Northern and Southern Virginia Cooperate on Climate

Coming off the warmest winter on record nationally, and the ninth warmest on record in Virginia, long-term planning for the impacts of the warming climate at the local level are becoming more important. Fair or not, there is often unease on the topic between Northern Virginia and Southern Virginia.

But earlier this year, a team from George Mason University in Fairfax began working with community leaders and local officials from Southside Virginia through the university’s Local Climate Action Planning Initiative.

Many areas away from the state’s larger communities do not have the resources to develop or execute an environmental plan that addresses long-term implications of the warming climate on everyday things: building codes, wastewater, transportation, education, pollution and energy.

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The GMU team of students and faculty met with several Southside Virginia communities earlier this year, including Danville, Martinsville and Henry County to develop an Energy Action Plan to save money, reduce pollution and bring jobs.

Lead by Paul Bubbosh, research professor in the Schar School of Policy and Government at GMU, the team includes Schuyler “George” Lynch, a native of Roanoke County. Growing up in Cave Spring, she developed a passion for understanding the connections between the warming climate and energy policy.

Schuyler “George” Lynch

Schuyler “George” Lynch

As she is finishing up her undergraduate studies, Lynch wants to be sure the connections between science and local government remain strong, “It is really important to have the mesh between the science side and the government side because there seems to be a disconnect,” she says.

Lynch was on the team working with Danville, and she emphasized the importance of listening to what the community needed, “It was really nice to hear all of the viewpoints,” continued Lynch. “We really wanted feedback to be sure we can implement the best plan for Danville, because it needs to work for them. Not Roanoke or Fairfax.”

Renee Burton, Danville planning director was among those involved. In an email she said, “GMU has provided the City of Danville a full service program at no cost. The program includes modeling of our energy profile, while organizing and leading a task force through the development of an energy action plan.”

In addition to Burton, the Danville group included city staff, members of the non-profit Dan River Basin Association, educators from Averett University and Danville Community College, and the Rev. Larry Campell from Danville City Council.

Paul Bubbosh - George Mason University


As the GMU advisor, Bubbosh was happy to put the grant into action. “As a university, we value the opportunity to expand education from the classroom to the community and to translate science, policy, and engineering to its most practical and needed application — to the vulnerable and marginalized communities of Virginia,” Bubbosh said.

These development plants are investigative in nature, meaning they empower initial research and feasibility studies to be done before any physical actions are taken.

Danville forms climate task force

Burton continues, “With an Energy Action Plan in place, the City of Danville can access state and federal funds available to lower our energy costs and increase our resiliency.”

Among the proposals, the teams suggest investigating the benefits of migrating Danville’s public fleet vehicles from gasoline to electric as the older vehicles are scheduled to be retired — being certain that the necessary charging infrastructure was in place to support them. Similarly, the city could take stock of its public buildings to determine which ones were suitable to be powered by rooftop or community solar panels.

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A team from George Mason is working with Danville officials to develop an Energy Action Plan. Among the proposals, the teams suggesting investigating the benefits of replacing retired city vehicles with electric ones.

The teams also emphasized the need for job training via the region’s community colleges, keeping people in the area and improving the quality of life in Southside Virginia.

Smiling, Lynch also emphasizes the health aspects of the plan. “Yes. Decrease their emissions, air pollution, water pollution, all that stuff that no one wants around,” she said.

Currently undergoing final stages of review, the plan is scheduled for public review in May, before potentially being adopted.

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