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Environmentalists applaud greener laws but see ‘long road ahead’

New legislation in Virginia will soon give some power to local governments and help environmental organizations and businesses combat plastic pollution.



By Veronica Campbell 

New legislation in Virginia will soon give some power to local governments and help environmental organizations and businesses combat plastic pollution.

Jim Deppe is an advocacy coordinator for Lynnhaven River Now, an organization that believes in restoring and protecting Virginia’s waterways. Deppe also coordinates the Virginia Coastal Alliance, which comprises 17 organizations in Virginia that focus on off-shore drilling and single-use plastics.

“Bags, polystyrene and balloons are all significant problems in the marine environment,” Deppe said. “Two years ago, there was no option for municipalities to put laws in place locally that would allow the elimination of plastic bags, polystyrene and balloons.”

That’s because traditionally, Virginia is a Dillon Rule state. That means municipalities or cities are limited to the powers expressly granted to them by the state. Organizations such as Lynnhaven River Now and the Surfrider Foundation, another nonprofit environmental organization, successfully lobbied in Richmond in 2020 to allow local municipalities to implement ordinances against plastic bag usage by requiring a small fee.

House Bill 2159, introduced by Del. Nancy Guy, D-Virginia Beach, is one of the most important bills of the year to combat plastic pollution in Virginia, according to environmentalists. The law prohibits anyone over the age of 16 from intentionally releasing non-biodegradable balloons outdoors.

Anyone caught releasing balloons could face a civil penalty of $25 per balloon. The current law prohibits the release of 50 balloons or more within an hour. The civil penalty is currently $5 and proceeds are deposited into the Lifetime Hunting and Fishing Endowment Fund. The new law will put any penalty money into the Game Protection Fund. The bill was signed by Gov. Ralph Northam.

Morgan Wilds is the vice-chair for the Virginia chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. The organization was founded 36 years ago with the mission of protecting the world’s oceans and beaches.

Wilds said the ban on balloon releases, and the ensuing penalty, will hopefully deter people from releasing them.

 “Virginia is a blue state, but it is still very much purple,” Wilds said. “Environmental issues have a long road ahead of them in the commonwealth.”

Another significant piece of environmental legislation passed by the General Assembly this year was the ban on polystyrene packaging commonly used in carryout. The ban goes into effect for larger chain restaurants in 2023 and then statewide in 2025.

Northam signed an executive order in March to help reduce single-use plastics at all executive branch state agencies and state higher education institutions. State agencies have 120 days to discontinue, with some exemptions, buying, selling, or distributing items such as disposable plastic bags, single-use plastic and polystyrene food service containers, plastic straws and cutlery, and single-use plastic water bottles.

“We’ve been fighting on it for a few years,” Wilds said about the polystyrene legislation.

Katie Register is the executive director of the Clean Virginia Waterways program of Longwood University and has worked to combat plastic pollution. She organizes the International Coastal Cleanup in Virginia and collects data on what types of litter are in the environment.

The top 10 contributors to plastic waste come from restaurants and convenience stores and include straws, lids, cups, and beverage bottles, according to the Clean Virginia Waterways website.

On the local level, some restaurants in Virginia Beach have already gotten a head start on using sustainable packaging before the polystyrene ban takes effect.

“They [the Surfrider Foundation] came to us three years ago,” said Patrick Edwards, owner of The Stockpot, an environmentally conscious restaurant located at 700 19th St. in Virginia Beach.

The Surfrider Foundation told Edwards that he would need to meet their requirements if he wanted to be a part of the Ocean Friendly Restaurants program, an initiative to stop plastic from entering oceans.

Restaurant owners who want to participate follow outlined criteria that bans use of polystyrene, plastic bags and straws, and calls for reusable foodware on-site and proper recycling practices, according to the Surfrider Foundation’s website.

“We already met all of those criteria because it’s something that we felt was important to us in the first place,” Edwards said. “So that was really a win-win for us.”

Owners participating in the program are listed on the Surfrider Foundation’s national and chapter websites and get marketing collateral such as window stickers, brochures and bill inserts to show and educate customers. Members also get a tax-deductible donation opportunity.

Edwards said he stopped using plastic straws and didn’t get the feedback he wanted for being an environmentally conscious restaurant.

“People are very dependent on certain plastic things,” Edwards said. “When we made changes to our straws, we got a huge backlash. You would think everyone would be on board.”

Register hopes that her nonprofit won’t have to focus on cleaning the environment.

 “I would like to see us spend more time in the world of prevention, preventing this debris in the first place,” she said. “It’s a matter of resources, but it’s also a matter of political will.”



The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Police Looking for Detergent Thief

Over the past two weeks, the male in the photos twice entered a store located in the 2400 block of East Main Street, produced a bag and filled it with several bottles of laundry detergent before leaving the store.



From RPD:

Can you identify the larceny suspect in the photos who twice cleaned out a store of laundry detergent recently?

Over the past two weeks the male in the photos twice entered a store located in the 2400 block of East Main Street, produced a bag and filled it with several bottles of laundry detergent before leaving the store.

The male is approximately 5’ 9” tall. In one incident he wore a blue polo shirt, ripped blue jeans, and white shoes.

Anyone who recognizes this individual or knows his whereabouts is asked to call First Precinct Detective Sergeant Miller at (804) 646-1289 or contact Crime Stoppers at (804) 780-1000.

The P3 Tips Crime Stoppers app for smartphones may also be used. All Crime Stoppers methods are anonymous.



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McAuliffe crushes competitors in Democratic primary for governor

For anyone wondering how Terry McAuliffe was feeling before Virginia’s gubernatorial primary, his election-eve shimmying spree was a solid indicator.



For anyone wondering how Terry McAuliffe was feeling before Virginia’s gubernatorial primary, his election-eve shimmying spree was a solid indicator.

The almost-victory dance became the real thing Tuesday as the former governor and prolific Democratic fundraiser cruised to a lopsided win in a split field, setting up a general-election matchup with deep-pocketed Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin.

Tuesday’s victory cements McAuliffe’s return to the forefront of Virginia politics after serving as governor from 2014 to 2018. He had to leave office due to Virginia’s ban on governors serving consecutive terms, but there was nothing stopping him running again after a brief hiatus in which he explored the idea of a presidential run or a potential post in President Joe Biden’s cabinet.

Though McAuliffe has said fellow Democrats encouraged him to return and help keep the state blue, a claim backed by his lengthy list of endorsements from senior members of the General Assembly, some have faulted him for taking the rare step of reasserting himself atop a party that was racking up electoral successes and policy wins in his absence.

That didn’t seem to be a tough question for the primary voters who showed up Tuesday and overwhelmingly chose McAuliffe over four other contenders. Former delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy and Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, both of whom had hoped to make history as the first Black woman elected governor of any state, were on pace to finish second and third, respectively. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, his political aspirations hobbled by sexual assault allegations he denies, was in fourth place as of about 8:30 p.m., while Del. Lee Carter, D-Manassas, was in fifth.

In-person turnout appeared sluggish at polling places Tuesday, though it wasn’t immediately clear if that could be attributed to a lack of enthusiasm for an uncompetitive contest at the top of the ticket or the broader shift to mail-in ballots due to the pandemic and looser rules on absentee voting.

Two-thirds of the 2021 Democratic ticket will be a rerun of the party’s 2013 slate after Attorney General Mark Herring defeated challenger Jay Jones, a state delegate from Norfolk.

Del. Hala Ayala, D-Prince William, backed by establishment Democrats like Gov. Ralph Northam and Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, came out on top in the crowded primary for lieutenant governor, adding diversity to a ticket with two other slots filled by White men who have held statewide office before.

In interviews Tuesday about their picks for governor, some Democratic voters indicated they didn’t look much further than McAuliffe, deciding early that someone who did the job before could do it again.

“He was forthcoming. He was honest,” said Doreen Taylor, a self-described “60-plus” voter who cast her ballot for McAuliffe in Richmond’s Jackson Ward neighborhood. “He told people what needed to be done and he did it.”

Nick Walker, a 26-year-old craft brewer who saw his Virginia Beach brewpub shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, had a more specific McAuliffe story. He said he met the former governor at a beer event during McAuliffe’s first term and complained that the state’s arcane beer distribution rules were preventing small brewers from transporting their products throughout the state. Instead of getting brushed off, Walker said, McAuliffe connected him with a state official who could help.

“At that moment, he was just a guy who didn’t understand what was going on, but knew that something was wrong,” Walker said. “And instead of being like, ‘Oh we’ll fix it’ and then saying nothing, he delegated it to someone who knew how to fix it. And then we literally fixed that problem within the craft beer industry within a year. That doesn’t happen. And that was huge for me.”

While voting for McAuliffe at Petersburg’s 112-year-old train station, Carol Johnson said that, as a Black woman, she had considered supporting McClellan or Caroll Foy, both of whom have strong Petersburg ties. But she ultimately decided McAuliffe gives Democrats their best shot at victory this fall.

“I don’t think we have time to waste. I think we need somebody in there who knows how to get things done from the start,” Johnson said.

Darrell Mason, however, was all about getting “some new blood in there.”

“I voted for Jennifer … somebody,” he said, sliding down his mask to show a sly grin. Later, he said he voted for Carroll Foy.

“I know Terry McAuliffe; had my picture made with him. I like him and I know, hands down, that he’s going to win. It’s a sure thing,” Mason said. “I just want her (Carroll Foy) to get some votes to help her with her career.”

Other voters said they were frustrated by the way McAuliffe blocked the rise of other contenders who could have offered a fresher perspective.

Patty Loyde, a 51-year-old bookkeeper who voted for McClellan at a church in Richmond’s Fan District, said McAuliffe was “sucking all the air out of the room because he’s got so much money.”

“If Virginia allowed two terms and he won a second term, I wouldn’t have a problem with it,” Loyde said. “But he’s had his turn. And I just feel like it’s time for a Black person and a woman to be our governor.”

Martha Hoagland, a 23-year-old supply chain management major at Virginia Commonwealth University, said she voted for Carroll Foy because she was looking for the most progressive candidate with the broadest appeal.

“I just don’t want Terry McAuliffe to win,” she said. “Because I think he’s just kind of a corporate person.”

“He seems like a cool-enough guy,” said Kofi Roberts, a 23-year-old recent VCU graduate now working as a copywriting intern. “But it’s just like, what have you done since you’ve been governor that’s impacted me that I could point to?”

A McAuliffe win, he said, would feel “kind of like the Joe Biden presidency.”

“I wanted Bernie to win. Biden won. It’s not great. But it’s not terrible,” Roberts said. “Like the world still might burn. But at least in the meantime …”

“It’s not being lit on fire,” Hoagland said.

Mercury columnist Bob Lewis contributed reporting.

This has been a breaking news post. Check back for updates. 

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Robert Zullo for questions: [email protected] Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.



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Department of Public Utilities accepting new applications for CARES utility relief assistance

Funds are limited and applications will be processed on a first-come, first-served basis. Eligible customers are encouraged to apply immediately.



On June 1, 2021, the City of Richmond Department of Public Utilities began accepting new applications from customers who have fallen behind on their utility bills due to economic hardship due to COVID-19.

The COVID-19 Municipal Utility Relief Program funding provided by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is being administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development and supports municipal utility relief efforts during the pandemic.

To be eligible for funding under this Relief Program, applicants must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a residential or non-residential customer of the City of Richmond Department of Public Utilities with active utility service;
  • Have experienced/been impacted by an economic hardship due to COVID-19;
  • Have fallen behind on their City water, wastewater, or natural gas utility* bill for services from March 1, 2020, through November 1, 2021;
  • Have not received any other forms of relief or financial assistance for their City utility services. However, previous CARES Act utility relief recipients are eligible to reapply within the extended service period defined above.

Funds are limited and applications will be processed on a first-come, first-served basis. Eligible customers are encouraged to apply immediately. More information, including the application, is available at Customers may also request an application via email to [email protected] or pick one up at any of the following locations:

  • City Hall | 900 E. Broad Street, Room 115
  • East District Initiative | 701 N. 25th Street
  • Southside Community Services Center | 4100 Hull Street
  • All Richmond Public Libraries



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