Making it easier for municipal bodies heno address issues caused by environmental change
By Jesse Granger, VCPC correspondent
“I wanted to get my hands into environmental policy this summer because I’m concerned about climate change,” says Peter Quinn-Jacobs, a William & Mary Law and Policy student who has been doing research with the Virginia Coastal Policy Center (VCPC) for the past three months. “I want to do what I can while I’m in school to help [Virginia] move forward and prepare us on all fronts for the changes that we can expect.”
Over the summer Quinn-Jacobs has been involved in a joint project with VCPC, the Virginia institute for Marine Science (VIMS), Virginia Sea Grant, and a handful of other organizations, to put together a website he calls The Portal.
“The Portal will be a resource to local governments that are looking to improve or find new adaptation strategies for recurrent flooding and other climate change strategies that are happening in Virginia,” Quinn-Jacobs says.
The Portal will include scientific information regarding recurrent flooding and predicted climate change occurring across the Virginia coast, in addition to compiling existing information about the strategies and policies different localities have adopted to help combat climate change.
“What we’re doing is looking for policy changes or strategies that localities can implement that can help mitigate some of the costs of climate change, or help them assess and prevent the hazards,” adds Quinn-Jacobs.
Quinn-Jacobs has been looking for authorities in the Virginia code that allow localities to implement adaptation strategies. He’s also surveying the ordinances and county codes that localities all along the coast of Virginia have already put in place to prepare for the effects of climate change.
“The research I’ve put together so far is figuring out what laws localities have already put in place, and what laws could be put in place, and then anticipating what some of the legal hurdles and practical concerns with implementing those might be,” notes Quinn-Jacobs. “So that meant I spent a whole lot of my summer browsing through codes.”
The work that Quinn-Jacobs is doing is important to make it easier for localities to pass ordinances—laws that are enacted by municipal bodies—to fix issues caused by environmental changes.
Quinn-Jacobs explained that, because Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, localities don’t have as much power to pass new ordinances without state approval. Localities in Virginia can only pass ones grounded by authority in the state code. “In other states like Oregon or New York, their localities can pass ordinances without explicit approval of the state.” But in Virginia, if a group would like to do something that isn’t already authorized by the state, it has to convince the entire state legislature, “And those are not easily moved,” adds Quinn-Jacobs
With the data Quinn-Jacobs is collecting, it should become easier for localities to gain access to the information they need to instigate effective ordinances. For example, if Dinwiddie County sees that Richmond County passed an ordinance that survived some sort of legal challenge, then they’re going to be much more comfortable doing something like that themselves. “And that’s hopefully a big part of what The Portal is going to offer places,” he adds.
Over the next semester, Quinn-Jacobs will continue to work on The Portal. He wants to encourage localities to collaborate on their adaptation strategies.
“I hope to find examples of localities that have used new legal strategies to deal with climate change,” says Quinn-Jacobs. “Then I can put a description of how this strategy works on the site, and anyone will be able to check out the localities that have already implemented it, and see what they did, what ordinances they passed, and the metrics they used to measure it, and assess how effective it was.”
This policy information is an important part of the over-all Portal project to help combat climate change along Virginia’s coast.
An extension partner of Virginia Sea Grant, VCPC at William & Mary Law School provides policy and legal analysis to its partners on coastal resource and community issues in its mission to educate and train the future lawyers and leaders of tomorrow.