Cindy Bither
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'A Lot of Work to Do'

FullTextImage/img/@altVirginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe addresses the opening session of the Environment Virginia Symposium. -- VMI Photo by H. Lockwood McLaughlin.

In Environment Virginia Opener, Governor Discusses Climate Change, Jobs in Alternative Energy

LEXINGTON, Va., April 8, 2014 -- Addressing environmental concerns will allow Virginia to embrace economic growth from emerging technologies and prepare for the effects of climate change, Gov. Terry McAuliffe told 500 environmental leaders today.

McAuliffe, speaking at the opening session of the Environment Virginia Symposium at Virginia Military Institute’s Marshall Hall, called for such initiatives as wind farms in the Atlantic and preparing Coastal Virginia for rising sea levels due to a warming planet.

“We have a lot of work to do. We have made some tremendous progress, but we’ve got a long way to go,” said McAuliffe in regard to Virginia’s environmental plan. “If we want to help the environment tomorrow, we have to make smart, common-sense decisions today.”

The conference, organized by VMI’s Center for Leadership and Ethics, attracted more than 650 environmental leaders from the public and private sectors. Thirty-five exhibitors are representing state and federal agencies, industries, and non-profit organizations at the conference, whose theme is “Collective Impact: Working Together to Create a Positive Environmental Impact.”

“I am very serious about the environment; it’s something I talked about through my entire campaign,” McAuliffe said at the outset of his address to the capacity crowd in Gillis Theatre.

The governor asserted that the first step to ensuring environmental prosperity in the future is to “accept climate change is real.”

“I happen to believe humans contribute to climate change; I think it’s pretty much settled,” he said.

McAuliffe said he is taking steps to prepare Virginia for the effects of climate change. Over the next few months, the Climate Change Commission, which has not convened in four years, will begin to meet again.

He noted that Hampton Roads is ranked second in the country for areas most at-risk for rising sea levels.

“We cannot afford to ignore this; we need to prepare our coastal communities,” McAuliffe said.

“In addition to combating our rising sea levels, we need to ensure that our water is clean and safe,” McAuliffe continued. He pointed to the recent coal ash spill in the Dan River as evidence that the threat to Virginia’s drinking water is real.

Key to both the environment and economy will be growing the state’s alternative energy jobs. “These are the jobs of the future,” McAuliffe explained.

He also emphasized the importance of making Virginia’s children aware of the environment.

“When they are exposed to the natural beauty of our state, they gain an appreciation for it,” McAuliffe said. “When they are taught about how each piece of our natural world fits with the rest, … our children will grow up to be great stewards of the commonwealth.”

Illustrating his focus on safeguarding the environment, the governor promised “hundreds of thousands of acres will be put aside for conservation” during his administration.

“Protected lands will include wetlands, endangered habitats, publicly available hunting and fishing grounds, park land, and special Virginia landmarks like the Natural Bridge.”

A major milestone of McAuliffe’s environmental plan for Virginia calls for the commonwealth to be “60 percent of the way towards a truly clean [Chesapeake] Bay” by 2017.

The governor concluded with a positive outlook on Virginia’s environment and economy based on the strong start addressing issues during his short time in office.

“You do have a governor that cares about the environment and is willing to put his shoulder to the wheel to do what we need to do to make sure we are preserving our environment for our children,” he said.

The conference will continue through Thursday, bringing together leaders and acting as a forum for the exchange of ideas that will promote environmental and economic sustainability in Virginia. Small-group sessions will discuss specific issues throughout the conference.

Along with VMI, the Virginia departments of Conservation and Recreation and Environmental Quality and the Virginia Environmental Endowment are serving as hosts.

-- Daniel Stinnett ’07