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Should state regulators consider the societal cost?

Dominion Generation
Steve Helber
FILE - This Tuesday Aug. 6, 2019 file photo shows Dominion Energy's Scott Solar farm in Powhatan, Va.

Some lawmakers are starting to rethink the way regulators approach environmental issues.

When state regulators approve a permit for a pig farm or a power plant, what kind of information should they be looking at? Something specific about the individual operation? Or should they also be looking at the societal cost on the environment? Or climate change?

During the recent General Assembly session, Senator Scott Surovell had a bill on methane emissions that added a new clause allowing regulators to take a look at the societal cost.

"The bill added one new test called the societal test, which is basically a new test where you look at the effects of carbon pollution on health or, for example, cancer or climate change; things like that," Surovell explains. "The governor didn't like that test. He thought it was a little bit too newfangled and whatnot."

The governor ended up striking that part of the bill, and lawmakers approved the new version of the bill last week. But Tim Cywinski at the Sierra Club says lawmakers should consider adding a societal cost test to future legislation.

"The public has a right to know the full extent of what a project, especially ones that are polluting in nature, will have on our society and our communities," Cywinski says. "So, getting rid of a societal cost test would be something we generally oppose, and that's certainly the case with this."

In a written statement, a spokeswoman for Governor Glenn Youngkin says the idea of a societal cost test is subjective and puts consumers in danger of paying higher prices.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.