MURPHY: GOVERNOR NORTHAM’S PLEDGE FOR 2%
By W. TAYLOE MURPHY JR., Published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, November 24, 2018
This April, Gov. Ralph Northam made a bold commitment to triple the amount of money the state spends on natural resources — an ambitious and laudable goal that I pursued throughout my career in the General Assembly and as secretary of Natural Resources
During his address to the 2018 Environment Virginia Symposium, Northam committed to increasing the percentage of the general fund spent on natural resources to 2 percent, more than tripling the current 0.6 percent. This strong investment will lead to cleaner air and water, better habitats for fish and wildlife, and healthier soil to support our agriculture and forestry economy.
While in the House of Delegates, I sponsored the Water Quality Improvement Fund. Enacted in 1997, the fund helps finance nutrient-reduction strategies necessary to restore the Chesapeake Bay. As secretary of Natural Resources in Gov. Mark Warner’s administration, I chaired a commission that examined natural resource funding needs in the commonwealth. We found that Virginia was only spending half of 1 percent of its budget on natural resources, leading Warner to make one of the biggest one-time investments in natural resources in Virginia’s history through a significant deposit into the Water Quality Improvement Fund.
However, investment in natural resources has never achieved a sustained 2 percent of the general fund. In fact, a recent study commissioned by VIRGINIAforever found that our natural resource spending lags far behind our neighboring states and well below the national average.
The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) awards matching grants from the fund to support projects and local programs across the state that reduce pollution and help meet local and Chesapeake Bay water-quality goals. Projects tackle a range of issues, from lowering the impacts of stormwater runoff to reducing pollution from abandoned and orphaned mine lands. DEQ has awarded grants for upgrades to 66 wastewater treatment facilities, with 59 projects completed and seven actively undergoing construction. Since 2009, annual discharges of nitrogen fell by more than 8,000,000 pounds, while phosphorus loads were reduced by nearly 630,000 pounds, exceeding the milestone commitments set in Virginia’s water-improvement plans for both nutrients.
Unfortunately, the historical lack of consistent and sustained high-level funding for natural resources has put us behind in achieving our environmental goals. Two major contributors of pollution into the Bay — agriculture and stormwater — require greater attention and far more resources than they have received. Similarly, we continue to underfund land conservation, with the Virginia Land Conservation Fund having never received the full $16 million appropriation established in Virginia’s code. We must increase our investment in our land and natural resources as our population continues to grow — placing greater demands on these resources — and we continue to lose farmlands, forest lands, and wetlands.
The governor’s commitment to 2 percent will address these issues, and much more. Increasing funding to state agencies will allow them to expand wildlife recovery efforts, protect Virginia’s most unique and threatened natural areas, enforce environmental regulations that safeguard people and nature, better maintain trails, and improve access to our public lands, allowing Virginians even more opportunities to recreate and enjoy the outdoors.
These are exciting times, and I applaud Northam and look forward to enjoying the benefits as funding for natural resources is increased.
Tayloe Murphy Jr. was Virginia’s secretary of Natural Resources from 2002 to 2006, and served as chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Commission. He is regarded as one of Virginia’s foremost authorities on Virginia’s natural and historic resources. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.