Virginia voters will get to hear this week where the state’s gubernatorial hopefuls stand on the Chesapeake Bay and other water quality issues, as a pair of environmental groups stage a candidates’ forum in Richmond.
Little public discussion has been devoted so far to water quality topics, even though Virginia’s obligation to reduce pollution of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries is complicated by proposed federal budget cuts and competing priorities for state funds. Rather, controversies over Confederate statues and President Trump have loomed large in the first statewide race since Trump’s election.
But clean-water advocates say state voters need to know how the next governor will face challenges to renewing and maintaining the health of local waters with what is likely to be dwindling federal help.
“Commitment from Virginia's next governor is vital to making a restored Bay a reality,” according to Rebecca LePrell, the Bay Foundation’s state executive director. “With the right policies and continued investment, together we can reduce pollution, restore oysters and other iconic fisheries, and strengthen local communities.”
The forum will not entail a debate between the two main candidates, Republican Ed Gillespie and Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat. Instead, the two will share their thoughts on issues impacting the Chesapeake and Virginia’s waterways. But attendees will also have the chance to ask questions of the candidates.
A July poll by Monmouth University found the race between Gillespie and Northam a dead heat, with each garnering 44 percent of likely voters. Libertarian candidate Cliff Hyra drew 3 percent of likely votes, while 9 percent of participants said they were undecided.
The Virginia League of Conservation Voters has endorsed the Democratic candidate, Northam, who has worked as a state senator and lieutenant governor to remove phosphorous from Virginia fertilizers, among other environmental efforts.
“We still need to keep track on the (pollution reductions) and do our part in Virginia,” said Lee Francis, a spokesman for the league. “I think, with Ralph (Northam’s) record on the Bay, he’s the candidate that can make sure we do that.”
Neither campaign could be reached for comment for this article. The forum’s organizers said the candidates will be asked about their commitments to funding for farm conservation practices and how they’d approach the costly effort of reducing runoff from urban and suburban areas. Other topics that could come up are oil and gas pipelines seeking approval to be built in several parts of the state and coal ash disposal. A moratorium on coal ash permits from state regulators will be lifted in 2018 after further study this year.
“Over the coming four years,” Bay Foundation spokesman Kenny Fletcher said in an email, “the actions of the Commonwealth’s next governor and the General Assembly could determine whether Virginia stays on track to restore its rivers, streams and the Bay.”
To attend the forum, register here. Space is limited.