Destroying the environment to save it

“We had to destroy the village in order to save it.” The infamous Vietnam era quotation may or may not have been uttered by an anonymous US Army major. It may have been misquoted, revised, apocryphal or invented. But it quickly morphed into an anti-war mantra that reflected attitudes of the time. 

For Virginians and others forced to travel the path of “clean, green, renewable, sustainable” energy, it will redound in modern politics as “We had to destroy the environment in order to save it.” 

Weeks after Governor Ralph Northam signed Virginia’s “Clean Economy Act,” which had been rushed through a partisan Democrat legislature, Dominion Energy Virginia announced it would reach “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. To do so, the utility company will raise family, business, hospital and school electricity bills by 3% every year for the next ten years – as these customers and state and local governments struggle to climb out of the financial holes created by the ongoing Coronavirus lockdown

Just as bad, renewable energy mandates and commitments from the new law and Dominion’s “integrated resource plan” will have major adverse impacts on Virginia and world environmental values. In reality, Virginia’s new “clean” economy exists only in fantasy land – and only if we ignore “clean” energy CO2 emissions, air and water pollution, and other environmental degradation around the world. 

Dominion Energy plans to expand the state’s offshore wind, onshore solar and battery storage capacity by some 24,000 megawatts of new “renewable” energy by 2035, and far more after that. It will retain just 9,700 MW of existing natural gas generation, and only through 2045, build no new gas-fired units, and retire 6,200 megawatts of coal-fired generation. This will reduce in-state carbon dioxide emissions, but certainly won’t do so globally. The company intends to keep its four existing nuclear units operating. 

To “replace” some of its abundant, reliable, affordable fossil fuel electricity, Dominion intends to build at least 31,400 megawatts of expensive, unreliable solar capacity by 2045. The company estimates that will require a land area some 25% larger than 250,000-acre Fairfax County, west of Washington, DC. That means Dominion Energy’s new solar facilities will blanket 490 square miles (313,000 acres) of beautiful croplands, scenic areas and habitats that now teem with wildlife. 

That’s almost half the land area of Rhode Island, eight times the District of Columbia, 14 times more land than all Fairfax County parks combined – blanketed by imported solar panels. Still more land will be torn up for access roads and new transmission lines. All this is just for Dominion Energy’s solar panels. 

The panels will actually generate electricity maybe 20-25% of the year, once you factor in nighttime hours, cloudy days, and times when the sun is not bright enough to generate more than trifling electricity. 

Dominion and other Virginia utility companies also plan to import and install 430 monstrous 850-foot-tall bird-chopping offshore wind turbines – and tens of thousands of half-ton battery packs, to provide backup power for at least a few hours or days when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. The batteries will prevent the economy from shutting down even more completely during each outage than it has during the Corona lockdown. Similar policies across America will impact hundreds of millions of acres

Most of these solar panels, wind turbines and batteries – or their components, or the metals and minerals required to manufacture those components – will likely come from China or from Chinese-owned operations in Africa, Asia and Latin America … under mining, air and water pollution, workplace safety, fair wage, child labor, mined land reclamation, manufacturing and other laws and standards that would get US and other Western companies unmasked, vilified, sued, fined and shut down in a heartbeat. 

It is those minimal to nonexistent laws and regulations that govern most of the companies and operations that will supply the “clean” technologies that will soon blight Virginia landscapes and serve the new “clean” Virginia economy. As Michael Moore observes in his new film, Planet of the Humans, other states that opt for “clean” energy will face the same realities. 

Thus far, no one has produced even a rough estimate of how much concrete, steel, aluminum, copper, lithium, cobalt, silica, rare earth metals and countless other materials will be needed. All will require gigantic heavy equipment and prodigious amounts of fossil fuels to blast and haul away billions of tons of rocky overburden; extract, crush and process tens of millions of tons of ores, using acids, toxic chemicals and other means to refine the ores; smelt concentrates into metals; manufacture all the millions of tons of components; and haul, assemble and install the panels, turbines, batteries and transmission lines, setting them on top of tens of thousands of tons of concrete and rebar. All of it beyond Virginia’s borders. 

No one has tallied the oil, natural gas and coal fuel requirements for doing all this “Virginia Clean Economy” work – nor the greenhouse gases and actual pollutants that will be emitted in the process. 

Nothing about this is clean, green, renewable or sustainable. But Virginia politicians and Dominion Energy officials have said nothing about any of this, nor about which countries will host the mining and other activities, under what environmental and human rights standards

Will Virginians ever get a full accounting? Just because all of this will happen far beyond Virginia’s borders does not mean we can ignore the global environmental impacts. Or the health, safety and well-being of children and parents in those distant mines, processing plants and factories. 

This is the perfect time to observe the environmentalist creed: think globally, act locally. Will that be done? 

Will Dominion and Virginia require that all these raw materials and wind, solar and battery components be responsibly sourced? Will it require independently verified certifications that none of them involve child labor, and all are produced in compliance with US and Virginia laws, regulations and ethical codes for workplace safety, fair wages, air and water pollution, wildlife preservation, cancer prevention and mined lands reclamation? Will they tally up all the fossil fuels consumed, and pollutants emitted, in the process? 

Science journalist, businessman and parliamentarian Matt Ridley says wind turbines need some 200 times more raw materials per megawatt of power than modern combined-cycle gas turbines. It’s probably much the same for solar panels. Add in the millions of wind turbines, billions of solar panels and billions of backup batteries that would be required under a nationwide Green New Deal, and the combined US and global environmental, human health and human rights impacts become absolutely mindboggling. 

If you ignore all the land and wildlife impacts from installing the wind turbines, solar panels, batteries and transmission lines – you could perhaps call this “clean energy” and a “clean economy” within Virginia’s borders. But not beyond those borders. This is a global issue, and the world would likely be far better off if we just built modern combined-cycle gas turbines (or nuclear power plants) to generate reliable electricity – and avoided all the monumental human and ecological impacts of pseudo-renewable energy. 

When it’s time to select sites for these 490 square miles of industrial solar facilities, will Virginia, its county and local governments, its citizens, environmentalist groups and courts apply the same rigorous standards, laws and regulations that they demand for drilling, fracking, coal and gas power plants, pipelines, highways, timber cutting and other projects? Will they apply the same standards for 850-foot-tall wind turbines and 100-foot-tall transmission lines as they demand for buried-out-of-sight pipelines? 

Virginia’s Clean Economy Act will also plunge almost every project and jurisdiction into questions of race, poverty and environmental justice. Dominion Energy and other utility companies will have to charge means-tested rates (even as rates climb 3% per year) and exempt low-income customers from some charges. They will have to submit construction plans to “environmental justice councils” – even as the companies, councils and politicians ignore the rampant injustices inflicted on children and parents slaving away in Chinese, African and Latin American “clean energy” mines, processing plants and factories. 

Government officials, utility industry executives, environmentalists and anyone else who promotes wind, solar, battery and biofuel energy need to explain exactly how they plan to address these issues. Future town hall meetings and project approval hearings promise to be raucous, entertaining and illuminating.  

Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow ( and author of books and articles on energy, environment, climate and human rights issues. 

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Unfair Double Standards Rule

“How is this fair?” Shannon Jones wants to know.

How is it that her grandfather’s funeral was forced – by order of the governor – to be almost a non-event while demonstrators and protestors violate Virginia’s 10-person crowd-size rules with absolute impunity?

I have no answer.

Perhaps someone will show this to Gov. Ralph Northam and he can explain why massive protests are safe but funerals, graduations, proms, weddings and Easter services were not.

Large gatherings either pose a threat to public health or they don’t. Placards do not provide immunity to the coronavirus. That’s science.

Stanley Swain
December 30, 1938 – April 4, 2020

On April 4th Shannon’s beloved grandfather, 81-year-old Stanley Swain of Chesapeake, died at home of complications from COPD.

There were exactly eight people at his funeral a few days later. Music was from an iPhone.

Northam’s current stay-at-home order limits gatherings to just 10 people. Unfortunately, two funeral home workers counted into that equation, so only eight family members could be present. One of Mr. Swain’s elderly sisters had to sit outside the funeral home in a car.

His brothers from International Union of Operating Engineers Local 147, where he’d been an active member for 54 years, couldn’t pay their respects to the retired crane operator either.

Mr. Swain’s graveside service was also curtailed. The family knew that only eight of them would be allowed under the tent, but they’d figured more friends and family could come to the cemetery provided they stood six feet apart.

They were wrong.

Ms. Jones says the funeral director put the “kibosh” on that. He warned them that if more than 10 mourners gathered in Chesapeake Memorial Gardens the police would put a stop to it.

Fear of COVID-19, you know.

So there was no filled-to-capacity funeral, no eulogies, no hugs, no remembrances, no wake at the family home after the burial.

Just a spartan service on a sunny spring day.

Funerals serve a real purpose. There’s something therapeutic about the way we lay our loved ones to rest.

The rituals offer comfort to the bereaved. So do the mourners who gather with the family to offer their condolences and share warm – and sometimes funny – remembrances about the deceased.

The music, the flowers, the eulogies, the prayers. These are the ways that we say farewell in most of America.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, many governors sharply limited gatherings believing that this would curb the spread of the virus. The unintended consequence of their orders? People in hospitals and nursing homes die alone. Then they’re buried in haste, without the ceremonies that comfort grieving families.

All right, this is a pandemic. People have been forced to make tremendous sacrifices. Many grumbled, but they complied.

So imagine Shannon Jones’ reaction when she watched the news this past week to see thousands of demonstrators marching shoulder to shoulder to protest the death of George Floyd, a black Minnesota man who was killed by a white police officer.

The marches had no social distancing. The huge gatherings were not interrupted by police telling the participants to disperse. No governors with bullhorns warned the protesters that they would kill vulnerable folks by their actions.

Even in Virginia, where the 10-person-limit is in effect until tomorrow when it grows to 50, the marches were massive.

Yet the national scolds – who’d lost their minds over scenes of spring breakers on the beach – were largely silent.

“It enraged me,” Ms. Jones said of the size of the demonstrations. “We couldn’t have people at a funeral  but protests can have as many people as they like?

“Where’s the consistency?” she wondered. “There is no consistency.”

Shannon Jones said that from the start she thought the lockdowns were excessive. But she and her family abided by the governor’s orders.

Now, she says, it’s clear that fears of the virus were exaggerated. How else to explain Northam’s sudden indifference to crowd size?

Shannon and her family have had a rough spring. They lost a loved one and couldn’t properly mourn his passing. Now they see that the draconian rules that prevented them from having a funeral don’t apply to thousands of other Virginians.

“He was my person,” Ms. Jones said softly of her grandfather. “It isn’t fair.”

She’s right. It isn’t.

A version of this commentary originally appeared in the online

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Wise King Ralph Rules: Less Choice for the Self-Employed

According to Governor Ralph Northam, the way to ensure access to quality, affordable medical insurance for Virginians is to reject bills that would… expand access to health insurance for Virginians.

Last week Northam vetoed two bills passed with broad bipartisan support that would have allowed self-employed people to buy insurance through professional groups such as Realtors’ associations. He also vetoed a third, which would have permitted small businesses to band together to buy group health insurance for employees.

Northam’s logic was that the legislation could undermine the Affordable Care Act by providing an alternative to buying coverage on the state exchange, reports the Washington Post.
“Governor Northam’s administration has worked to expand access to affordable quality care for all Virginians,” said a statement released by the Governor’s Office. “The vetoed bills would address health insurance cost concerns for targeted segments of the population, but in doing so, could increase the cost of insurance for sicker Virginians in the marketplace.”

“Governor Northam today reaffirmed his commitment to a government-only, ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to healthcare coverage,” said a statement from state Senate Minority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr., R-James City, and other GOP leaders.

I often disagree with Norment, but he got this right. The state exchanges were set up to provide a medical insurance option for those who couldn’t find insurance anywhere else. Risks were pooled and government subsidies provided. But the insurance products are not attractive for self-employed professionals. Why not let them explore alternatives with less onerous charges and deductions?

One major justification for the health care exchanges is to provide an insurance option for people with pre-existing conditions. Yes, it is important to ensure that people with pre-existing conditions have access to medical insurance. But that is a broad social obligation — not an obligation of the self-employed.

If Northam wants to ensure that Affordable Care Act plans remain affordable for Virginians with pre-existing conditions, the subsidies should come from the state General Fund. That way, Virginians can know exactly how much they are spending to provide the access and can debate appropriate levels of support. Subsidies should not come from self-employed Virginians by means of obscure and non-transparent insurance pricing practices over which neither they nor the electorate have any say.

Medical insurance is more expensive in Virginia than almost any other state. Vetoes like this don’t help.

Why is medical insurance so expensive? Because the General Assembly has enacted so many coverage mandates, which outlaw affordable, no-frills insurance options. Because the Certificate of Public Necessity law thwarts competition and innovation among medical practitioners. Because occupational licensing laws have turned the medical professions into craft unions. Because the absence of price transparency makes it impossible for consumers to comparison shop for the best deals in discretionary medical procedures. Because the system is riddled with subsidies and cross-subsidies (like forcing the self-employed to subsidize those with pre-existing conditions) so nobody knows how much anything truly costs.

Health care in Virginia is a tangled knot, and untangling it won’t be easy. One way to start the process is to stop the subsidies and cross subsidies so actors in the healthcare marketplace (providers, patients, insurers) at least can make economically rational decisions based on the underlying cost of things. If we continue down the same path, Virginia health care will lurch from stopgap response to unintended consequence, leading to such widespread perversity, dysfunction and failure that even Wise King Ralph won’t be able to set it straight.
A version of this commentary originally appeared on May 22, 2020 in the online Bacon’s Rebellion.

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Spaced Out, Hidden, Here Come the 2020 Tax Hikes

The 2020 General Assembly, with its new progressive Democratic majority, passed nearly two dozen changes in Virginia tax laws that will begin to hit individuals and businesses in a few weeks on July 1. Because of the COVID-19 economic shutdown, a few amendments were made to the implementation schedule during the reconvened session on April 22, but no tax increase was repealed.

This is a follow up on an earlier report on the sixteen tax bills that passed the regular session. Most are taxes that will be buried almost invisibly in various transactions, and their phased imposition will also keep many taxpayers from noticing them.
July 1, 2020

  • The statewide tax on gasoline increases from 16.2 cents per gallon to 21.2 cents per gallon (a 31% increase) and is no longer tied going forward to the rise or fall of wholesale cost.
  • The 7.6 cents per gallon added regional tax on gasoline, now imposed in Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads and along the I-81 corridor (see map), becomes a statewide tax. The total gasoline tax, statewide and regional, goes to 28.8 cents per gallon everywhere. That is a 21% increase where the regional tax already existed, and a 78% increase where it did not.

The green areas are regional transportation districts where additional fuel taxes are already being collected, 7.6 cents per gallon on gasoline and 7.7 cents per gallon on diesel. Effective July 1 those regional fuel taxes will be imposed in all the other Virginia localities. In combination with the 5 cent per gallon increase in the statewide gasoline tax, the total tax on fuel goes to 28.8 cents on gasoline and 27.9 cents on diesel.

  • The existing 7.7 cents per gallon added diesel fuel tax in those same regions is also expanded statewide. The base statewide diesel fuel tax is already 20.2 cents per gallon and does not change on July 1. So outside of the existing transportation regions, the total 27.9 cents per gallon combined tax represents a 38% increase.
  • The state tax on cigarettes rises from $3 to $6 per carton, a 100% increase.
  • The state tax on other tobacco products (snuff, pipe tobacco) rises from 10% to 20%, a 100% increase.
  • A new tax of 6.6 cents per milliliter is imposed on liquid nicotine products used for vaping.
  • Counties without a tax on prepared meals may impose one, unless rejected in a recent referendum. (The county must wait until six years after a failed referendum.) The maximum allowed tax rises from 4 to 6% (a 50% increase), so some existing meals tax rates may rise.
  • Counties may impose a local tax on admissions to movies, concerts and other amusements.
  • Additional grantor’s tax on real estate transactions is imposed in the Hampton Roads Transportation District for transportation uses.
  • Higher taxes on public utilities may be imposed to fund operations of the State Corporation Commission (taxes which eventually are passed on to consumers.)
  • A tax of $1,200 is imposed on those ubiquitous “games of skill” machines. The Assembly had originally voted to ban them, but the machines were reprieved at the reconvened session and taxed to create a fund for COVID-19 expenses.
  • Eight localities are authorized to call referendums on increasing their sales and use taxes an additional 1% to pay for school projects. They are Henry, Charlotte, Halifax, Mecklenburg, Pittsylvania, Gloucester and Northampton counties, and the City of Danville.

October 1, 2020

  • The Central Virginia Transportation Authority is created. The regional fuel taxes imposed on July 1 are diverted to its control, and an additional 0.7% general sales tax (to 6%) is imposed on that date in: Counties of New Kent, Charles City, Hanover, Henrico, Chesterfield, Powhatan and Goochland, the City of Richmond and Town of Ashland.
  • A peer-to-peer vehicle sharing tax, similar to the current vehicle rental tax, is imposed. Peer-to-peer sharing is like Airbnb for cars.

January 1, 2021

  • All localities are authorized to impose a 5-cent tax on plastic bags, by local ordinance.
  • Electricity generators begin to pay a carbon tax on emissions from fossil fuel plants, costs which will eventually be passed directly on to consumers. The amount of tax will be set by an auction.
  • All customers of the major electricity providers (Dominion Virginia Power and Appalachian Power) begin to pay a usage tax on their electric bills to fund the new Percentage of Income Payment Plan, providing subsidized electricity to certain low-income customers. The amount will be set in a State Corporation Commission proceeding.

May 1, 2021

  • Any county not yet collecting a transient occupancy tax may do so.
  • Existing transient occupancy taxes are raised in the Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia transportation regions for transportation uses, and the existing grantor’s tax for transportation is raised in Northern Virginia.

July 1, 2021

  • The tax on gasoline rises another five cents to 33.8 cents per gallon, another 17% increase.
  • The tax on diesel fuel rises another 6.8 cents to 34.7 cents per gallon, another 24% increase.
  • Any county without one may impose a local cigarette tax. Existing local tax rates are grandfathered, and new taxes limited to $2 per carton.

July 1, 2022

  • The statewide taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel begin to rise annually based on the consumer price index.

Stephen D. Haner is Senior Fellow for State and Local Tax Policy at the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.

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Climate Change Zealots Ignore Subsidence in Hampton Roads

My friend, former Governor and U.S. Senator George Allen recently posted on Facebook, “While this research will annoy some dogmatic folks, it is Interesting to consider subsidence in the Hampton Roads region surrounding the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay” and linked to this article.

Former Gov. and Sen. George Allen

I applaud Mr. Allen’s recognition of the phenomena of subsidence and its prevalence in Tidewater. The article he promoted contributes to a realization that costal Virginia is not solely experiencing the sea level rising, but the fact that the land sinking. It is a trend the city of Virginia Beach has been addressing for more than five years.

His post is a valuable fact check on climate alarmists who sound a clarion call to “trust the scientists” and “follow the science”, but ignore basic scientific facts. For example, the Washington Post Magazine published an article, “Sounding the Retreat” in its April 19 edition that claimed to report on the dire impact of rising sea level on communities in Hampton Roads.

A critical word is missing from the article — “subsidence”. In all its discussion of sea level rise and climate change, the article fails to mention, let alone address, a key scientific fact – that Norfolk and the rest of the Hampton Roads region of Virginia experiences one of the highest rates of subsidence in the nation. Yes, the sea level is rising, but the ground is also sinking. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) found, “land subsidence has been responsible for more than half the relative sea-level rise measured in the southern Chesapeake Bay region” (Land Subsidence and Relative Sea-Level Rise in the Southern Chesapeake Bay Region). Early data collected and analyzed by NASA (NASA Finds Virginia Metro Area Is Sinking Unevenly) also found “Hampton Roads has one of the highest rates of relative sea level rise — the combined effects of sinking land and rising seas — along the U.S. East Coast”.

It is a phenomena I addressed in a surveying trade magazine in 2019.

Rep. Suzanne DelBene (D-WA) has introduced H.R.1261, National Landslide Preparedness Act, to authorize and encourage a number of activities to address landslide hazards. Her district includes the town of Oso, Washington, site of a deadly 2014 landslide. The bill, which has passed the U.S. House of Representatives and is pending before the Senate, includes a provision to make subsidence research, surveying, mapping, and identification a higher priority for the USGS. A fledgling National Land Level Change program is in its embryonic stages in USGS, and other agencies, using NASA satellite data to identify areas of the United States where subsidence is likely, so that more precise local surveys are carried out.

Subsidence is caused by a number of natural and anthropogenic activities, most commonly ground water withdrawal for irrigation. But subsidence can also be caused by natural events such as earthquakes, soil compaction, glacial isostatic adjustment, erosion, sinkhole formation, and adding water to fine soils deposited by wind (a natural process known as loess deposits). The future of existing development, as well as the planning, design, and construction of new infrastructure, are heavily reliant on accurate data on the existence and rate of subsidence. The impact can be in the trillions of dollars.

Perhaps subsidence didn’t fit a pre-ordained political agenda driving “Sounding the Retreat”. When one wonders why there are climate change skeptics, and why there is doubt about the alleged 97 percent consensus among scientists, one needs only to point to biased and poorly researched articles, such as those that fail to recognize factors such as subsidence.
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