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Data center bill dies in Virginia House

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(The Center Square) — A Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee tabled a bill Thursday that would have restricted data centers from being constructed within a half mile of state and national parks statewide.

Just before the committee voted on the bill, its patron, Del. Joshua Thomas, D-Prince William, made an impassioned plea in a last-ditch effort to move it forward — to no avail.

“My district is hurting. We have a community that’s been torn apart by this issue,” Thomas said.

“We just need some relief from the body that is best in a position to provide that from a district that is losing its cultural sites, that is losing precious environmental land and that is getting torn asunder by an industry that is relatively new… and now would be an appropriate time to start putting some sensible guardrails on there.”

Four people testified for the bill, but eight testified against it, representing various organizations.

“This bill specifically targets data center development, while continuing to permit more intensive economic uses, industries and projects that may be located on the same sites. It’s singling out an industry with very little regard to what may come instead,” said Kate Smiley of the Data Center Coalition.

Del. Delores Oates, R-Warren, expressed concern about how the bill might interfere with localities’ autonomy to decide land use issues.

“As drafted, it would provide that limitation on local authority to determine land use for this segment of development,” a staff attorney responded.

The proliferation of data centers is a contentious issue, not just in Prince William County but in many other places across the commonwealth, that the General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission determined in December to conduct a study on them in 2024.

JLARC studies are significant in Virginia. Every couple of years, the Commission “reviews itself,” it found that of the 462 recommendations it made from 2019-22, 312 — or 68% — were implemented through legislative or administrative action.

Unfortunately for Thomas and some senators who also proposed data center legislation, committees have opted not to take action now but to wait for the Commission’s report, which won’t be released until October, maybe even December.

After asking several questions about the legislation and the scope of JLARC’s study, Del. Shelly Simonds, D-Newport News, still motioned to lay the bill on the table.

“I appreciate the loyalty and how you’re stepping up to fight for your community, but we’ve heard a lot of discussion here today and it really seems like we need to do more to try to reach some kind of compromise position. For now, I think we need to gently lay this bill on the table,” Simonds said.

The subcommittee voted 7-0 for the motion.

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