VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – Gov. Ralph Northam signed a number of new bills into law on Friday to protect Virginia’s waterways.
The bills set specific deadlines to minimize different types of pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay by 2025.
“When we talk about being stewards of our environment and our natural resources, this takes a village,” said Northam.
The new laws also work to diminish existing levels of pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay and other waterways.
“As we say in healthcare, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” said Northam. “And that’s really what this is all about to protect the bay, prevent things from damaging the bay, not only for our generation but for future generations.”
The bills include specific deadlines and timetables for wastewater treatment plants to meet in order for the state to reach its predetermined goals.
Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington) explained during Friday’s event how these bills target levels of nitrogen in the water.
“This bill is about certainty. Certainty in pollution reduction. Certainty in funding and costs. Certainty on dates by which plant upgrades have to be completed,” he said.
One of the bills also makes the intentional release of balloons illegal, minimizing the amount of one of the largest pollutants on beaches and in waterways.
Peggy Sanner, the Virginia executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said these new measures are a vital measure in order to minimize current pollution and prevent future levels.
“[They] ensure continued substantial work with our wastewater systems treating it so that the pollution doesn’t go into the bay,” she said.
As state lawmakers gathered for today’s bill signing, it was the passionate speech made by Chesapeake native Claire Conner which captured a lot of attention from the crowd.
“Today serves as palpable proof that through advocacy and awareness, along with collaboration between citizens and elected officials, action and progress is possible,” she said.
Conner is a rising sophomore who’s one of a handful of student leaders with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, learning about conservation and environmental issues.
She says her passion for environmental protection comes from growing up near the Chesapeake Bay and seeing how it’s become polluted.
“It lit a fire in me, like, I am going to grow up in this world and I want it to be as clean and as beautiful as possible and I want to hand it off better than when I inherited it,” she said.
Northam, who gave Conner a standing ovation at the end of her speech, says it’s a big deal to see youth like her who are active and interested in protecting our natural resources.
“This is about their future and so the more we can educate our children about why it’s so important to be stewards of our environment, not just at the high school level, but all K-12 and even, you know, early childhood education,” he said.
Sanner said we all need to live up to Conner’s standard for environmental protection.
“She spoke from the education that she’s had about our environmental challenges, how important it is to her, and how important it is to her generation that we learn how to, and in fact do, the hard work,” she said.
Conner says she draws some inspiration from climate activist Greta Thunberg and says she’s just really happy to have seen some of what she’s advocated for be signed into law.
“Hard work does pay off and, you know, follow what you are passionate about, not just what you think you should be doing,” she said. “The passion will come out from [what] you do.”
Conner says she hopes she can study environmental law in college so she can continue her fight to fight against climate change.