Stories in Delaware

Legislative Priorities: Leading Delaware Forward

Together we can advocate for a greener future for Delaware's environment and communities.

Dramatic view of the Delaware state capitol building. White clouds hang low over the colonial style state house that features a tall spire rising above the front entrance.
First State The capitol building in downtown Dover, Delaware. © traveler1116 / iStock

TNC Delaware is committed to creating a world where people and nature thrive. We apply the best available science to protect and restore our lands and waters. And working together, we can advocate for policies that address the causes and impacts of climate change, help our cities become more sustainable and create opportunities for people to connect with nature.

This work has never been more urgent. 

Spawning horseshoe crabs gather on the beach to lay eggs at the Milford Neck Preserve.
Horseshoe Crabs Spawning horseshoe crabs gather on the beach to lay eggs at the Milford Neck Preserve. © The Nature Conservancy/Katherine Marro

Climate change is already impacting the First State and years of aggressive development means we are losing our vital natural resources. We are feeling the impacts of increased flooding, more frequent and severe rain events and rising temperatures. These growing challenges are stressing infrastructure, threatening human and natural communities and overburdening our local governments. We must work together to build more capacity, strengthen coordination, support undeserved communities and increase available resources to fund programs and projects that build resilience.

In Delaware, our public policy goals include:

  • Tackling climate change
  • Protecting land and water
  • Providing food and water sustainability
  • Building healthy cities

We are also challenging ourselves with a renewed commitment to diversity, equity, including and justice (DEIJ). All of our public policy work will have a DEIJ framework that not only seeks to protect and serve nature, but to protect and serve people.

Advocacy Agenda: Conversations with Delaware's Leaders

Each month we will feature a new environmental policy leader or issue in the First State. With support from our volunteers and friends, advocacy to protect the Earth—and Delaware—is an important part of what we do.

October 2022: TNC Delaware's Director of Oceans & Coasts, Will Helt

Will Helt Headshot.
Will Helt TNC Delaware Director of Oceans and Coasts © Courtesy of Will Helt

With a Master’s degree in Marine Science, Will has extensive experience in managing coastal restoration and monitoring projects, from oyster reef creation to green stormwater infrastructure. Will leads a multi-disciplinary team of scientists and practitioners focused on implementing science-based strategies to improve the climate resilience of coastal habitats and natural communities along the Delaware Bayshore while incorporating natural infrastructure solutions that help human communities adapt to the impacts of sea-level rise and facilitate marsh migration.  

 

What got you interested in oceans and coasts work?

Growing up in southern Louisiana, I began to see firsthand the productivity of coastal habitats along with their vulnerability. Between witnessing the damage from hurricanes to my own neighborhood and the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill’s destruction of Louisiana’s coast, I grew interested in better understanding the value of this space where rivers meet the sea. As “nurseries of the sea” the conservation of these estuaries is essential for healthy systems, from oceans to coastal communities. Delaware is a wonderful example of these nurseries with its miles of coasts and some of the most important coastal habitats in the region.

How does sea level rise impact Delaware?

At the risk of sounding sensationalist, I view sea level rise as an existential threat to Delaware’s coast and tidal rivers. According to DE’s Dept. of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, sea levels will rise between nine and twenty-three inches by 2050 and up to five feet by 2100. Not only will the changing sea level alter coastal habitats that are critical for important species including red knots and horseshoe crabs, it will also put already vulnerable communities at greater risk. For example, it is estimated that nearly 7,000 DE residents could lose their homes to flooding resulting from climate change.

What are The Nature Conservancy's priorities to address climate change?

TNC is working to tackle climate change at two levels, addressing the cause and the impact through mitigation and adaptation. Climate change mitigation is accomplished by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and pursuing policies that prioritize clean energy. Our climate adaptation work uses nature as a tool to increase the resilience of critical habitats and communities. There is no one-size-fits-all approach; adaptations must be tailored to the needs of a community and nature. As sea levels rise and storms become more frequent and intense, we aim to ensure important coastal habitats persist and residents are protected from disasters.

How are coastal marshes impacted by sea level rise and why is TNC prioritizing them? 

We know that as sea levels rise, freshwater marshes are threatened and saltwater marshes will move inland. TNC's goal is to help facilitate the inland migration of coastal habitats as sea levels rise, because these habitats, such as salt marshes, provide numerous ecosystem services and benefits to human communities, like as water filtration, habitat for important migratory birds and fishes, and protection from storm surge. To accomplish this goal we will use a combination of nature-based solutions to address saltwater inundation and conserve adjacent lands.

TNC is working to increase its diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ) work. How do you see the connection between DEIJ work and the oceans and coasts program?

Generally, negative environmental impacts disproportionately affect already vulnerable and marginalized populations,  and climate change will only exacerbate this disparity. TNC’s work along Delaware’s Bayshore is committed to ensuring socially vulnerable coastal communities’ concerns are equitably heard and prioritizing nature-based solutions that most benefit these groups.

September 2022: Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed Director, Kelly Knutson

Kelly Knutson Headshot.
Kelly Knutson Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed Director

Kelly Knutson, Director of the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed (CDRW), lead on federal policy, strategic vision, and diverse partnerships throughout the four basin states. Kelly joined the Coalition in April of 2019 as State Policy Manager and transitioned to the role of Director in September 2021.  

Trained as a biologist, Kelly has spent his professional career advancing science-based policies to stakeholders, communities, and lawmakers to ensure that evidence-driven solutions are at the foundation of constituent advocacy and legislative strategy. 

What is the Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed?

The Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed is a network of more than 175 organizations– including The Nature Conservancy in Delaware–all dedicated to protecting the natural resources within the Delaware River Basin. Our Coalition members range from small groups on the front lines of water protection to national advocacy organizations. CDRW adds value to our members through advocacy support, communications assistance, information sharing, and networking opportunities. We leverage the strength and power of our members as one voice to inform and educate decision-makers throughout the watershed.

What’s unique about CDRW is that we’re member driven, so every year we determine the Coalition’s priorities on both the state and federal level alongside other organizations in the Basin. Together, our members focus on policies that span to other areas of restoration funding, like the Land Water Conservation Fund and Partnership Wild and Scenic Rivers; to areas that focus on drinking water, like PFAS, the Clean Water Act, and Infrastructure funding; to also combating the climate crisis and helping to develop a workforce of conservation leaders through the next generation.

Why is the Delaware River Watershed important? How does it touch peoples’ lives every day?

The Delaware begins in the Catskill Mountains, flows south through Trenton and Philadelphia, and eventually reaches the Atlantic Ocean. The watershed is incredibly diverse from the cold streams of the Upper Delaware known for its excellent trout fishing to bustling cityscapes and all the way to the Bay area, all supporting a unique blend of communities and landscapes.

The Delaware River is one of the Mid-Atlantic’s most important and unique natural resources. Flowing through four states (NY, NJ, PA, DE), the river supplies drinking water to more than 13.3 million people. The Delaware supports the second largest population of migrating shorebirds in North America and provides habitat for over 200 fish species, including the endangered Atlantic sturgeon. It’s also home to the largest population of American horseshoe crabs in the country.

The watershed is also the lifeblood of this region, providing over 21 billion in ecosystem services annually. The river and its tributaries flow through nearly a dozen National Parks and historic sites, providing world-class recreational opportunities.

Any observations on celebrating the anniversary?

The Coalition is thrilled to be celebrating a decade of impact in the Delaware River Watershed! Much has changed in 10 years, but one thing remains the same - uniting organizations to advocate for a healthier watershed. In 2012, the Coalition was formed with the mission to obtain national and federal recognition for the Delaware River Watershed. In 2016, Congress affirmed the importance of protecting the natural resources of the watershed when it passed the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act. Since the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program (DRBRP) received its first congressional appropriation in FY 2018, the program has supported 123 projects across the watershed by providing $26.6 million in federal grants and leveraging an additional $46 million in non-federal funds.

The Coalition continues to work to successful implementation of this program, as well as lead in other policy issues affecting the watershed, promote watershed-wide planning and collaboration, and advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice to ensure that all communities share equitably in the benefits of clean water. As a result of the Coalition’s work with partners and stakeholders, we are undoubtedly paving a path toward cleaner waterways, restored habitat, healthier and protected wildlife, added outdoor recreation and access opportunities, and a more inclusive and equitable place to live, work, and play. We look forward to the next ten years and beyond for the impact the Coalition will have on the Delaware River Watershed for both its human and wildlife residents. Without our 175+ partners, like TNC, the successes of the Coalition would not have been achieved. It is the dedication of our members that will drive this work forward for the many years to come.

August 2022: New Castle County Land Use Director, Rich Hall 

Rich Hall headshot.
Rich Hall New Castle County Land Use Director © Courtesy of Rich Hall

Rich Hall is the New Castle County Land Use Director, a position he has held since 2017.  Hall has held several senior positions over his 30-year career as a professional planner, including as State of Maryland Planning Secretary. His experience includes state and local comprehensive planning, analysis, legislation, management, policy development, program implementation and citizen engagement.  Special topics of interest include smart growth, watershed planning, land preservation planning, housing, economic and community development, and other land use management issues.  

What is the New Castle County Comp Plan? How does it influence NCCo Land Use decisions in the future? 

The Comprehensive Plan (NCC2050) is a blueprint for the county’s future—30 years. It is the greenest plan the county has had. The plan drives land use policy related to zoning, infrastructure, preservation and other growth issues. We examine current and projected landscape and zoning conditions to develop recommendations and strategies for issues ranging from housing to land preservation; addressing climate change to economic development; environmental and social justice; transportation to environmental protection. All of this was done with significant community engagement over the past two years. While the plan is locally focused, we are required by state law to update it at least once every 10 years.  

How does the Comp Plan protect the environment and preserve open spaces and bio-habitats? 

The plan makes many specific recommendations and provides strategies for increasing open space and strengthening environmental protections. Building on our GreeNCC initiatives, the plan establishes a land preservation goal to add more than 7,000 acres of preserved land. The plan also recommends adding Critical Natural Areas to our Resource Preservation Future Land Use Map category. In addition, it seeks to explore these areas for additional protection. Stream protection and restoration are also mentioned in the plan for further work. By managing growth, the environment will be better protected from sprawl where development and infrastructure are spread out across the landscape. We also emphasize initiatives to better green our existing built environments. 

How does the comp plan address climate change? Environmental justice issues?

Climate change and environmental justice are two priorities of the plan. The plan contains maps of areas subject to sea level rise and areas vulnerable to storms. It also calls for more land preservation and greening. Environmental justice recommendations include better buffering and consideration of the proximity of residential communities to heavy industrial areas. The plan also calls for housing affordability and equitable economic opportunities for all communities, along with improved coordination and planning of services such as parks, infrastructure and transportation.  

What can the public do to become engaged and help their voices be heard?

At the time of writing, we are about to present the draft comprehensive plan to New Castle County Council for adoption. If approved, we look forward to beginning implementation in the fall. We encourage the public to engage in plan implementation. We will need their help! There are recommendations for creating teams of stakeholders to help implement key topics of the plan, including sustainability and the environment. The implementation chapter includes measures of progress to help track our efforts. We want people to use this plan and not put it on a shelf. To learn more about NCC2050, please visit our website. Upon plan adoption, this site will be updated to be a resource for those wanting information or to engage, and it will provide a status of plan implementation. We also encourage residents to communicate with County Council about these issues.  

Protecting and enjoying the county’s environment is important in urban, suburban and rural areas. Everyone deserves a clean, safe and assessable environment. NCC2050 includes recommendations and strategies to help obtain this vision.   

Interview Archive

  • July 2022: State Representative Kendra L. Johnson

    Representative Kendra L. Johnson has dedicated her entire career to serving individuals living with disadvantages and life challenges. Kendra earned a master’s degree in human services from Lincoln University. She is chair of the Delaware Black Caucus and co-prime sponsor of House Bill 466, the Healthy Communities and Environmental Justice Act. In addition to her work as a State Representative, Kendra is currently serving as Director of Community Relations for Conexio Care and CORAS Wellness & Behavioral Health, one of Delaware’s largest providers of human services supports. Kendra was elected in 2018 to represent the 5th district in Delaware.

    What do you see as the most important environmental challenge facing Delaware? 

    I’ve never ranked environmental challenges because when I think about air and water, the only thing that comes to mind is basic human rights. I don’t think one is bigger than the other. Honestly, we need quality air and water to survive. I believe everything is interconnected and so there is an urgency to address all aspects of our environment from the air, to water, to the soil, to climate change, and everything related. You have to look at the environment and challenges holistically if you really want to make a difference with the world that our parents grew up in. We want to do better because now we know better. 

    What is the cumulative impacts bill? 

    House Bill 466 is about healthy communities and would put a permitting process in place for new and existing industries that want to expand in already overburdened communities. In addition to the permit process, the state would require a more extensive review of plans and seeking the input of the potentially impacted community. Essentially, the goal is to have checks and balances as it relates to overburdened communities. Some of these industries and facilities are listed in the bill and a newly created Environmental Justice board would make recommendations on what additional industries should be added.

    How does it help Delaware’s overburdened communities? 

    While we can’t do anything about the environmental harm that has already happened, what we can do is create systems to ensure that these hazards don’t continue to harm people today and also protect future generations, particularly disadvantaged people who are the most likely to live in neighborhoods closer to environmental pollutants. We may not be able to stop already existing cancers but we can take steps toward a healthier environment and preventative measures for others. 

    How do you recommend people get involved and make their voices heard in the legislative process? 

    First thing I would suggest is to connect with your state representative and your senator. Secondly, stay on top of the cumulative impacts bill by following it through as it moves along. You can even participate in public hearings and let other people know how important it is to you and your family. Finally, stay engaged every step of the way by sending emails and making phone calls.

  • June 2022: Report from Legislative Hall—First Annual Conservation Day

    Open space and conserved land are a precious thing in Delaware, and the clock is ticking on our ability to protect our natural world. Conserved open spaces also contribute to fighting climate change, preserving our rich natural heritage, helping our economy and offering mental and physical health benefits. To celebrate land conservation and seek an increase in state open space funding investments, the Delaware Land Protection Coalition (DLPC) hosted the first ever Conservation Day in Legislative Hall on May 11, 2022. 

    Organized by TNC, Center for the Inland Bays and other members of the DLPC, Conservation Day included meetings with the Governor’s office, Lt. Governor Bethany Hall-Long and General Assembly members. The purpose of Conservation Day is an increase of $15 million in the Annual State Bond Bill for a total of $25 million to the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) for open space investments.  

    The benefits of preserving open space are many: 

    • Helps to address climate change by capturing carbon through forest conservation, and alleviating flooding caused by increased rainfall and storms. In the U.S., forests capture and store almost 15% of the carbon dioxide emissions every year—equivalent to annual emissions of 165 million cars. And for every $1 invested in land protection there is a $5 return in reduced flooding impacts. Preserving open space was also suggested as one of many remedies to address climate change in the recent DNREC Climate Change Action Plan.  
    • Provides enormous economic benefits for a state known as an outdoor recreation and retirement destination. Delaware’s tourism industry contributes $3.5 billion to the economy and much of that industry is linked to outdoor experiences. Delaware has also become a retirement destination of choice for out-of-state retirees, and while our low taxes are an important factor, the quality of life and easy access to natural resources is another important driver to attract and retain this important tax base for the state.   
    • Protects water quality by offering natural filtration systems and reducing contamination caused by stormwater runoff.   
    • Supports mental and physical health. Research has connected green spaces and outdoor recreation to a variety of health benefits, including greater relaxation and physical activities opportunities. The value of open space is also critical component of the State’s public health infrastructure which was crystalized by the 72% increase in State Park visitation realized during the first year of the pandemic. The brain and body need the outdoors to thrive. 

    The Conservation Day message was well received in Dover but there is more work to do—and we need your help. The General Assembly will vote in the end of June about the final amount to be spent on open space. 

    You can help by contacting your legislator to ask for an increase in state open space funding.  

    Use the Delaware General Assembly search page to find your legislator.  Type your address in the box and click enter. The contact information for your state senator and house representative will appear on the right, including their email address. Make your voice heard to help protect our natural world!  

    Delaware Land Protection Coalition members include Delaware Center for Inland Bays, Delaware Wild Lands, The Nature Conservancy, Kent County Conservancy, League of Women Voters of Delaware, Ducks Unlimited, Delaware Nature Society, Sussex County Land Trust, Preservation Delaware, Native Species Council, Sussex 2030, Land Trust Alliance, and representatives from New Castle County and Kent County. Contact Emily Knearl to learn how you can take part during the Second Annual Conservation Day in Spring 2023. 

  • May 2022: Lori Brennan Executive Director of TNC in PA & DE

    The Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act (IIJA) offers incredible opportunities for Delaware. TNC has convened a group of strategic partners to develop communications on the IIJA, brainstorm about strategies to help the funding hit the streets and develop recommendations on how the funding can be spent to build climate resiliency and increase clean water and energy opportunities.

    The following editorial by Lori Brennan, executive director of TNC's Pennsylvania/Delaware Chapter, ran in the News Journal in March 2022.

    In late 2021, Congress passed the bipartisan, once-in-a-generation Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act (IIJA). The new law is the largest federal investment ever to prepare the U.S. for the environmental and economic impacts of a changing climate. 

    With the leadership of Delaware Senator Tom Carper’s Environment and Public Works Committee, the goal of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is to rebuild America’s roads, bridges and rails, create new clean energy opportunities, expand access to clean drinking water, address the climate crisis and invest in communities that have too often been left behind. The legislation, too, provides investments to create new technology to carbon capture, the largest single greenhouse gas contributor to climate change. 

    The IIJA is a combination of new programs and increased investments in existing programs. In Delaware funding recipients could include state and local government agencies, universities, private businesses, tribal groups and nonprofit organizations. While the IIJA benefits reach far beyond environmental issues—such as new investment in internet broadband access—TNC supported the legislation due to its emphasis on climate resiliency, mitigation and adaption including investments to:

    • Protect coastal communities and enhance natural infrastructure and habitat for fish and wildlife
    • Increase technical assistance and grants to advance projects that help address wetlands restoration, promote environmental restoration, and reduce coastal hazards and marine debris
    • Build a national network of electric vehicle chargers (EV) and start to facilitate less reliance on gas-powered vehicles
    • Expand funding for clean drinking water with a focus on underserved communities
    • Create more multi-modal transportation options, including bike paths and trails
    • Increase funding to help states and cities recover from extreme weather events
    • Support solar and wind power projects to help build new clean energy infrastructure
    • Expand and create new carbon capture programs and technology
    • Clean up legacy pollution at Superfund and brownfields sites, and offer technical assistance to help businesses reduce or eliminate pollutants
    • Implement and manage energy efficiency and conservation projects and programs in the transportation, building, and other sectors.
    • Improve the effectiveness and reach of recycling programs to grow usage
    • Update aging federal, state and local infrastructure to deal with more extreme weather events

    And there is much more good work contemplated by the legislation that does not touch the environmental realm. There is also much work to do to bring this funding to Delaware and connect it with the local governments, nonprofits, businesses, schools and universities that need it. 

    Delaware has already done the important first step by deciding to coordinate this work out of Governor Carney’s office. But none of this would have been possible without the work of the Delaware delegation; thank you to Senator Carper, Senator Coons and Congresswoman Blunt Rochester.  

  • April 2022: State Representative Larry Lambert

    A lifelong resident of the 7th State House District (Claymont), Representative Larry Lambert was first elected to the General Assembly in 2020. Larry has been active on environmental issues for many years, with a particular focus on environmental justice. He chairs the General Assembly Justice40 Oversight Committee created by House Concurrent Resolution 40

    WHAT IS THE JUSTICE40 INITIATIVE NATIONALLY? HOW DID IT START IN THE WHITE HOUSE?

    The Justice40 Initiative was created by the Biden Administration through Executive Order (EO) 14008, Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad. The Justice40 Initiative is a whole-of-government effort that requires that disadvantaged communities receive at least 40% of all benefits from federally funded projects related to renewable and clean energy, pollution reduction and protection against climate change. Through the initiative, 21 programs were identified as key locations for investment in order to address the years of little to no investment in some of these key communities. 

    WHAT IS JUSTICE40 IN DELAWARE? WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR DELAWAREANS?

    In Delaware, Justice40 means that we are starting the process to amend the damage that decades of red lining, climate change, pollution and more have done to our communities across the state. Many in our state are familiar with the pollution that has severely impacted the health of residents along the Route 9 corridor of New Castle County and Indian River of Sussex County. It was not until recently that state and federal agencies began to work with the environmental justice communities along this corridor to seek to repair the damages and invest in these communities. The purpose of our Justice40 Oversight Committee is to identify overburdened communities up and down the state, like the Route 9 corridor, that haven’t received the help and investment they need.

    HOW WILL JUSTICE40 HELP THE ENVIRONMENT?

    Justice40 will help the environment by putting a spotlight on areas where environmental damage continues to worsen and has not been effectively repaired. While we have made great strides in our state in dealing with some of the severe environmental damage that has happened over the last 100 years, there are many opportunities for improvement for our state and federal government. Justice40 will help the environment by giving a voice to the voiceless; those who have not been listened to about the environmental damages their communities face. Justice40’s goal is to work with the state and federal government to make sure investment benefits go into these communities to begin to repair already existing damage and to stop ongoing environmental damage.

    The next steps for Justice40 is for our Justice40 Oversight Committee to complete and issue a report to state and federal agencies on where the communities that are disproportionately affected are, and what we ought to invest in to help them. We hold committee meetings roughly every 6-8 weeks, including three listening sessions last fall, across all three of Delaware’s counties. We intend to hold another round of listening sessions in the summer, but that timing is to be determined. All of our meetings are publicly posted on the Delaware Justice40 landing page. Please note, our report will not be the end of Justice40 in Delaware. We will absolutely continue the work that has begun either through regulation and/or legislation to make sure that these communities are not abandoned and that their voices will continue to be heard.

  • March 2022: New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer

    First elected County Executive in 2016, Matt Meyer has made the environment central to the county’s agenda. New Castle County makes important decisions on land use planning, zoning, conservation and public works; it is one of the largest landowners in the state.

    A key policy focus for the county is GreeNCC agenda, aimed at addressing climate change, preserving open space, creating bikeable walkable trails and promoting clean water. In his spare time, you can often find Matt riding his single speed bike on pathways in New Castle County.

    What are the biggest environmental challenges facing the county?

    Climate change is the greatest challenge facing our county and our planet. We take seriously our responsibility to help reduce carbon emissions in our communities. We also work to empower the many Delawareans concerned about climate change who want to act. We are always working to provide our residents tools to take specific local action to address climate changes in our communities, whether through planting and purchasing native species, our rain barrel program or reforestation partnerships.

    In addition, we face other pressing environmental challenges in New Castle County, including environmental justice in overburdened communities, water quality of our streams and rivers, retaining and increasing forests, greening our communities, land preservation, clean energy, and strong land use policy. Improving community education and engagement on these issues is both a challenge and a necessary part of the solution to overcome these challenges.

    What are the county's environmental accomplishments?

    Coming into office I realized the County had done little to improve its environmental policies for decades. For a county of 570,000 people in the Mid-Atlantic Region, we were behind. My administration created the GreeNCC initiative to prioritize policy, legislation, and administrative actions to protect and improve our environment. Specific actions include:

    • Announcing the most ambitious plan to build walkable, bikeable pathways of any local government in state history
    • Limiting the landfill expansion
    • Strengthening our forest conservation requirements in the Unified Development Code (UDC)
    • Adding solar energy provisions to the UDC
    • Collaborating with Energize Delaware on the C-PACE program, which incentivizes commercial properties to reduce their carbon footprint
    • Limiting sprawl development on septic systems that degrade water quality and consume rural land
    • Updating and upgrading our land preservation program
    • Improving our wastewater treatment system
    • Reducing the number of dangerous sanitary sewer overflows in the state’s largest wastewater system to historic lows
    • Engaging citizens through tree plantings, clean streams, and Earth Day events
    • Promoting native species
    • Electrifying our vehicle fleet and installing charging stations
    • Better managing growth through NCC2050—the new comprehensive plan
    • Improving water quality and flood protection by strengthening our stormwater rules
    • Continuing the reforestation of Middle Run Valley, planting more than 55,000 trees to date
    • Distributing more than 1,000 rain barrels to county residents

    What is NCC2050 and its key points to protect the environment?

    NCC2050 is our new comprehensive plan that will guide how our county will grow and change over the next 30 years. It is the culmination of 2 years of conversations with the community about what we want for the future of our county. The draft plan includes increased emphasis sustainability, land conservation, climate change, hazard mitigation, better directing growth, and environmental and social justice. 

    What are the County Executives environmental priorities?

    My environmental priorities are preserving farmland and open space, protecting our forests and natural habitats, improving water quality, promoting environmental equity, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions through renewable power, electric vehicles, and building efficiencies. We need to rethink transportation through an environmental lens. The challenges, both globally and locally are immense, but there is more opportunity today, and more assistance than ever from our federal government, to make dramatic positive change right here in New Castle County.

    I also believe social and environmental justice are a critical component to progress. Just as the environment is an interconnected system of many things, so must our approach be to improving it. One initiative alone isn’t going to cut it. We have formed and strengthened partnerships with a range of stakeholders. This comprehensive, team approach is essential to protect the environment for ourselves and future generations.  

    Visit nccde.org to learn more about New Castle County government.

  • February 2022: General Assembly Preview

    The Delaware General Assembly returned to session in January 2022 and there is much work to do, including increasing funding for open space, fighting climate change, reducing pollutants in water and air and further ensuring that—in an era of rising waters and more extreme weather events—state infrastructure has the funding upgrades it needs.

    We, too, will laser focus on efforts that support diversity, equity, inclusion and justice in the environment consistent with TNC’s goal to help build a future where people and nature thrive. Over the coming months, you will hear more about our advocacy work; our February focus is on open space and infrastructure funding.

    Delaware Land Preservation Coalition: $25 million in new state open space funds

    Conserving open spaces protects our natural, cultural, historical and recreational resources and helps mitigate climate change through carbon absorption. Organized by the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays (CIB), the Delaware Land Protection Coalition (DLPC) is a group of conservation-focused organizations advocating for $25 million in state open space funds.

    In addition to CIB and TNC, DLPC members include Delaware Wild Lands, Delaware Nature Society, Kent County Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, Sussex County Land Trust, Preservation Delaware, Native Species Council and representatives from New Castle County and Kent County.

    Currently Delaware only appropriates around $10 million each fiscal year for open space, and funding investments can vary depending upon the economic situation. More concerning is the purchasing power of $10 million has significantly decreased due to land values increasing markedly and the intense development pressures in some parts of the state.

    While $10 million dollars was a large investment 20 years ago, this same amount of funding expended today protects significantly less property and, in some cases, might only enable protection of a single property. This problem will only become more challenging as land prices continue to rise.

    Now is the time to act to ask the General Assembly to appropriate $25 million for open space before lands are lost.

    Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA): $1.2 billion in Federal Infrastructure Dollars

    Climate change coupled with an aging infrastructure creates significant stress on the state budget. Fortunately, in a bit of good news, infrastructure funding received a huge boost in late 2021 when Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. TNC chapters across the country, and right here in Delaware, strongly advocated for this legislation. Thank you  to Senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons, and Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester, for their hard work to craft the bill.

    The bill includes funding to address the climate crisis, expand climate resiliency, rebuild roads, bridges and rails, create cleaner transportation, increase access to clean drinking water, advance environmental justice and invest in communities that have too often been left behind.  Delaware is slated to receive $335 million in water system upgrades, $17.7 million for an electronic vehicle charging network, $1.2 billion for highways, and $225 million for bridge replacement and repairs; as well as funding will be available to upgrade power infrastructure and deploy cutting-edge energy technology to achieve a zero-emissions future, plus funding opportunities for coastal resiliency and flooding, among others.

    While significant portions of federal funding will naturally flow to our state government, the bill will also fund extensive local government and nonprofit organization grant programs that require applications to federal agencies. TNC and a group of partners are convening to discuss strategies to increase information sharing across agencies and the capacity to bring federal infrastructure funding to Delaware via these grant programs.

    Would you like to learn more about TNC public policy efforts?  Email Emily Knearl at Emily.Knearl@TNC.org.  Want to sign up to volunteer? Be an advocate for nature!

  • January 2022: State Senator Stephanie Hansen

    State Senator Stephanie Hansen is Chair of the State Senate Environment and Energy Committee. With a master's degree in earth science and former law practice primarily focused on the environment, Hansen represents the 10th Senate District, which includes portions of Newark, Glasgow, Bear, Middletown and other communities along the western side of Southern New Castle County. Elected in a special election in 2017, Hansen is a former New Castle County Council President.

    WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES FOR DELAWARE?

    There are many challenges in Delaware. We have the lowest mean elevation of all U.S. states. We have already experienced a one-foot increase in sea level since 1900 and sea level is predicted to rise an additional 9 to 23 inches by 2050, up to 5 feet by 2100. We should expect to experience more flooding and drainage problems, property and infrastructure damage from extreme weather events, loss of usable land and native species, heat-related and invasive species related-illness for people and animals, and business interruptions.

    There is much we can do but a vital step is decreasing our use of fossil fuel. We must increase our use of renewable energy to minimize our CO2 emissions. This means not only developing new renewable energy sources but having an electric grid system that is capable of delivering that energy to the end users. Having an accessible understanding of our current electric distribution systems, reinforcing and upgrading them where necessary, and planning for additional sources and distribution is paramount and represents a very big challenge today.

    In addition, research from the University of Delaware and elsewhere has shown that we are losing many of our native species of plants, insects, fish, reptiles, and birds in Delaware. This is a problem as our ecosystem is a web in which the loss of some species affects the vitality and health of all. In short, our health as a human species depends upon the health of the species around us. This understanding led to the creation of the Ecological Extinction Task Force in 2017 which identified the causes of this decline as habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, climate change, and the presence of invasive species. The Delaware Native Species Commission was put in place in 2018 by the General Assembly to address this decline and one of the top recommendations was a ban on the sale of invasive plant species. Senate Bill 22 was passed to implement this ban (see below for more discussion), but the Task Force identified 81 recommendations so there is much work to be done.

    WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST ENVIRONMENTAL ACCOMPLISHMENTS YOU HAVE BEEN INVOLVED IN?

    Senate Bill 33, the Renewable Portfolio Standard (or “RPS”) bill, increased the amount of renewable energy required to be generated in Delaware from 25% by 2025 to 40% by 2035. It also provides consumer protection. The cost of renewable energy, whether it is from solar or wind, has been going down for years, and the technology is maturing. But should that cost go up, this bill institutes a freeze that is triggered by rising market conditions. ;

    Senate Bill (SB) 2, Community Solar, removed the roadblocks to community solar projects in and created a regulatory process for the development of these projects through the Public Service Commission and consumer protection through the Department of Justice. Community solar refers to a solar energy generating system that is bigger than a rooftop installation, but not as big as a commercial scale system where you may see hundreds of panels covering many acres.

    SB 2 also provides for the widest range of ownership models to exist and compete in the marketplace. So, for instance, a church or other nonprofit could be the owner of the facility, or government, or a private solar developer, or just a group of neighbors. However, there is an important environmental justice component which requires that any project must include 15% low-income households.  These are the households that otherwise would not be able to take advantage of the lower cost of solar energy because they are more likely not own their homes or have less access to financing personal rooftop solar.

    Beginning in January 2021, I held a series of large Energy and Climate Forums in order to publicly discuss broad energy policy concepts and specific legislation. These virtual public forums have been very popular and attract nearly 200 participants. There have been four forums held so far on the topics of increasing our Renewable Portfolio Standard, Community Solar legislation, Offshore Wind, and the Clean Energy Standard.

    From these large forums, a smaller group of approximately two dozen stakeholders has been identified from government, business, academia, nonprofits, and environmental groups. This Energy Stakeholders Group originally began meeting to discuss and develop the community solar legislation (SB 2 mentioned above) but has continued to meet on broader energy policy issues. All of the meetings are virtual, open to the public, and all documents are publicly available in the Google drive folder.

    Another recent bill, Senate Bill 22, bans the sale, transportation, distribution and propagation of approximately three dozen invasive plants in Delaware and requires plants identified as potentially invasive to be sold with a tag denoting them as such. Invasive plant species are those that did not evolve in this area as part of our food web but were brought in by humans. They are very prolific and displace the native plants upon which 90% of our native insects rely as a food source.

    Research by the U.S. Forest Service and the University of Delaware has found that almost 60% of the plants in our small-forested areas are invasive species that have escaped from nearby yards and landscapes. From high school science we know that a reduction in the number of native plants (food), leads to a reduction in the number of native insects, then fish, reptiles, mammals and so on up the food chain.

    Delaware must also increase its protections of non-tidal wetlands. The prior federal administration’s roll back of EPA regulations protecting nontidal wetlands left more than 10,000 acres of non-tidal wetlands in Delaware unprotected. This is because, unlike many other states, Delaware does not regulate non-tidal wetlands.

    Senate Joint Resolution 2 requires DNREC to engage authoritative federal agencies to identify the administrative structure, legal structure, and resource needs to establish a State nontidal wetlands permitting program effectively shifting the permitting program from the federal to the State level. It also requires a report on the results of this review within one (1) year of enactment.

    WHAT ARE YOUR LEGISLATIVE ENVIRONMENTAL PRIORITIES FOR 2022?

    Energy and Distribution Planning is the key to EV, Solar, Wind, and Battery Expansion. Our ability to realize in-state growth of renewable energy sources, build out our electric vehicle charging infrastructure, accommodate offshore wind energy, effectively utilize battery storage, and address energy equity issues is dependent upon having an electric distribution system capable of delivering the renewable energy to the ultimate end user. This starts with having an accessible understanding of our current electric distribution systems, reinforcing and upgrading those systems where necessary, and planning for additional sources and distribution capacity.

    My top goal for this session is designing a roadmap which will lead to an understanding of the infrastructure that our current utilities have in place today and address planning for expansions, new renewable sources, discrete increased capacities (batteries), EV infrastructure build out, and resiliency. I suspect that legislation may be necessary on more than one element mentioned.

    Energy and Net Metering: If you have solar panels on your roof, the ability to sell excess solar energy back to the grid and receive payment from the utility for that energy is called “net metering”. Under our current law, “if the total generating capacity of all customer-generation using net metering systems served by an electric utility exceeds 5% of the capacity necessary to meet the electric utility’s aggregated customer monthly peak demand for a particular calendar year, the electric utility may elect not to provide net metering services to any additional customer-generators.” 26 Del Code § 1014 (e)(7). Two municipalities, Middletown and Seaford, no longer allow net metering. Within the next year to year-and-a-half, most if not all of the electric utilities in Delaware will meet the 5% threshold and may no longer allow net metering. This would be a tremendous blow to the growth of the solar industry. However, it’s not as simple as just removing the 5% cap because for every 1% increase, approximately $1 million of public program and other costs are spread among the remaining ratepayers. This is a shift that will impact those who are least able to afford an increase in their cost of energy. How to account for these costs in a fair and equitable way is a focus of the current Energy Stakeholders Group and will result in legislation.

    Formalization of Energy Policy Group: In order to continue the collaborative, public and in-depth conversations on our energy policy, problems, and initiatives, I anticipate formalizing the Energy Stakeholders Group as a group recognized in state law with specific membership and reporting requirements.

    Exploration of tax incentives for natural area preservation: In order to encourage landowners to preserve their property which either retains or has reestablished its natural character, or had unusual flora or fauna, or has biotic, geological, scenic or archaeological features of scientific or educational value, I am currently exploring allowing property tax incentives.

    State leading by example regarding native species: Continuing with the implementation of the recommendations of the Ecological Extinction Task Force, this bill will require that only plant species native to the eastern United States be used for landscaping on state-owned property.

    HOW DO YOU RECOMMEND PEOPLE GET INVOLVED IN THE LEGISLATIVE PROCESS TO MAKE THEIR VOICES HEARD?

    First, make sure that you know who represents you in the State House and State Senate. Contacting all legislators about a matter of importance to you may not be as effective as establishing a relationship with the specific State Representative or State Senator that represents your district. Know that one of the first things a legislator does when contacted by someone is determine whether or not that person is their actual constituent.

    Next, determine who the legislators are that chair or are members of the committee(s) which address your interest area. You may also want to reach out to the committee chair and members about your issue as well.

    There are many avenues to contact your legislator, but I find that the most effective from my end is through email. From an email, an in-person discussion (virtual or otherwise) or multi-person meeting can be easily arranged, if necessary. Prior emails can also be accessed as history on the discussion if the issue is one that will continue for some time.

    Contact through social media is popular but can also be problematic as it can be difficult to have an in-depth conversation over social media. If you just want to express your opinion without really engaging in problem-solving, then go for it. But, if the issue that you raise needs to be investigated with others in government, social media is clunky. Bringing others into the discussion is difficult and Facebook is not an effective place for a sustained conversation on policy issue. I often find that when contacted through social media on a matter requiring investigation and a resolution, I need the person to re-contact me through email.

    Direct contact through a phone call or an in-person impromptu discussion at an event is a good first step, but if the issue is more than just expressing your opinion and it isn’t resolved through this initial contact, follow-up with an email. Legislators are typically working on dozens of issues daily, so the content of a phone call or brief discussion may quickly fade unless a writing can be utilized as a reminder.

  • December 2021: State Representative Debra Heffernan

    State House of Representatives House Natural Resources Committee Chair Debra Heffernan represents areas of North Wilmington, the Brandywine Hundred and Bellefonte. 

    A career environmental toxicologist, Heffernan was first elected in 2010. In addition to chairing the State House environmental committee, she has served on the state’s Hazardous Substances Clean Up Act Advisory Committee which is focused on protecting Delawareans from pollutants while making the state greener and more economically viable. Heffernan also chairs the Bond Bill Committee which makes annual capital improvement decisions for the state.

    WHAT ARE YOUR LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES FOR 2022? 

    Our state is currently experiencing a population boom and with it, a huge demand for development. I’ve heard from many Delawareans who are worried that the seemingly never-ending development will ruin our beautiful open spaces and further pollute our air and waterways, but I’m working on a solution that will accommodate Delaware’s growing population while conserving our natural wonders by channeling proposed development to already underutilized spaces which may face some environmental challenges. 

    By transforming our existing brownfields, which are pieces of land that have been seen development and may contain contaminants, into usable property, we can make our environment safer while revitalizing communities. Delaware has a robust brownfield redevelopment program that has proven to be both effective and successful.

    WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES FOR DELAWARE? 

    Delaware is the lowest-lying state in the country, so sea-level rise and water infrastructure issues have always been a huge concern. Having lived in this state for more than 40 years, I’ve seen increasingly severe drainage problems, flooding, and drinking water contamination. 

    My constituents are always bringing water and drainage issues to my attention, and I regularly engage with state agencies to solve these problems through stormwater and infrastructure investments. The flooding and increases in precipitation, though, are not happening independently, they are closely linked to climate change. We cannot only look to the federal government and Congress to address climate.  We must continue to act locally and collectively to address this issue.  

    WHAT LEGISLATIVE ACCOMPLISHMENTS ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF? 

    We’ve made progress on environmental issues, particularly in the area of drinking water the past two years, even though we have much more work to do to protect Delaware’s natural resources and environment.  

    PFAS and PFOS chemicals, also known as “forever chemicals” have long been a problem in Delaware but remain largely unregulated. I sponsored a bill, House Bill 8, that requires the state to set a PFAS standard so that water carriers must address PFAS contamination. While the science is still evolving, these contaminants have been linked to hormone disruption, cancer, liver and kidney damage, developmental and reproductive harm, changes in cholesterol levels, and immune system toxicity.  

    I couldn't discuss environmental progress in Delaware without mentioning Rep. Longhurst’s House Bill 200 The Clean Water for Delaware Act. I was proud to be the lead co-sponsor of this landmark legislation to provide a $50 million investment to rebuild drinking water infrastructure statewide, protect our waterways, address flooding and stormwater management, and provide clean water to vulnerable communities. 

    Invasive plant species are a serious problem in Delaware. They crowd out native species and require more water and chemicals to thrive. Working with State Sen. Stephanie Hansen on Senate Bill 22 and based upon the recommendation of the Delaware Native Species Commission, which I helped found, we banned the sale of the invasive plant species that have been wreaking havoc on our fragile ecosystem.  

    Lastly, we must do more to protect against climate change. As chair of the Bond Bill Committee, I’ve worked with members to make sure we are securing the investments needed to make our infrastructure more resilient to the impacts of rising waters and more aggressive storms. 

    HOW CAN DELAWAREAN’S MAKE THEIR VOICES HEARD IN DOVER? 

    With much of our world still operating in a “hybrid” online and in-person mode, it’s never been easier for citizens to get involved in our legislative process. I’d encourage everyone to tune in or provide public comment at one of our Natural Resource Committee meetings, which are live-streamed through the Delaware General Assembly website usually on Wednesdays when the legislature is in session from January - June. Additionally, many lawmakers are still holding virtual town hall meetings and welcome public participation. You can also follow your local elected officials on social media, where we post regular legislative and community updates. Of course, the best way to make your voice heard is by directly contacting your local representative either by phone or email. 

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