As an avid outdoorsman, land conservation has long been one of my top priorities. From the shores of the Chesapeake Bay to the Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia is blessed with unequaled natural and historic treasures. We must be vigilant in protecting these resources for future generations to enjoy. I believe public policy functions best when it treats this planet and its resources not just as a trove of resources to tap until they are exhausted, but as a sacred responsibility whose long-term health is up to every generation to preserve for the next.
Forty years ago, many cities were choked with smog and some rivers were so polluted that their waters would catch fire. As a nation, we took action to combat these problems. Because of this national effort, the air we breathe and the water we drink are safer than they were in the 1970s.
But there is still work to do. I was proud to introduce legislation to protect and expand historic civil war battlegrounds and I continue to fight for efforts that protect the Chesapeake Bay and its marine life. In May of 2015, I joined the Chesapeake Bay Foundation for a service project focused on oyster reef restoration. The healthier an oyster population is, the cleaner the water source will be. I also strongly support reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has supported over a quarter of a billion dollars in conservation in Virginia, bolstering a $2.4 billion outdoor recreation economy in the Commonwealth.
Another important issue I’m working on is responding to sea level rise and flooding in Hampton Roads, which threatens readiness at local military installations and homes in the surrounding communities. In 2014, I organized a bipartisan group of Virginia lawmakers, regional stakeholders and officials from various federal agencies to discuss approaches the federal government can take to combat sea level rise. I’ve also worked at the federal level to support efforts by Hampton Roads localities, academic institutions and businesses that aims to combat sea level rise by improving the coordination of federal, state and local efforts on the issue.
It's true that climate change is not the only cause of sea level rise in Hampton Roads, and that no one is certain how high and how soon the seas will rise. The Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) projects anywhere from 1½ to 7 feet of sea level rise by the year 2100. But if we act now on clean energy and infrastructure resilience—and sea level rise is on the low end of that spectrum—we'll have cleaner air and tougher infrastructure, and our fossil energy resources will still be there. If the reverse happens—we don't act now, and sea level rise is on the high end—our generation will have much to answer for with our grandchildren.
I've never accepted the idea that we must choose between growing the economy and protecting the environment. I've seen firsthand how strong environmental policies helped us clean up the James River in my hometown of Richmond, improving both our economy and quality of life. Cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay improved the Bay's health and bolstered its tourism and fisheries economy. And no Virginia community should be left behind in a clean energy economy, including the Commonwealth's traditional coal communities, which is why I sponsored legislation in the Senate to ramp up federally-backed clean coal R&D and support CTE and workforce training to prepare the next generation for in-demand jobs. Ensuring our energy production is cleaner tomorrow than today is good for our economy and good for our planet. A healthy environment is good for businesses and workers and strong economic growth allows for investments that will help improve the environment. In the Senate, I will continue my efforts to protect our air, water and land resources, and will resist efforts to weaken environmental standards that are critical to public health.
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