Thursday, May 6, 2010

An open letter to members of the Government of the Commonwealth of Virginia

To:

The office of the Governor of Virginia,
Members of the Virginia House of Delegates,
Members of the Virginia Senate

As a fellow Virginian, I am hoping you can address this issue for me in the House of Delegates and / or Virginia Senate.  In the early 2000s, the governor signed into law legislation that granted a High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) easement to early adopters of clean fuel technologies, as specified by the DMV, summarized here: http://virginiadot.org/travel/hov-rulesfaq.asp

This exemption to HOV restrictions was then ended for all cars registered after July 1, 2006 though all cars having been registered as Clean Fuel before this date have been grandfathered into continuing the easement beyond the the July 2006 deadline, with that allowance currently extended to June 30, 2011 (5 years – http://virginiadot.org/newsroom/northern_virginia/2010/hov_exemption_for_hybrid45786.asp).

Now, to be clear, the Commonwealth of Virgina is home to the Shenandoah National Park; the beautiful Commonwealth is exemplified by its pristine coasts, its horse and wine country and its Appalachian peaks.  It is that which I love most about our home here in the Commonwealth and that which I feel strongly we should preserve.  That is to say, I am greatly in favor of the HOV easement to encourage the citizens of our Commonwealth to do what they can to keep Virginia green.  I, of course, don't want to confuse the Carbon Dioxide absorbed by plants with that which goes to creating a creeping greenhouse effect that would so change the Virginia of our great grandchildren from what we know today.  But I do believe that the way to do this in Virginia is through incentives and encouragements and not through automotive mandates beyond the Federal CAFE standards.  And as it is, Virginia's foliage could not come near to absorbing all the Carbon Dioxide the Commonwealth produce from its diverse sources.  Most, in fact, is absorbed by the seas, but this is beyond my intended discussion.

The reason I am writing you, my fellow Virginians, is that we stand now on the cusp of a new clean fuel movement: that powered by the fully electric car, such as the Nissan Leaf.  Unlike Hybrid cars, the Nissan Leaf, Tesla Roadster, Mini-E and other, currently rare, all-electric alternatives have NO tailpipe emissions and even if the electricity is generated by burning coal, it is still less of a Carbon footprint to drive an all-electric car than one that is even partly gas-powered, such as the Hybrid automobile.

It is such an advance in clean fuel, as in no direct carbon emissions of any kind, that makes this new generation of Electric Vehicles worth re-examining in terms of incentives.  And now is the time to do so, as the market is still small and would not cost the Commonwealth very much.

Firstly, I believe now is the time to see a new HOV easement passed that exempts all-electric cars from HOV restrictions on I95/I395, as well as I66 and the Dulles Access Road / Greenway.  The advantage of the HOV easement is that it does not cost the Commonwealth anything and would not add very many cars to the HOV lanes because there are still very few fully electric vehicles available at this time.  Please recall that when Hybrid Cars were first allowed to use the I95 / I395 corridor, a study was performed to make sure that the number of Hybrid Cars that were expected to use the HOV lanes were not to exceed in terms of congestion the average traffic density of the non-HOV I95 lanes.  This study was performed in the mid-decade.  Since then, congestion on the I95 corridor has increased as newer developments have sprung up along the popular automotive route.  It would therefore be quite appropriate for these traffic statistics to be re-evaluated for their current density and that the Fully Electric cars registered by a reasonable cutoff could be used to rebalanced the densities established in 2006.

Of course, I would like to add that any and all incentives toward ending tailpipe emissions in the Commonwealth is a laudable goal.  Again, it is not the House of Delegates or Virginia Senate's role to mandate what must be done.  Rather your jobs are to encourage, and to that end I would be so honored if you would also consider legislation that will ease the burden of purchasing all-electric vehicles as well as home charging stations.  The Federal Government already provides a $7500 tax credit, as well as up to $2000 for up to 50% of the cost of installation of a home charging station.  Any additional credits you could work to pass in the House and Senate would make me very proud to have you as my representative.

Of course, any incentive the House of Delegate or Virginia Senate can provide in terms of other energy savings would be appreciated.  For instance, Chapter 17 of the current legislative session allows the cities, counties and towns to provide incentives for Photovoltaic and Vegetable Roofs.  It is a wonderful start, but we can do so much more, such as tax credits for the residential construction of home Solar-thermal or Geothermal water heating / cooling facilities or home Wind power electrical generation.  The second weekend in October consumption tax holiday for energy-efficient appliance upgrade is one possible model for this, but that only covers purchase up to $5000 and most of these energy generation solutions cost much more than that.  Also, incentives for lower-incoming housing to use to upgrade their energy-inefficient domiciles to be more energy efficient would be of great help.  Even subsidizing home energy audits would go a log way to both saving home owners money on energy bills allowing Virginian to do their part in keeping Virginia Green and fight global climate change.

It is my hope that we can build a coalition of Delegates and Senators who want to keep Virginia green so that we can be an East Coast leader in preserving the beauty of our land.  Delegates like those who, in just the current 2010 session, helped pass HB 803 and SB 623 to create Green Jobs in the Commonwealth, or HB 1975 / SB 1058 to allow for green roof home modification incentives for localities, or SB 109 to require new government building to be green, or HB 389 / SB 577 to provide permits for off-shore wind farms.  We should be proud as Virginians that you, our representatives, are doing these things for us.  But we need to remain vigilant; there is so much more we could do.

Obviously, that's a lot to ask of you, my Representatives in Richmond, but I sincerely hope you will look into these and other environmental concerns and that you and your fellow Delegates and Senators and our esteemed Governor can work together to keep our Commonwealth beautiful!

Thank you!

Sincerely,

A Concerned Virginian