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Cover Story


budget include some minimum funding goals: $20 million for the state’s Storm- water Local Assistance Fund, to help localities reduce urban runoff, and $62 million to help farmers adopt practices to reduce agriculture runoff. The group also wants $10 million for land conservation grant programs. In the longer term, VIRGINIA-


forever has much bigger spending goals. A five-year plan produced last year calls for the state to spend $805 million on water quality improvement, with most of that


money directed to agriculture projects to limit runoff. It also proposes a funding goal of nearly $834 million over five years for land conservation. VIRGINIAforever emphasizes


the economic value of environmental protection, from farming to the indus- tries dependent on water quality in the Chesapeake Bay to outdoor recreation and clean drinking water supplies. Back in the early 2000s when the group began to take shape, Virginia ranked last among states in spending on the environment,


according to the group’s website. One of the group’s strongest allies in


the General Assembly is Republican state Sen. Emmett Hanger, who represents parts of the Shenandoah Valley. Hanger was honored by VIRGINIAforever last September for his support of land and water conservation efforts. During the decade that the group


has existed, there has been less political polarization on issues where environ- mental protections and business goals tend to collide, Hanger says. “I get in trouble sometimes [with] my base, the right wing of the Republican Party; maybe they’re not as quick to try to achieve some consensus or compromise … but the truth is there are a lot of com- mon goals,” he says. Hanger says the next major water quality issues are stormwater manage- ment and dealing with polluted runoff from developed areas. “We’re at a particu- larly sensitive point right now where this group can be helpful with the coalition they’ve put together,” he says. Consensus doesn’t always happen,


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though. “Early on, we were asked to take on air quality, and we couldn’t get agree- ment on it, so we didn’t do it,” Treacy says. “We agree on what we can agree on,” he says, adding that it’s not for a lack of effort. “We’re very serious about what we do; these aren’t just fly-by-night posi- tions. We debate them. It’s a consensus organization, so we all have to be in agreement.” Even in disagreement there are


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benefits, says Bill Street, CEO of the James River Association. “I think it certainly has helped open lines of com- munication and even build enough trust to collaborate. Just being able to identify these are issues we disagree on, and these are things we do agree on” is valuable, he says.


Building consensus may advance


the shared goals of business leaders and environmental advocates, but it’s not eas- ily done, Street says. “It takes more work to be willing to hear and try to under- stand different perspectives, as opposed to just sticking to what you believe and going to battle,” he says. “That’s why it takes having an entity that is really focused on bringing folks together and focusing on that common ground.”


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