Inspiration for certain legislation this year came from the land conservation report recently issued by the Chesapeake Bay Commission (CBC). “Conserving Chesapeake Landscapes” evaluated how well we did over the last decade in achieving our goal in the last decade (we made it!) and possible ways to achieve the new goal to permanently protect an additional two million acres in the Chesapeake watershed by 2025.
I have introduced two bills that relate to this report. SJ 335 calls for the Joint Legislative and Audit Review Commission (JLARC) to study long-term dedicated funding sources for land conservation. The Virginia tax credit program for donations of land or easements has been very successful but purchases of particularly desirable lands have been funded only with occasional bond issues. JLARC will update earlier studies and examine innovative practices from other states.
Currently any land offered for easement under the land preservation tax credit program, when the tax credit is $1 million or more, must be evaluated by the Department of Conservation and Recreation for its conservation value. My bill, SB 979, will say that the same process will apply when the tax credit is $500,000 or more. Some of the land conservation trusts say they have an equivalent process and, if so, that will be taken into account. I do feel strongly that Virginia taxpayers must be assured that they are receiving real value for their investment.
Other Chesapeake region states have a transferable credit for agriculture best management practices and I am introducing that bill in Virginia (SB974). If the farmer is unable to use the tax credit personally, then it can be sold to another taxpayer. The net effect should be to encourage more BMPs.
Another bill I will introduce also comes from the CBC. It would regulate the application of fertilizer, and the nutrient content of that fertilizer, on suburban lawns, golf courses, and locally owned land. Several fertilizer bills have been introduced, of varying degrees of effectiveness, so this topic is likely to be the subject of negotiations.
Other bills I have filed came from Virginia’s Commission on Energy and Environment that I chair. For example, SJ334 calls for a study of the expansion of the nutrient exchange program. This program offers the opportunity for farmers to sell excess nutrient reduction credits to a locality to offset required stormwater management strategies for example.
SB 981 would offer tax credits for producing energy from renewable energy sources. Every energy producer in the Commonwealth would be allowed a one-dollar-per-megawatt-hour credit for each megawatt hour of electricity or thermal energy sold or produced for self-consumption that it generated from renewable energy.
A Voluntary Solar Resource Development Fund is established in SB975 that establishes a grant program for solar energy projects. Electric utilities would be asked to establish a fund to which its customers could contribute, much as they do now to help other customers with their heating bills, that would provide grants to developers of solar energy projects such as photovoltaic or solar hot water heating devices.
Of course filing the bills is only the beginning of the process.
Senator Whipple represents the 31st District in the Virginia State Senate. She may be e-mailed at [email protected]