Activists Pressure McAuliffe on Environmental Agenda

gas_pipelineby James A. Bacon

Governor Terry McAuliffe is getting heat from his far left flank for endorsing the construction of natural gas pipelines in Virginia, supporting offshore drilling and supporting Dominion Virginia Power’s plans for disposing of coal ash. While crediting McAuliffe for “small steps” in supporting solar power, energy efficiency and coastline resiliency in the face of rising sea levels, a coalition of mostly left-leaning environmentalists is calling for stronger measures.

“On the biggest, most polluting issues of our time, the Governor simply has not shown he has heard the voices of affected communities or joined the growing statewide call for justice,” states an open letter signed by more than sixty environmental, social justice and property rights groups.

Notably absent from the signatories were mainstream environmental organizations such as the Southern Environmental Law Center, the Sierra Club and the National Resources Defense Council. The mainstream groups support the same positions but have worked within the system by lobbying, filing lawsuits and participating in gubernatorial stakeholder groups. 

The McAuliffe administration responded forcefully with a defense of the governor’s record on clean energy, solar power, water quality and preparing for climate change. “The governor recognizes that clean energy is the lifeblood of the new Virginia economy, and a majority of Virginians support his work to create jobs while protecting the natural resources that are so important to the commonwealth’s quality of life,” spokesman Christina Nuckols told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Arrayed against the environmental and social justice activists are a coalition of manufacturers, chambers of commerce, labor unions and economic development groups that support the pipeline. These groups have been far less active and less visible.

Specifically, the open letter calls for McAuliffe to:

  • Discontinue his support of offshore drilling.
  • Reconsider his support for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline, and use his legal authority to review and challenge water permits under the Clean Water Act.
  • Immediately stop the plans of Dominion Virginia Power and other companies to “dump millions of additional tons of toxic coal ash liquid” into Virginia rivers or to otherwise improperly store the ash.
  • Support strong policy solutions to combat coastal flooding while capping carbon pollution.
  • Commit to a “mass-based” plan under the Clean Power Plan that would set stricter limits on CO2 emissions from electric power plants and “create thousands of new renewable energy jobs.”

Casting itself as a “multi-generational, multi-racial, multi-regional” movement for social change, the group is organizing a “march on the mansion” in Richmond on July 23.

Bacon’s bottom line: As a moderate Democrat, McAuliffe walks a fine line between his number one priority, creating jobs, and supporting environmentalists’ goals. While the mainstream environmental groups push their agenda from the inside — former SELC attorney Angela Navarro now works as Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources, for instance — the activist groups are pushing from the outside.

McAuliffe has supported the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan to curtail CO2 emissions, implicated in global warming, but he has not yet committed to any of the four broad options available to states for meeting the federal goals. The “mass-based” plan favored by environmentalists, critics argue, would cost ratepayers billions of dollars.

The governor also has supported the pipeline projects, arguing that greater use of natural gas would allow Virginia to transition away from coal, reduce CO2 emissions, and compete for industry that uses natural gas as a feedstock or energy source. The pipelines have stirred up a hornet’s nest of opposition among Virginia mountain communities along the route, where people fear, among other things, that construction and operation of the pipelines will cause erosion that releases sediment into streams, rivers and water supplies. They argue that the regulatory apparatus, divided between the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and DEQ, is broken. In particular, they fear that DEQ is being constrained by pressure from the governor’s office to not move more aggressively to regulate the impact of the pipelines upon water quality.

The coal ash issue has been contentious, too. While DEQ has issued Dominion permits for treating and disposing of the water in coal ash ponds, it has not yet issued permits for disposing of the mineral residue itself. Environmentalists want to put the material into lined landfills to prevent any possibility of groundwater contamination. Dominion says that option could cost $3 billion, which would be passed on to rate payers. The McAuliffe administration has not indicated which way it leans.

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12 responses to “Activists Pressure McAuliffe on Environmental Agenda

  1. I’ve sent tons of things to Gov. McAwful, including the staff, including FOIA requests. No response and any signed return receipt is stopped before going to him.
    Says a lot about Gov. McAwful.

  2. If you ever wanted to know how Donald Trump became the Republican presidential candidate you need only read this blog.

    Left leaning … property rights groups.

    coalition of manufacturers, chambers of commerce, labor unions

    In their zeal to line their pockets with money:

    1. Republicans no longer represent property rights.
    2. Democrats have sold out the unions.

    We need a constitutional amendment clarifying that corporations are not people, they are not entitled to “free speech” through unlimited political spending. Maybe make it one of those multi-purpose amendments by adding term limits for Congress as well.

  3. Why is a corporation any different than any group of people banded together with a common purpose? Why are stockholders different than PTA members or Gay Rights activists? The answer is there is no difference except to angry people who only recognize the rights of those who agree with them, but no rights for those who disagree with them…I fully recognize the rights of those pressuring on these issues, despite my disagreement with them.

    Stockholders are people and the corporations they band together to form are “persons” under the law. And last I checked a corporation was prohibited from contributing directly to a candidate for federal office. These secret money machine should be shut down across the board. Don’t just point to corporations on that.

    This may be a key inflection point for Virginia, which in recent years has had Governors of both parties who understood that economic growth requires more than press releases and platitudes and cushy trips overseas. I think McAuliffe get it. You want the jobs you need the roads, the power plants, the pipelines and power lines and the other foundation elements. No energy, no mobility, no growth. Compromise and mitigation are possible, but a total surrender to inertia will be deadly. You add all those causes listed above together and you clearly see these people are against just about everything. They march backwards under a banner that reads Mediocrity and Malaise.

    The message on Trump’s banner is a subject for another day.

    • Because a corporation can get $$$$ and lawyers together that a small band of people can’t, buying lobbyists and therefore the laws.
      If you took away the $$$ & lobbyists & lawyers, fine, but otherwise those corporations end up getting more, buying more legislators and the law, than a band of people, PTA’s or gay rights activists.

  4. Our next VA Governor race could be interesting re: environmental issues. The current SCOTUS delay on the EPA Clean Power Plan may bump the state planning process into the next Governor’s term. I feel one problem with the Clean Power Plan, the way it put the states themselves in charge of the plans, is that it is near impossible for purple states to come to a consensus. Of course that that simply means that the EPA can take charge for us. As you can see here, the CPP also puts the Gov in the crosshairs of the local enviro-groups.

  5. Maybe the reason the Governor is taking hits for his ‘Old energy policies’ is because his information on creating jobs is old too. Clean energy is no longer a whim of the “far left.” There is a much less risky way forward and it will create more and better jobs than new pipelines.

    Efficient buildings can cut demand for grid electricity and will put a lot more people to work than building pipelines. Our building owners just need access to good financing. Warren Buffet’s utility is financing retrofits for their customer’s buildings. They expect to reduce demand enough to close a couple of old coal plants and still not need any new generation until 2028. Dominion could do that.

    The East Coast states that suffered through Hurricane Sandy are redoing their utility rules to allow third-party ownership, on-site solar, and small islandable renewable energy with storage micro-grids that make “keeping the lights on” easier and more resilient … yes more resilient. Dominion could build micro-grids but to do that they would have to look at the grid as a different animal than one who just needs it’s wires buried. NY and CA are leading the way but other states are trying new things too.

    Building a clean energy system is creating the most new jobs. According to the latest data by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the overall clean energy sector (excluding hydropower) employed 8.1 million people worldwide in 2015, up from 7.7 million in the previous year. IRENA expects worldwide jobs to reach 24 million by 2030. Would pipelines do that?

    Finally, hear what Congresswoman Kaptur has to say about the Cleveland project that got the offshore monies Dominion couldn’t promise to use before 2022. “The strength of the Icebreaker project, as opposed to its competitors, lies in LEEDCo’s (the builder) commitment to leverage offshore wind energy with local Ohio-based jobs in the steel, construction and transportation industries,”
    LeedCo’s Wagner told Cleveland.com that the company already has 15 local companies involved in the project and hopes to attract more, adding that fabrication and construction will create 500 jobs.

    That economic expansion potential doesn’t sound ‘far left’ to me. The Governor would be wise to listen.

  6. Bloomberg Headline:

    The World Nears Peak Fossil Fuels for Electricity
    Coal and gas will begin their terminal decline in less than a decade, according to a new BNEF analysis.

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-06-13/we-ve-almost-reached-peak-fossil-fuels-for-electricity

    interesting read –

    next up – from the Wall Street Journal:

    Environmental Groups Change Tune on Nuclear Power
    Focus on climate change has raised profile of reactors, now viewed as reliable, carbon-free source of energy

    http://www.wsj.com/articles/environmental-groups-change-tune-on-nuclear-power-1466100644

    re: the states can do it or the EPA will do it for them –

    always has worked that way on virtually all EPA regs – not new nor unique to CPP

    re: corporations are people

    in a pigs eye.

    corporations essentially corrupt the process by the way they spend money.

    it’s not the money itself or where it comes from – it’s how it gets into the political pipeline to elected – and the corporations use that same money and power to prevent transparency and disclosure…

    Tell me – even with VPAP how DVP corporate money gets to specific politicians? It goes to the GOP PAC FIRST -then it gets distributed and the folks who received the money are reported as getting that money from the GOP PAC – not Dominion.

    Now how many ordinary people who themselves give money as individuals or banded together – support that kind of money laundering? How about NONE?

    Now how many corporations support than kind of money laundering? just about all of them -you’d be hard pressed to name a single corporation that wants to outlaw de-facto money laundering.

    how many Corporations have come out against so-called Dark Money? Name them….

  7. Bloomberg Headline:

    The World Nears Peak Fossil Fuels for Electricity
    Coal and gas will begin their terminal decline in less than a decade, according to a new BNEF analysis.

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-06-13/we-ve-almost-reached-peak-fossil-fuels-for-electricity

    interesting read –

    next up – from the Wall Street Journal:

    Environmental Groups Change Tune on Nuclear Power
    Focus on climate change has raised profile of reactors, now viewed as reliable, carbon-free source of energy

    re: the states can do it or the EPA will do it for them –

    always has worked that way on virtually all EPA regs – not new nor unique to CPP

    re: corporations are people

    in a pigs eye.

    corporations essentially corrupt the process by the way they spend money.

    it’s not the money itself or where it comes from – it’s how it gets into the political pipeline to elected – and the corporations use that same money and power to prevent transparency and disclosure…

    Tell me – even with VPAP how DVP corporate money gets to specific politicians? It goes to the GOP PAC FIRST -then it gets distributed and the folks who received the money are reported as getting that money from the GOP PAC – not Dominion.

    Now how many ordinary people who themselves give money as individuals or banded together – support that kind of money laundering? How about NONE?

    Now how many corporations support than kind of money laundering? just about all of them -you’d be hard pressed to name a single corporation that wants to outlaw de-facto money laundering.

    how many Corporations have come out against so-called Dark Money? Name them….

    and to just point out the obvious – Corporation always have the option of donating in plain sight – and NOT choosing dark money or money laundering methods… they always have the option to donate in full light … and choose not to

    • The Bloomberg article is probably wishful thinking. Yes coal use is going down as a long term fundamental trend. But natural gas use is increasing. It’s a controversial prediction by Bloomberg that natural gas use will begin a “terminal” decline. For future predictions, anything is possible but Bloomberg is not voicing conventional wisdom.

      http://www.energytrendsinsider.com/2016/06/08/2015-was-a-record-year-for-renewables/

      The WSJ article – which I cannot access – touches on a schism in the U.S. environmental movement, that became apparent at the Paris climate conference last year. Some US environmental leaders now feel the U.S. needs to go full-out nuclear to displace fossil fuels. Others feel wind and solar are the total solution.

  8. The Bloomberg annual report said that gas had started decline everywhere but in the US. That does not look very good for all those LNG shipping facilities that are trying to get built … but means that US utilities are still building gas plants.

    The Energy Investor has another story … Oil and gas firms are swapping debt for equity to make their books look better but with prices so low the switching doesn’t actually do much to reduce the debt. When rates are raised, which will happen at the FED, that means more trouble as drilling now gets rates in the low 20’s, the highest rates around. The outlook is for a much smaller, more consolidated industry.

    I also think that we must add the new outlook on the problem of releasing methane from wellheads and pipelines, releases that will that will have to be curtailed. New regs will add to cost though how much is unclear.

  9. When did belief in property rights become a left or left leaning perspective? Property rights are about as conservative an issue as you could find. I think we’d be ahead to stop using language that triggers the extremes and to start looking for win-win situations.

    Given the methane situation, are we really improving the environment to trade coal for natural gas? If we build these new facilities, they will tie us to fossil fuels for another 40 years. I’m not a hard core environmentalist, but it seems that is not a cost effective step or environmentally responsible.

    How do we know that if you build a gas pipeline jobs will come? We’ve got a number of existing pipelines that have not resulted in gas use and jobs. The hurdles put up for the proposed pipelines make it virtually impossible for any user but a mega user to have any hope of being able to afford to use the gas.

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