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Virginia Senator honored by Sierra Club in ceremony near EMU’s array of solar panels

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A local Republican state senator has received an award from what some may see as an unlikely source.

Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, was awarded a Legislative Leadership Award by the Sierra Club environmental group on Monday at Eastern Mennonite University.

The award, along with a book of nature photographs, was presented for Hanger’s work on Senate Bill 418, which “eradicate[d] a major tax barrier to solar energy,” according to the group’s announcement.

The bill extended tax exemptions to solar panels so that the equipment cannot be taxed by local governments as “machinery and tools.”

Solar energy equipment is now classified as “pollution control equipment” and exempt from local taxation. The bill was signed into law in March.

Republicans and environmental groups often butt heads over issues ranging from land conservation to funding for alternative sources of energy.

Hanger was honored on the balcony of EMU’s Campus Center building, overlooking the solar panels adorning the roof of Hartzler Library. The panels, installed in 2010, are operated by Staunton-based solar development company Secure Futures.

Tony Smith

Business professor Tony Smith answers questions from community members about EMU’s solar array, visible behind him on the library roof.

Tony Smith, founder of Secure Futures and professor of business and economics at EMU, said Monday night that solar power is the “fastest-growing industry in the United States.”

Smith said Hanger’s legislation will help support that growth.

“It’s important to align yourself with a very seasoned and very professional legislator … who can work on both sides of the aisle,” Smith said.

On receiving his award – made out of recycled glass – Hanger said human beings could be resistant to change, but need to be able to adapt.

Hanger noted the importance of coal to Virginia’s history, but said the state has survived similar changes in the past.

“There was life after tobacco,” he said, referring to a former top industry that has declined.

Several of the Sierra Club’s members thanked Hanger for his work and remarked on his “courage” in working with them.

The Sierra Club claims to be the “nation’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization.”

During the 2012 election cycle, the Sierra Club political action committee contributed more than $456,000 to congressional candidates nationwide – 99 percent of which went to Democratic candidates, according to the campaign finance tracking website OpenSecrets.org.

The remaining 1 percent went to independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who has described himself as a “democratic socialist.”

In 2013, the state chapter of the Sierra Club spent more than $468,000 in support of Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s successful gubernatorial campaign, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, which tracks campaign funds for state elections.

Waving off concerns that some in his party might be upset with him working with the environmental group, Hanger said that the bill removes an impediment to business.

“I see it as leveling the playing field,” he said.

In addition to Hanger, eight other Legislative Leadership awards were given out this year by the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club: four to Republicans and four to Democrats, according to an April press release from the group.

Courtesy of the Daily News Record, July 21, 2014.

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