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Virginia Governor Shows Trump What Climate Leadership Looks Like With His Own Executive Order

Insights + Opinion

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued an executive directive Tuesday to the Commonwealth's Department of Environmental Quality and the Air Pollution Control Board that will lead to a strong limit on carbon pollution from power plants through regional cooperation.


The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality will now begin crafting plans to develop a program to reduce carbon pollution in the state. Executive Directive 11 is designed to ensure Virginia's energy future includes a structure that enforces carbon-reduction mechanisms. This is the result of the Executive Order 57 process, through which more than 10,000 Virginians called on the governor to use his authority to reduce carbon pollution.

Meanwhile, clean energy growth in Virginia continues to rise. According to the governor's office, the clean energy economy is creating $1.5 billion in revenue, solar jobs are up 65 percent since 2014 and solar installations have risen 1,200 percent in just the last year.

The Sierra Club applauds Gov. McAuliffe for protecting the health of Virginia families and communities. This is a perfect example of how states and local governments can ensure our nation takes climate action even as Donald Trump buries his head in the sand while the seas are rising. Leaders like Gov. McAuliffe know we have a moral obligation to act and will seize economic opportunities when we do, as the clean energy economy is already proving it will create good-paying jobs while powering homes and businesses.

No one can ignore the progress on climate action and clean energy on the state and local levels. This important policy comes on the same day as the announcement of the 253rd coal plant retirement since the beginning of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign and on the heels of Hanover, New Hampshire becoming the 29th city to commit to 100 percent clean energy as part of our Ready for 100 campaign. Forget his rhetoric: Trump cannot stop this momentum for clean energy and climate action that is being driven by citizen activism in states and communities across the country.

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"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.

The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.

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Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.

That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.

Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.

If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.

"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."

To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.


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