Together Virginians produce environmental successes

Published 10:18 am Wednesday, April 24, 2013

by Douglas W. Domenech

April 2013 marks the 43rd anniversary of Earth Day, a time we traditionally set aside to assess the condition of our environment. A healthy environment is vital to all who work and live in our beautiful Commonwealth and, though we still face challenges, progress in the past few decades has been impressive and worth noting. As they say, you don’t know where you are going unless you know where you have been. For example:

• Air is cleaner. Since 1980, in Virginia, levels of major pollutants in the air we breathe have declined by 42 percent. The number of days with high amounts of ground-level ozone has dropped 71 percent since 2002, and the amounts of fine particles in the air have gone down 30 percent in eight years.

• Land is cleaner. In the last 20 years, the number of leaking petroleum storage tank reports has dropped by 88 percent.

• Waterways are cleaner. The amount of nitrogen entering the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries has been reduced by almost 8 million pounds since 2009.

These improvements are a testimony to Virginian’s dedication to safeguarding the environment and preserving our natural resources. Under the leadership of Gov. Bob McDonnell, we have taken numerous common-sense steps toward conservation and environmental protection, steps that are good for our environment, our quality of life and our economy.

And there are other signs of an improving environment worth noting. More than 23 million illegally dumped tires have been removed at almost 1,300 sites around the state. Dozens of watershed cleanup plans are now under way to ensure that Virginia’s rivers and streams meet water quality standards. And Virginia is embarking on a new project to reduce the amount of ecologically damaging plastic debris in coastal waters.

Virginia continues to back up this commitment with its financial resources. The state budget for the next fiscal year, signed by the governor, includes over $216 million to support clean water efforts helping improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

Sharing in these environmental successes are countless citizens, businesses, industries, conservation organizations, government agencies and others.

Virginians are involved in recycling, litter prevention, and water quality monitoring in lakes and streams. Industries and businesses view pollution prevention as a routine and profitable way of operating.

Local governments reported that 43.5 percent of solid waste was recycled in 2011, compared with 32.2 percent in 2005. This represents a desire on the part of citizens and localities to conserve natural resources, as well as landfill space.

Wildlife populations are improving. Bald eagles, once listed on the federal endangered list, have continued to grow in Virginia.

Initiatives such as the Virginia Environmental Excellence Program encourage businesses to go above and beyond the regulatory requirements, and to look for innovative ways to reduce their environmental impacts. Manufacturers, military bases, government agencies and universities have answered this call, and more than 400 facilities now participate in the program.

Citizen involvement is the key. From stream bank restoration to litter pickup to conserving energy, the role we each play contributes to environmental health we all enjoy.

Virginians clearly are serious about being reliable stewards of our natural resources.

Whether we address long-term environmental matters or face new and emerging concerns, Virginia will remain at the forefront of protecting the environment that is so important to all of us. We are truly blessed to live in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Douglas W. Domenech is the Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources.