Va. Gov. McDonnell’s Roadmap for Successful Environmental Policy

Published January 14, 2014

Conventional political wisdom says Republicans are not interested in the environment. After four years as governor, a look at Bob McDonnell’s environmental record might suggest otherwise.

When I was selected for the job as Virginia’s Secretary of Natural Resources, Gov. McDonnell outlined several priorities. First, he wanted to continue our efforts to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay and improve Virginia’s air quality. Second, he wanted to keep his land conservation commitment. Third, the governor wanted to make Virginia the energy capitol of the East Coast. Finally, he wanted to make government smaller and more efficient through government reform efforts.

Let’s look at some environmental factors to see how we did.

Declining Water Pollution
Improving the health of Virginia waters and the Chesapeake Bay has been a top priority of successive governors for 30 years. Bob McDonnell has left his mark on this priority by contributing more than $460 million in assistance to urban, rural, and agricultural communities to improve wastewater treatment facilities, implement nutrient reduction strategies on agricultural and forest lands, and create certified nutrient trading markets.

As a result, Virginia is exceeding our commitments to the Chesapeake Bay agreement and has reduced nitrogen pollution by 11.1 percent, phosphorus pollution by 7.7 percent, and sediment pollution by 6.9 percent. Even the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognized our accomplishments by giving us their “Biggest Loser Award” for reducing—or “losing”—pollution.

Virginia’s waters are cleaner today thanks to these efforts.

Declining Air Pollution
There has been a 92 percent reduction in ozone statewide in the last four years. They year 2013 was the best on record for clean air, setting a record for the fewest number of days (two) that did not meet the current ozone standard. In the same period, major power plants have reduced emissions of sulfur dioxide by 66 percent, nitrogen dioxide by 43 percent, and carbon dioxide (which is not a pollutant) by 27 percent.

Virginia’s air is cleaner because of these efforts.

Chesapeake Bay Returning to Health
Oyster populations have grown substantially, resulting in 60 percent greater harvests and dock values of more than $16.2 million. The blue crab population reached its highest level in 20 years in 2012, with the total population in the Chesapeake Bay reaching 764 million. This was a 66 percent increase above the 2011 abundance level.

The bald eagle breeding population in the Virginia portion of the bay now numbers more than 800 pairs, a dramatic recovery for the species. The osprey breeding population within the Chesapeake Bay has recovered from 1,400 pairs in the early 1970s to more than 8,000 pairs today, with the bay now supporting the largest breeding population of ospreys in the world.

Animal Species Flourishing
In the last four years, elk have been reintroduced in Virginia, Back Bay has been restocked with 250,000 large bass fingerlings, and populations of bobwhite quail are being restored. Also in the last four years, hunters harvested more than 927,000 deer, 8,600 bears, and 6,600 turkeys, yet the populations of all these species are still growing.

Virginia’s wildlife populations are healthier and more abundant now, and hunters, watermen, and seafood lovers are enjoying the benefits.

Civil War History Preserved
By the end of the McDonnell administration, more than 230,000 additional acres will have been preserved and protected. We have supported private conservation efforts and added lands for state parks, wildlife management areas, state forests, natural heritage areas, and Civil War battlefields. The national Civil War Trust said Gov. McDonnell has done more for battlefield protection than any governor in the country. We permanently protected historically significant Werowocomoco, Chief Powhatan’s village, and opened Virginia’s 36th state park.

These and other policies have protected the state’s landscapes. 

Energy Production Rising
While promoting a truly “all of the above” energy strategy, McDonnell worked to expand the development of onshore and offshore wind energy, increased use of renewable biomass, and facilitated the conversion of elements of the state vehicle fleet to alternative fuels. Virginia held the nation’s second offshore commercial wind energy lease sale. We supported the coal country and the nuclear industry, and we completed a comprehensive study on mining uranium. We also fought federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing and worked to open Virginia’s outer continental shelf to energy development.

These and other policies have made Virginia the energy capital of the east coast.

Bob McDonnell says he lives by the belief we should leave the campground a little better than we found it.

On the environment, he has.

Doug Domenech was Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources from 2010-2014. An earlier versin of this article was published by the Virginia Pilot. Reprinted with author’s permission.