The Republican-dominated Virginia Legislature has killed a bill that would set the foundation to reject the EPA’s “Clean Power Plan” in practice.

Del. Israel O’Quinn (R-Bristol) introduced House Bill 1974 (HB1974) on Jan. 10. The legislation would have prohibited the Department of Environmental Quality from unilaterally implementing EPA Clean Power Plan emission requirements.

Had the bill passed, the Department of Environmental Protection would have been required to consider several specific factors when developing any state plan to comply with EPA emission standards. Before submitting any plan to the federal agency, the DEQ would have to submit it, along with a detailed report, to the state legislature for approval.

Not later than 15 days following the completion of DEQ’s development of a state plan, DEQ shall transmit to the Senate and the House of Delegates a copy of the state plan and the accompanying report developed in accordance with subdivision a of §2. Upon receiving the state plan and accompanying report, the Senate and the House of Delegates shall vote on a resolution to approve the state plan after sufficient time has been provided to assess the state plan and accompanying report. The resolution shall be deemed approved by the Senate and the House of Delegates if each chamber casts a majority of votes in favor of the resolution.

DEQ shall not submit to the EPA any state plan until both the Senate and the House of Delegates have adopted resolutions that approve the state plan in accordance with this act.

While the proposed law would not have guaranteed the state would reject compliance with EPA mandates, it would have set the foundation to do so. It would have also brought the entire process into the public spotlight, allowing Virginia residents to have input into it.

HB1974 passed the House by a 63-33 vote on February 7.  On Feb. 21, the Senate rejected the measure by a split 20-20 vote with Sen. Richard Black (R-Leesburg) joining 19 Democrats voting against the bill. But that didn’t kill HB1974. The legislation was brought back up with a Senate amendment that would have required a legislative appropriation before the law went into effect.

That the provisions of this act shall not become effective unless an appropriation effectuating the purposes of this act is included in a general appropriation act passed in 2017 by the General Assembly that becomes law.

With the amendment, Sen. Black joined his Republican colleagues in voting to approve the measure, and it passed along party lines by a 21-19 vote.

But House unanimously rejected the appropriation amendment, sending it back to the Senate. The upper chamber drove the nail into the coffin when it insisted on the amendment by a 31-1 vote.

With the failure of HB1974, the status quo will continue in Virginia. As it stands the Department of Environmental Quality and the EPA can often work behind the scenes to adopt such plans without any public or legislative input at all. The department acts, in practice, like a part of the federal government. HB1974 would have reasserted some state authority over the Department of Environmental Protection and the entire process.

With the federal courts putting a “pause” on federal implementation of some of the Clean Power Plan, HB1974 would have been a good first step toward fully blocking unconstitutional EPA Clean Power Plan mandates and started returning the process back to the state, thus diminishing the power of the federal agency.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed a similar measure last year and misrepresented the Virginia state constitution in the process.

TJ Martinell

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