Conservation group scores lawmakers

Published 10:28 pm Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Several Suffolk legislators made the grade in the 2016 session on the Virginia League of Conservation Voters’ annual scorecard.

The report, released earlier this month, scored legislators’ votes on key bills that the group felt best illustrated how lawmakers prioritized conservation issues.

“This year’s scorecard sends a clear message: While we’re making progress, we still have a lot of work to do in Virginia to safeguard clean air, clean water and open spaces,” Michael Town, executive director of the league, stated in a press release.


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Among the legislation the group focused on were bills that proposed directing the State Corporation Commission to consider impacts to historic resources when approving new utility transmission lines, creating a public database of toxic waste sites, increasing penalties on polluters, funding solar power development and establishing a fund that provides residents and businesses with low-interest loans for flood mitigation projects.

Three legislators who represent portions of Suffolk — Delegate Lionell Spruill, Sen. Louise Lucas and the late Sen. John Miller — earned scores of 100 percent each from the group for votes on conservation issues.

Delegate Matthew James, a Democrat who represents part of Suffolk, also scored well.

“I try to balance out my interests with my constituents’,” James said.

“My background is in economic development, but I do realize the importance of other elements, not only in my district but in the commonwealth. I try to be fair and equitable and vote on what I think is important to my constituents, as well as to other strategic partners in the state.”

James credited Delegate Chris Jones, the House Appropriations chair, with encouraging legislators to think and see outside of their districts with trips to other areas of the state.

“I think with that type of framework it helps to see state parks and some of those other places that need investment,” James said.

James said being raised on his grandfather’s farm during childhood summers informs his conservation-related votes.

He’s also looking toward the future, especially after having recently become a grandfather.

“You want to have some things that are important to the next generation,” he said.

Jones, a Republican who also represents part of Suffolk, said the trips James referred to are important for legislators, especially those who are not on the budget committee.

“I’m really trying to get them exposure outside of their own district or their own region so they can get a feel for what we have to contemplate and do on the committee,” Jones said.

Jones scored low in the group’s assessments, but he noted that a small set of votes is not indicative of a legislator’s overall efforts.

“They decide what they want to score and hence what your grade is, but I don’t think that’s truly reflective of how one might view an issue,” Jones said.

For example, Jones noted, the budget he shepherded included about $200 million for conservation of natural resources, including pollution protection, land conservation programs, battlefield and farmland preservation, stormwater assistance grants and more.

“I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish with regards to natural resources,” Jones said. “I’ve always voted how I feel on an individual issue that’s before me. I look at the votes and take each bill on its own merits.”

Below is the score of each Suffolk legislator. A higher number indicates a score the group considers more favorable to conservation efforts.

  • Delegate Matthew James (D-80) — 89
  • Delegate Chris Jones (R-76) — 13
  • Delegate Rick Morris (R-64) — 0
  • Delegate Lionell Spruill (D-77) — 100
  • Sen. John Cosgrove (R-14) — 50
  • Sen. Louise Lucas (D-18) — 100
  • Sen. John Miller (D-1) — 100
  • Sen. Tommy Norment (R-3) — 57