coast, in part because land is sinking around the Chesapeake Bay from the meteor that gouged out the estuary eons ago. But they've complained their warnings have not been heeded.

One year ago, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science submitted a report to state lawmakers on the consequences of rising seas along the coast. In Hampton Roads, including cities such as Norfolk, flooding is commonplace during major storms and is expected to worsen over the next 20 to 50 years.

The VIMS report anticipates a sea level rise in Virginia of roughly 1.5 feet during that time period.

The report also says 26 percent of Virginia Beach's land mass could face flooding over the next 50 years, waterlogging 289 miles of roads in the tourist city.

The report called for the state to coordinate planning efforts, review local governments' authority to address projected flooding risk and enable them to do so, and determine by urgency areas for flood mitigation, among other measures.

McAuliffe's commission will be co-chaired by Secretary of Natural Resources Molly Ward and Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran.

The commission's 30-plus members represent diverse interests and include legislators, Cabinet officials, environmentalists, utility officials and others.

McAuliffe said the commission's first task will be to evaluate recommendations made by then-Gov. Tim Kaine's climate change commission. It will establish what actions were taken and not acted on, recommend new actions and identify sources of funding.

The commission will submit its report and recommendations in one year.

The McAuliffe announcement, made in Virginia Beach, was welcomed by an array of environmental groups.

Cale Jaffe, director of the Virginia office of the Southern Environmental Law Center and a member of the committee, said Virginia is "among the states that are best situated to play a leading role in developing solutions."

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Steve Szkotak can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sszkotakap.

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