Virginia Senator Petersen on Sustainability

As the Virginia legislature enters its 2012 session, Inform turned to Senator J. Chapman Petersen, a democrat who represents Northern Virginia and is an ardent supporter of planned, sustainable growth in the commonwealth. Here are his responses to a handful of questions related to resource management in Virginia.

Inform: How will the issues of sustainability–water management, energy conservation, local resourcing of building materials, and technology development, for instance–drive Virginia forward for all Virginians?

Sen. Petersen: Sustainability is going to be one of the key issues as we transition from traditional development to future development. LEED standards are a great way for buildings to have a smaller impact on our society, both by saving us money by increasing efficiency as well as recycling materials for reuse. I was pleased to have my LEED buildings standards bill (SB160) pass the Senate this year, hopefully after the House of Delegates hears it, it will become law.

As for locally sourced building materials, we have a plethora of great developments right here in Virginia. Our timber industry is strong and those trees should be manufactured into planks and boards here in Virginia rather than shipping the whole trees to China and then back as finished materials. Globalization has brought incredible changes to our world, but sustainability often has not been one of them. I think one of the big changes in the coming years will be a pushback on far-reaching shipping as local materials become more competitive and consumers demand great Virginia wood and stone.

Inform: Does the military drawback from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have a negative impact or is there a positive side?

Sen. Petersen: Obviously we are all pleased that our veterans will be coming home to their families. One of the most important things that we can do for our veterans is help them find stability and jobs. Some of them will continue their work with the military, but many of them will need jobs. I am happy to have co-patroned several bills this session and last that deal with licensing and education for veterans here in Virginia. As ours is one of the most important states for the military, we need to make sure it is one of the most accommodating for our veterans.

Inform: Possibly connected to that: Is there a strategy that you see for accelerating the transportation infrastructure (mass transit and highways, both) in Virginia?

Sen. Petersen: One of the biggest problems we have in regards to transportation is funding. The existing revenues are stagnant or decreasing. As citizens drive more efficient vehicles and drive fewer miles the gas tax revenues are never going to increase. All the while, our existing transportation infrastructure has become derelict and is in need of replacement or maintenance. That’s why I Introduced SB162 which will index the gas tax to increases in vehicle mileage. As a net revenue, we won’t pay any more to the state than in 2007, but we will have much more money to fund these necessary transportation projects.

As for transit, successful transit development often starts at a local level. Streetcars have been very successful in Norfolk, and soon we will be seeing streetcars along the Columbia corridor in Northern Virginia. Metro, despite its problems, serves millions of commuters who would completely clog our roadways if they commuted by car. Transit buses are a low impact (construction and land use) option that we can use to increase transit mobility by connecting nodes. Finally, transit is an important need for seniors and those with disabilities. As our nation grows older, we are going to need to have transit that allows those who cannot drive to continue to be active, mobile, and a part of our community.

Inform: How is the commonwealth positioned to meet what looks to be a growing economy in the next five years?

Sen. Petersen: As our economy continues its recovery, we will have to make changes to the budget to recover services that we had to trim during the recession. The commonwealth is positioned well: we fell less that other states, and we started our recovery faster. This, along with Virginia being the best state in the nation to do business, will jumpstart our economy and give us a head start for growth.

Right now, economic forecasts for Virginia are excellent in the next five years, and although many people have been hit hard by this recession, I am optimistic about the future prosperity of the commonwealth.

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