Local Commentary

Senator Whipple’s Richmond Report


As you know by now, I am a member of the Chesapeake Bay Commission. Composed of legislators from Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, the Bay Commission and its staff work to educate legislatures and the public about important Bay issues.

We met last week in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and heard presentations of the states’ watershed implementation plans. These plans need to address the EPA requirements for – finally – cleaning up the Bay. For years states, nonprofits and individuals have been taking steps to reduce pollution entering the Bay but these efforts need to be increased. Each state has an opportunity to say what it proposes to do to meet the required standards and ask for EPA approval.

There were a number of interesting presentations on improving water quality. A local project in Lancaster County started when a group of fishermen wanted to fish for trout. All of us want good water quality – for drinking water, and recreational activities like swimming and fishing, and to improve habitat. It’s good to remember that the interest in water quality comes from the community and doesn’t originate at the federal level. We are working on this issue to make our local streams and rivers better, and not just because the EPA says so.

One of the most interesting presentations came from a NASA scientist, Dr. Jonathon Trent from the NASA Ames Research Center. He explained a biofuels production system called OMEGA (Offshore Membrane Enclosures for Growing Algae). The OMEGA system “uses microalgae, municipal wastewater, discarded flue gas, saltwater, wave energy, the heat capacity of seawater, and unused areas of the oceans to produce sustainable, carbon-neutral, environmentally friendly biofuels, while treating wastewater and sequestering carbon,” Dr. Trent explained.

NASA, because it develops technology for space travel, has always had to develop equipment and systems that use resources carefully, minimize the use of energy and recycle or re-use virtually everything so there is no waste. This project grew out of the idea of developing biofuels from what is now considered waste.

An engaging and interesting speaker, Dr. Trent said that, from a NASA perspective, the OMEGA project is a reminder that “we are not passengers on Spaceship Earth; we are the crew.”

NASA hopes to collaborate with the Navy on this project and may in the future develop a test site in Virginia so I was particularly interested in the presentation.

The Secretary of the Navy has said “Changing the way energy is used and produced in our country is the right thing to do. It’s the right thing to do for our security, it’s the right thing to do for our economy, and it’s the right thing to do for our environment.” Secretary Mabus has a goal of having 50% of the Navy’s energy requirement come from renewable sources – far beyond most goals set by states or localities. Its research, development and deployment of renewable energy may well lead the way for the rest of the country.


Senator Whipple represents the 31st District in the Virginia State Senate. She may be e-mailed at district31@senate.virginia.gov