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Supervisors appear reluctant to forward Data Centers as a by-right use regardless of zoning amendment creating new Light Industrial District
Following a detailed presentation by County Planning Director Matt Wendling on the procedural requirements for authorizing the development of Data Centers in Industrial or Light Industrially zoned areas either by-right or by individual Conditional Use Permit (CUP) approval, on Tuesday, October 4, the Warren County Board of Supervisors authorized advertisement for an October 25th public hearing on a zoning amendment on the new zoning district and uses within it.
However, despite Wendling’s overview of the reasoning behind the planning commission’s cited 3-1 recommendation* of approval of a Zoning Text Amendment allowing Data Centers as a by-right use in the Light Industrial District the zoning amendment would create, a board majority appeared reluctant to pursue that recommendation. All four supervisors present – Happy Creek District’s Jay Butler was absent from the 9 a.m. meeting – expressed some concern over a blanket by-right designation, particularly regarding Data Centers.
While Planning Director Wendling cited “more flexibility in marketing”, the elimination of one public hearing in the approval process by eliminating Conditional Use Permitting, and consistency with planned Town Council zoning parameters, citing personal or constituent concerns the board majority indicated a preference for the extra scrutiny that additional permitting would allow. North River Supervisor Delores Oates pointed to constituent concerns about power grid and water usage variables connected to Data Centers, which it has also been pointed out do not generally create many jobs for the local job market.
“So, it concerns me that this elected body, who is elected to represent the people, would have no say in that final determination. That concerns me a lot,” Oates said in response to the rationale for the by-right designation.
Board Chair Cheryl Cullers of the South River District added, “I never want to take the short route … I’m willing to be here as long as it takes to do this … the by-right bothers me. We wouldn’t even have the final say. And what these building would do or produce or anything like that, it concerns me that by-right they could do it if it’s within parameters without any input from this board.”
Shenandoah District Supervisor Walt Mabe concurred, saying of too broad a by-right zoning code, “That’s not the way I see our government working because we’re protecting our community, and we’re protecting our power grid and water sources, and all things that are necessary to keep things on an even keel …”
Fork District Supervisor Vicky Cook questioned the relatively long list of proposed by-right uses accompanying Data Centers in the new Light Industrial District. “So, are we concerned about by-right use for only Data Centers or are we worried about by-right for the list of these businesses,” Cook asked. “Any and all,” County Administrator Ed Daley responded of the Zoning Text Amendment before them for authorization for public hearing and final board approval.
So, in the wake of Mabe’s motion to authorize the matter for public hearing, seconded by Cook, and approved by a 4-0 voice vote, the public will have a chance to weigh in during the Zoning Text Amendment Public Hearing slated for a 6 p.m. October 25th Special Meeting called to help the board wade through other pending public hearings.
The only other action item on Tuesday morning’s agenda was consideration of a 12-item Consent Agenda. That agenda, included authorization to advertise seven other Conditional Use Permit applications, five of those for short-term tourist rentals and two for private-use camping.
Another Consent Agenda item was approval of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Town of Front Royal and Discover Front Royal as a co-created 501-C6 non-profit organization for “Destination Marketing Services” promoting tourism for town and county destinations. Other matters approved on the Consent Agenda were authorization of a refund request for an erroneous tax assessment involving Warren Memorial Hospital; use of the courthouse grounds for the Veterans Day event hosted by American Legion Post 53; setting of a meeting schedule for preparation for the Fiscal Year-2023-24 County budget, as well as preliminary work towards the FY-2024/25 budget; an amendment to the sale of County-owned property at 30 East Jackson Street extending the closing date on the $240,000 sale to Blue Ridge Information Systems to “no later than November 30, 2022 to secure a survey of the property.”
At 10 a.m. the supervisors adjourned to a Closed/Executive Session discussion of EDA-related litigations, the recovery of EDA assets, and possible liabilities and indebtedness of the FR-WC EDA (aka WC EDA). A second item, the potential sale of property, was added to the motion into Closed Session. Nothing was announced and no action taken out of that closed session.
FOOTNOTE: Planning Director Wendling explained that the County Planning Commission vote recommending forwarding approval of the Zoning Text Amendment as presented was 3-0 with one abstention due to a potential conflict of interest, but that the abstention was considered a negative vote in bringing the recommendation forward.
Youngkin’s energy plan calls for reevaluation of Clean Economy Act
In his state energy plan, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin is pushing for revisions to the Virginia Clean Economy Act, a 2020 Democratic-driven law that ordered the state’s electric utilities to decarbonize by midcentury, but he faces opposition from clean energy advocates who say the step would move Virginia backward.
The four-year plan, unveiled in front of state and federal representatives Monday at Lynchburg-based transformer manufacturer Delta Star Inc., sets the executive office’s roadmap for Virginia energy policy.
“A clean energy future does not have to come at the cost” of customers, Youngkin told the crowd before unveiling what he called an “all-of-the-above approach” to Virginia’s energy needs.
The 35-page plan pushes for periodic reviews of the VCEA; greater protections for ratepayers and the restoration of power to the State Corporation Commission, which regulates the state’s electric utilities; and increased use of nuclear energy.
Among its critics are Senate Democrats, including state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, a patron of the VCEA.
“Gov. Youngkin cannot pick and choose which laws he implements,” McClellan said in a statement. “He should abandon this flawed attack on affordable clean energy and get to work implementing the laws that Virginia passed.”
Another look at Clean Economy Act
Youngkin’s plan calls for a reevaluation of the VCEA next year and every five years, stating the current grid can’t reliably serve customers if it relies solely on “intermittent” renewable sources like solar and wind.
The administration says the state will need to import energy from outside the commonwealth because of the VCEA mandates.
According to PJM Interconnection, the regional electric grid Virginia is a member of, the state was a net importer of electricity Tuesday afternoon.
McClellan said the VCEA’s requirements offer the right “balance” for Virginia’s transition to renewables.
With communities throughout Virginia being hit by flooding due to sea level rise and rainfall shifts linked to climate change, ” she said, “this is not the time to reverse a clean energy transition,” she said.
“Gov. Youngkin’s plan would create roadblocks and mandatory five-year-reviews that would undermine the predictability of Virginia’s energy system and make our commonwealth lose out on new jobs,” McClellan stated.
Kim Jemaine, director of Virginia Advanced Energy Economy, a business group that advocates for clean energy, said businesses want to know the direction Virginia is headed in terms of clean energy use. Developers of renewable energy projects prefer to have certainty about state policy as they prepare to undergo lengthy application and siting processes.
Other companies like Amazon and Lego, which recently announced it would open a site in Chesterfield, are also increasingly looking to source their energy from renewables.
Youngkin’s plan also pushes for the transfer of more authority to the State Corporation Commission as it oversees the utilities’ compliance with the 2018 Grid Transformation and Security Act and the Virginia Clean Economy Act.
In his plan, Youngkin suggests the General Assembly should pass legislation to allow the SCC to defer the utilities’ renewable portfolio standard (RPS) requirements. These requirements, which are outlined in the VCEA, set timelines for how much of a utility’s energy must be sourced from renewables.
He also recommends removing the use of “public interest” mandates, a legal instrument that favors SCC approval of projects. Instead, he said the SCC should have the flexibility to analyze the costs of both substitute technologies and renewable energy sources, and use “least-cost” resource planning.
Both the Grid Transformation and Security Act and the Virginia Clean Economy Act “have resulted in projects bypassing the SCC’s methodology,” the energy plan states. “At the same time, the SCC is mandated to approve them and associated cost recovery because of statutory requirements.”
Youngkin particularly criticizes Virginia energy law that allows electric utilities to impose rate adjustment clauses, or riders, on customer bills for particular projects.
According to Youngkin’s plan, legislation in 2007 authorized the use of RACs, which have led to residential bill increases of over $30 per month. The State Corporation Commission in a recent report also calculated that RACs have added roughly $36 to Appalachian Power customers’ monthly bills and $30 to Dominion customers’ monthly bills since 2007. That’s on top of average electricity prices for Virginians increasing by 47%, compared to 39% nationally, between 2005 and 2020, Youngkin’s report details.
The energy plan calls for the creation of a work group to determine how to improve the RAC structure for ratepayers and increase bill transparency.
While reforming customer rates is laudable, said Walton Shepherd, Virginia policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, it requires a massive overhaul of the system that legislators may not be willing to engage in.
Will Cleveland, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center who has extensively advocated for ratepayer reforms at the General Assembly, said his organization “would happily work with the governor to rectify the fundamental rate making problems” but argued the report unfairly demonizes clean energy as the cause of bill increases.
“We cannot retreat from our clean energy transition,” Cleveland said. “Proven, falling-cost resources like solar, wind, and battery storage simply do not threaten reliability or affordability, as this energy plan claims.”
Although efforts to reform Virginia’s rate structure failed in 2021 in the Democrat-controlled Senate, McClellan stated that she would be open to cooperating on ratepayer protection legislation in the upcoming 2023 session. She also noted a 2022 study from Virginia Advanced Energy Economy that concluded customers will save on their bills as a result of the VCEA by 2030.
“The facts are clear: The Virginia Clean Economy Act will increase the use of more affordable clean energy and lead to a decrease in the cost of energy bills for the average Virginia family by $30,” McClellan stated.
New nuclear push
As part of a push for alternative energy sources, Youngkin’s energy plan seeks to increase the use of nuclear energy in Virginia.
Youngkin’s plan was made in consultation with the Virginia Nuclear Energy Consortium, a body created by a 2013 law to make Virginia “a national and global leader in nuclear energy.”
Virginia currently has four operating nuclear reactors at two power plants: the North Anna plant in Louisa County and the Surry plant in Surry County, both operated by Dominion Energy.
At the moment, nuclear constitutes about a third of the state’s energy generation. Youngkin’s plan calls for increased use of the source, along with hydrogen and other alternative energies, because of the concerns linked to the “intermittent” nature of solar and wind.
“We have to be all in on nuclear energy,” said Youngkin Monday before pledging to launch a commercial small nuclear reactor in Southwest Virginia in the next decade.
But Jemaine said small nuclear reactor technology is not established enough to be relied on as an energy source.
“We can’t wait for some future silver bullet,” Jemaine said.
Infrastructure for solar and wind already exists and is expected to receive a boost from the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act, Jemaine noted. She added that the Siemens Gamesa turbine blade construction facility coming to Hampton Roads could be eligible for the federal legislation’s tax incentives.
When asked about how realistic the administration’s plans for nuclear expansion are, both Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power Company sent back statements saying they were still reviewing the plan but were looking forward to working with the governor on it.
At the end of his plan, Youngkin reiterated several talking points from the past few months challenging legislation passed by Virginia in the 2021 session to adopt vehicle emissions regulations set forth by California, adding that the state is facing grid reliability concerns.
Jemaine, Shepherd, and McClellan noted that car manufacturers are headed toward producing electric vehicles, in line with California’s recent move to ban the sale of new gas-powered vehicles by 2035.
“We need to get ahead of it,” McClellan stated, adding Virginia’s choice was either to follow regulations set by the federal government, with no say, or California, with some say. She also said she would oppose any legislation to reverse the 2021 law, which has been introduced by state Sen. Stephen Newman, R-Lynchburg.
by Charlie Paullin, Virginia Mercury
Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.
Supreme Court hears arguments over voting rights in Alabama case
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday, October 4, 2022, in a case over Alabama’s 2021 congressional redistricting plan. Although Black people make up 27% of Alabama’s population, the map includes just one majority-minority district, where Black voters constitute the majority.
Evan Milligan, executive director of the civic engagement group Alabama Forward, sued John Merrill, the Alabama Secretary of State, alongside other voting interest groups in three federal court cases.
Their argument hinges on Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which says that states must prevent racial minorities from having “less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice.” The plaintiffs presented 11 maps to prove that creating two majority-Black districts that complied with other traditional Alabama redistricting requirements was possible.
In January, a three-judge panel ruled that Alabama’s new congressional maps likely did violate the Voting Rights Act and gave the state two weeks to create a new one. Alabama made an emergency appeal to the Supreme Court to stay the ruling.
In a 5-4 decision, the court agreed to let Alabama keep its proposed map until the case could be argued before the court. The three liberal justices were joined by Chief Justice John Roberts in dissent, saying that there was already precedent in place from a 1986 Supreme Court ruling.
In Thornburg v. Gingles, the court found that the North Carolina legislature’s redistricting plan violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by grouping Black voters in such a way that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to elect their preferred candidates. And, before the Court heard the case, Congress clarified Section 2 to mean that plaintiffs only had to prove discriminatory effect – not discriminatory intent – for the Voting Rights Act to be violated.
Alabama’s Solicitor General Edmund Lacour made a varied and complicated set of arguments before the justices Tuesday, arguing that the redistricting plan submitted by the plaintiffs did not meet the procedural standards set out by the 1986 ruling. He also contended that a map with more than one majority-minority district would be “racially gerrymandered,” allegedly violating the 14th Amendment.
Lacour seemed to suggest that such a map would disproportionately benefit Black people and harm white people.
“Single-member districting is uniquely zero-sum,” he said. “If you have a neutral plan and someone comes in and upsets it to racially gerrymander in favor of one racial group, necessarily you’re going to be harming some other group on account of race.”
The justices appeared skeptical of Alabama’s arguments, especially liberal Justices Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson.
Conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett also expressed confusion about Lacour’s arguments: “Mr. Lacour, I think I’m struggling in the same way that some others have about narrowing down exactly what your argument is. You know, I disagree with you and agree with Justice Kagan’s characterization of the intended point. Our precedent and the statute itself says that you don’t have to show discriminatory intent, so put that aside.”
Notably, Jackson argued that the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment was adopted in a “race-conscious way.”
“I don’t think we can assume that just because race is taken into account, that necessarily creates an Equal Protection problem,” Jackson said. “‘(The country’s Framers and Founders) were in fact trying to ensure that people who had been discriminated against, the freedmen during the Reconstruction period, were actually brought equal to everyone else in society… That’s not a race-neutral or race-blind idea in terms of the remedy, and even more than that, I don’t think that the historical record establishes that the Founders believed that race neutrality or race blindness was required.”
Kagan suggested that previous rulings should have resolved this dispute without it needing to be brought to the Supreme Court, saying, “What strikes me is that under our precedent, this should be a slam dunk.”
This is the third major challenge to the Voting Rights Act to be argued before the Supreme Court since 2013. The previous two, Shelby County v. Holder and Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, both resulted in significant constraints on the Voting Rights Act.
Kagan said Tuesday that the Voting Rights Act has not fared well at the court in recent years: “And you’re asking us essentially to cut back substantially on our 40 years and to make this extremely difficult to prevail on too. So what’s left?”
By HUNTER SAVERY and KATE SELTZER
Capital News Service
Will Warren County School Board vote to give your tax monies to the liberal lobbying group VSBA? (Virginia School Board Association)
Do you say the VSBA isn’t run by liberals? A search of https://www.fec.gov/ shows that many of the board members have given to ActBlue (an American nonprofit technology organization that enables left-leaning nonprofits, Democratic candidates, and progressive groups to raise money), with some giving to Al Sharpton for Prez, Obama for Prez, Dems for NY House, John Brown for Congress and more.
VSBA’s main stated goal is to be a strong lobbying voice for School Boards in Richmond. But what they lobby for is the liberal WOK agenda and more. Still not convinced?
VSBA also sponsors seminars for school board members where they have had speakers come to tell them how terrible Younkin will be and to make sure he and Republicans are not elected. (They lost that election) And they asked board members to lobby their delegates in Richmond to restrict the gun rights of Virginia residents and other liberal ideologies.
You might say that is all in the past, but a look at a future seminar sponsored by VSBA has speakers like Kenita Matthews, who is part of the Biden-Harris Administration. That doesn’t sound non-partisan. And there is Dr. Fagan, a “Leadership, Diversity, and inclusion scholar, and practitioner.” She is the founder of Global Leadership Group providing consulting and leadership coaching to an organization, communities, and executives in the field of Diversity, Inclusion, and other WOK ideologies. (Yes, I added the last part)
So really, the VSBA has been and still is a liberal lobbying group and if you don’t want your tax monies going to support such a group, then come on out October 5th, 7 pm at Warren County Government Center to let your school board know where you stand.
Remember, only you can stop the Liberal WOK agenda from destroying our schools by showing up.
Front Royal, VA
Maryland senators to Pentagon: address toxic chemicals on bases
WASHINGTON – Maryland Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin, both Democrats, have joined a host of other lawmakers in an open letter to the Pentagon to increase resources for cleaning up toxic chemicals found on military bases.
At issue are what are known as PFAS, which stands for per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a group of “forever chemicals” that come from consumer and industrial goods and can cause various diseases in humans.
The letter, signed by over three dozen senators from both parties, said PFAS found in aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), a fire suppressant used by the military, personal protective equipment used by firefighters, and other products, left those who served at military installations at a higher risk of health problems.
“Nearly 700 military installations nationwide have known or suspected PFAS contamination, exposing service members and their families and civilian communities near DoD installations to these toxic chemicals,” the senators wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
A recent report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine presented evidence that PFAS exposure was associated with lower antibody responses, elevated cholesterol, decreased infant and fetal growth, and increased risk of kidney cancer in adults.
According to the report, those who have worked or resided at places with identified PFAS contamination should have regular blood testing. The report specifically mentions military bases as locations where PFAS have been identified.
In 2022, Congress allocated $517 million for military PFAS-related testing, research, and cleanup. The senators said the Department of Defense has not done enough.
“It is our understanding that one of the major obstacles in the way of Congress putting more resources toward this problem is a lack of planning by the Department on how to execute a higher funding level,” the senators said. “Simply put, DoD is not sufficiently prioritizing PFAS testing, remediation, and disposal as part of its annual budget process, nor is the Department adequately developing the appropriate plans to utilize even higher funding levels as provided by Congress.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Defense declined a request for comment and said the Department will respond to Congress accordingly.
Jared Hayes, a PFAS-focused policy analyst with nonprofit activist organization Environmental Working Group, said there are almost 400 DoD bases with confirmed PFAS contamination in either drinking water and/or groundwater. At least 300 additional bases have suspected contamination.
According to Hayes, some of Maryland’s highest levels of PFAS contamination have been found at Naval Research Lab, Ft. Meade, and Webster Field Naval Annex. He said PFAS found at bases such as these contribute to local fish and shellfish contamination.
Hayes said, “while there may be bases around the U.S. with higher levels of contamination, the high levels of PFAS and the concentration of so many DOD bases along such an important waterway as the Chesapeake Bay makes Maryland bases stand out in the U.S.”
By EVE SAMPSON
Capital News Service
Rep. Ben Cline demands answers from Secretary Buttigieg, Federal Highway Admin on preventing use of infrastructure funds for highway expansion
WASHINGTON – On October 4, 2022, Congressman Ben Cline (R-VA-06) sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and Acting Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Stephanie Pollack demanding a complete breakdown of how funding under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) has been used, following reports that FHWA issued guidance that would put projects designated to expand highway capacity at the back of the line for approval.
The letter was co-signed by Congressman Jim Banks (R-IN-03), who is Chairman of the Republican Study Committee, Congressman Cliff Bentz (R-OR-02), Congressman Van Taylor (R-TX-03), Congressman Dan Crenshaw (R-TX-02), Congressman Brian Mast (R-FL-18), and Congressman Randy Weber (R-TX-14).
“During a time of 40-year high inflation, a crippling supply chain, and higher prices of goods and services, the Biden administration is prioritizing infrastructure funds for Green New Deal projects over highway expansion,” said Congressman Cline. “Americans need transparency from this administration to ensure their tax dollars are being properly used.”
“The American people deserve to know if President Biden is using taxpayer dollars to secretly implement liberal green new deal policies. I am glad to partner with Congressman Cline to protect taxpayers and demand transparency from this radical administration,” said Congressman Jim Banks, Republican Study Committee Chairman.
“With families across the country continuing to deal with a supply chain crisis that has kept everything from baby formula to appliances off the shelves, the Biden Administration needs to get their priorities straight by focusing on what matters to the American people instead of wasting more dollars on a radical, far-left agenda,” said Congressman Brian Mast.
“Not only is the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act ridden with Green New Deal priorities, but it does so at the expense of critical, traditional infrastructure such as highway capacity projects. As a result, rural communities dependent on surface transportation bear the brunt. The Biden Administration must be held accountable for this blatant effort to further the left’s climate agenda,” said Congressman Cliff Bentz.
Read the full letter below.
Dear Secretary Buttigieg and Acting Administrator Pollack,
We write today to request an immediate update regarding the impacts of Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) December 2021 guidance on the use of Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) funding.
The American public already knows that much of the IIJA’s $1 trillion are reserved for projects designed to advance a Green New Deal agenda instead of actual infrastructure, such as the $66 billion in taxpayer giveaways to bloated and incompetent public transit systems, $65 billion to add expensive green energy to the grid, $50 billion for loosely defined “climate resilience”, $21.5 billion for demonstration projects related to intermittent and expensive energy sources, and $7.5 billion for stations to charge expensive electric vehicles, among hundreds of billions in other wasteful spending. What they may not know is, according to the guidance, the Biden administration also intends to hamstring funding that is designated for traditional infrastructure, such as roads and highways, in the name of those liberal goals.
Specifically, the guidance states the FHWA “where permitted by law, [will] require…recipients of Federal highway funding to select projects that improve the condition and safety of existing transportation infrastructure within the right-of-way before advancing projects that add new general purpose travel lanes serving single occupancy vehicles.”1 This policy puts projects that would expand highway capacity at the back of the line for approval and discriminates against communities that rely on surface transportation—rural communities in particular. Further, while the guidance exempts projects favored by green special interests such as bicycle lanes from any further NEPA approvals, it singles out highway capacity projects for “…more scrutiny under NEPA.”
Perhaps most troubling is the fact the Biden administration is intentionally preventing the use of highway funds to expand highway capacity and promote economic growth when it has just driven our nation into a recession and caused record inflation.
We request that the FHWA provide a comprehensive breakdown of funding awarded to date under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Specifically, please provide the total awarded funding for projects that do not add general purpose travel lanes compared with total funding for projects that add general purpose travel lanes. Further, we request a comprehensive list detailing the status of project applications that would add new purpose travel lanes that have yet to be approved by the Federal Highway Administration. Please provide this information by October 20, 2022.