FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Diana Williams, Clean Virginia Communications Lead
[email protected], 540-836-8125
March 11, 2021
Clean Virginia: Legislative Session Reveals Eagerness of Some Lawmakers to Push Forward Comprehensive Energy Reform and Ethics Policies
New Generation of Legislators Make Their Presence Felt at the General Assembly
Richmond — The two houses that make up Virginia’s General Assembly split in sometimes stark ways over a suite of bills addressing electricity rates and regulations as well as measures to address lawmaker ethics during this year’s legislative session.
“The pandemic limited constituent access to their representatives, but despite the challenges of a remote legislative session, Virginians made their voices heard. We’re also seeing a new group of legislators join veteran champions, especially in the House, who are prioritizing the needs of their constituents,” said Clean Virginia Executive Director Brennan Gilmore. “We saw thoughtful, well-crafted energy and governance reform bills that were fiercely defended by patrons and will pave the way for similarly good measures in the future.”
In one of the more striking acts of the 2021 session, a bill establishing a new grant program for the transition of Virginia’s school buses to an all-electric fleet, championed by Del. Mark Keam (D – County of Fairfax (part)), passed the House late on the final night of session. Unlike other proposals, Keam’s bill prioritized bus replacements in school districts with high rates of air pollution and asthma. That same night, the House voted down an alternative proposal championed by Dominion Energy that would have prioritized the monopoly’s profits over school needs.
“The legislature sent an unambiguous message this session: without serious rate reform, they will not continue to approve gold-plated projects designed to maximize monopoly profits while regular Virginians struggle to pay the 6th highest energy bills in the country. Dominion’s influence over legislators is notably waning,” Gilmore said.
A bipartisan and diverse group of legislators worked diligently to shift the power from utility monopolies, like Dominion Energy, back to regulators at the State Corporation Commission (SCC) and Virginia energy customers. The House of Delegates passed with bipartisan support five significant ratemaking bills designed to strike pro-monopoly provisions in Virginia’s code and restore crucial oversight authority to the SCC, but the Dominion-backed Senate Commerce and Labor committee failed to advance them on February 15th.
Dominion invested a record-breaking $1.3 million in contributions to Virginia lawmakers, including during last year’s special session and leading up to the 2021 General Assembly session. Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment, who with Majority Leader Dick Saslaw led the charge against the utility rate reform bills, owns up to $250,000 in Dominion Energy stock, according to public disclosures, and has received over $180,000 in campaign contributions from the utility monopoly. Saslaw has accepted over $460,000 in campaign contributions from Dominion. In total, eight state senators sitting on the Commerce & Labor committee voted not to advance any of the five bills that would have given regulators the ability to set fair and reasonable electric rates. Combined, those eight senators alone have received more than $1.2 million from Dominion throughout their careers.
Legislators on both sides of the aisle also looked to strengthen Virginia’s lax campaign finance laws and to provide professional development opportunities for legislative staff. Although both efforts were widely supported in the House, each ultimately failed in the Senate.