Category Archives: Politics

Why T.J. Deserves a Place in Our Pantheon of Heroes

TJ-statueby James A. Bacon

Students at the College of William & Mary have carried on a long tradition of festooning the campus statue of Thomas Jefferson with accouterments ranging from woolen scarfs to party hats. The latest fad is to append the effigy with sticky notes denouncing the founding father as a slave holder, a racist and a rapist. The activity imitates a similar movement on the University of Missouri campus, which has been coupled with a petition to remove a Jefferson statue on the grounds that it was offensive to idealize someone who owned and raped slaves. I don’t know if the anti-Jefferson movement will gain the same momentum at William & Mary, a public university in a state where Jefferson is revered like no other historical figure. But, given the tenor of the times, some kind of debate is inevitable.

TJI find the negative sentiments expressed in the sticky notes to be indisputably true at one level and profoundly misinformed at another. True, by today’s standards, Jefferson’s views and behaviors were reprehensible. He did own slaves. He did sell slaves and break up slave families. He most likely (though not indisputably) did keep a slave woman as a concubine. He did believe blacks to be inferior to whites. It is not unreasonable to ask why, for all his brilliance as an author of the Declaration of Independence, a United States president, an architect, the founder of the University of Virginia, and all-around polymath, we should continue to hold him in such high esteem (or, for that matter, why we should esteem any member of Virginia’s slave-holding aristocracy).

The case I would make for Jefferson (along with James Madison, George Washington, Patrick Henry and George Mason) is not that they reflected 21st-century sensibilities, which they clearly did not, but that they articulated values and principles for the first time in history that laid the foundation for the values we hold today. We could not have gotten to where we are today had Jefferson & Company not laid the groundwork.

Colonial America imported its institutions and mental constructs from a Europe that was emerging from the Middle Ages. Collective entities such as towns, cities, guilds, social classes and ethnicities — not individuals — were imbued with rights. When Nathaniel Bacon led a revolt against the autocratic Governor Berkeley of Virginia in 1676, leading a rag-tag band of impoverished farmers and freed slaves, he called for a restoration of the “rights of Englishmen.” Virginians were entitled to rights and privileges, embodied in the Magna Carta and common law that their ancestors had fought for and won. But those rights were not regarded as universal; they were peculiar to Englishmen and derived from English institutions. Jefferson’s great contribution was to draw from Enlightenment-era principles to argue that all men were endowed by their creator with inalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Essentially, he reinterpreted the rights of Englishmen as rights applied universally to everyone. In Jefferson’s formulation, rights did not belong to collective entities; they belonged to individuals, and they were intrinsic to a person’s existence as a human being — the core principle of 21st-century political thought.

What is perhaps most remarkable about Jefferson is that he articulated principles in direct conflict with his own material self interest as a slave holder. While Jefferson indisputably failed to live up to his own principles, it is intellectually facile and lazy to end the discussion there. It is a truism (and one of Karl Marx’s few useful insights) that economic and social classes, both the rulers and the oppressed, create ideologies that support their material self interest. One must ask: How many ruling elites in the history of mankind have ever developed a governing philosophy that undercut their material self interest? How many ruling elites in history have wrestled with the dichotomy between those principles and the way they actually lived their lives, as Jefferson, Madison, Washington and others did? The answer: precious few. Indeed, I cannot off-hand think of any other ruling elite in the history of mankind that has done such a thing.

Jefferson articulated principles that most Americans, including the people who now despise him, hold dear today. We should revere him for making the leap from rights rooted in collective entities to rights applying to all. We should respect him for making that leap in contravention of his own material self interest, and appreciate the fact that the contradiction haunted him until his dying day, even if he failed to free all his slaves and impoverish himself in the process. The journey to equal rights for all Americans certainly did not end with Jefferson, but it started with him, and he rightly deserves a place in our pantheon of heroes.

Battle Lines Forming Over Clean Power Plan

Attorney General Mark R. Herring

Attorney General Mark R. Herring

The partisan battle lines are forming over the implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which calls for Virginia to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from state power plants 32% by 2030.

Attorney General Mark R. Herring, a Democrat, announced two weeks ago that Virginia will join a coalition of 17 other states supporting the Obama administration against a lawsuit filed by 24 other states. Foes of the plan argue that the EPA far exceeded its legislative authority in regulating CO2, and observers say the case could well reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

Del. Israel O'Quinn, R-Washington.

Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Washington.

Meanwhile, Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Washington, has introduced a bill that would require the General Assembly to approve and oversee implementation of the plan in Virginia. While the Clean Power Plan mandates CO2-reduction targets for each state, it allows each state to figure out how to achieve the goals.

Herring justified his support for the plan on the grounds that climate change “is a real and urgent threat to the health and safety of Virginians, our environment, and our economic success as a Commonwealth.” By way of specifics, he cited the threat of sea-level rise in Hampton Roads that could displace residents and businesses and threaten Naval Station Norfolk, and the prospect of extreme weather, droughts and floods. said Herring: “It’s long past time to acknowledge these realities and take decisive action.”

O’Quinn’s bill would require the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to work in conjunction with the State Corporation Commission (SCC) to prepare a report assessing the plan’s effect on the Virginia’s electric power sector, electric customers, jobs, economic development, economic competitiveness,  and state and local government.

The report also would identify new state laws that might be needed to implement the plan, study whether to rely upon EPA measures for calculating the CO2 reduction goal, and report on whether the Commonwealth should invest in energy efficiency programs, promote non-emitting nuclear power or participate in multistate programs. The report also would advanced recommendations on how best to avoid stranded investments in power plants that would be shuttered before they were fully paid off.

Getting answers to those questions is probably a good idea — the more information, the better — but sure to be controversial is the final item in the bill: “DEQ shall not submit to the EPA any state plan until both the Senate and the House of Delegates have adopted resolutions that approve the state plan in accordance with this act.”

It is safe to predict that the McAuliffe administration will not respond favorably to the idea of requiring the Republican-dominated General Assembly to approve the plan. Separation-of-power issues are potentially at stake here as well as ideological differences over climate change. Look for this to become a hot topic in the 2016 session.


Thanks For the Memories

I have not written much over that past several months because I have been dealing with some family problems. I thought a brief article on the Dave Brat interview might be worth a comment. Boy,was I wrong.

I was upset at one of the responses to my Brat article and have decided that continuing to prepare and write an occasional article for this blog is not worth the time. I have never been accused of being a liar. It seems that some simply don’t understand the give and take, is not an excuse to call into question the basic values of one with whom they do not agree.

— Les Schreiber

Dave Brat, What to Make of this Guy?

As I flipped though the New York Times Sunday Magazine, I was shocked to find a full-page interview with Rep. David Brat.  The Times usually does not pay much attention to House freshmen, but Brat has created a high profile for himself by becoming an outspoken member of the “Freedom Caucus” of ultra-right wing Republicans that recently promoted the resignation of Speaker John Boehner of Ohio.

The interview was amazingly short on policy as Brat seemed to want to dwell on his knowledge of philosophy rather than on governing.  The brief outline that he did give of policy consisted of not raising the debt limit, lowering taxes, and bulking up the military. Brat refused to say how he would accomplish these goals, which taken into totality seem to defy simple math. How is he able to lower taxes and hike defense spending, without significant cuts in the rest of the budget? One doesn’t need a PhD in econometrics, to see that the numbers don’t add up: witness the presidency of George W. Bush and the deficit fiasco that followed.

Brat seemed to be critical of popular culture.  In the interview, he bemoaned what he perceived as a paucity of movies “capturing the highlight of Western tradition.” It seems that the congressman has forgotten that the purpose of free speech is to put all ideas in the public sphere.  Spoken by a federal legislator, this type of media criticism is nothing if not disturbing.

Brat, as most economists, is a fan of Adam Smith who in 1776, published Wealth of Nations, which described the fundamental workings of market-based economies, but Brat transforms the questions about the application of Smith’s principals to today’s complex problems into a criticism of European economies. Perhaps Dr. Brat is unfamiliar with the classic article written by Robert Mondell, the theory of optimal currency unions, and compares this work with the European Union’s plan to implement the Euro. Brat, this “scholar–his word”, should compare the present Euro zone that demonstrates the results of the type of austerity that Brat seems to advocate, with low inflation, but near-zero growth and very high rates of unemployment.

This guy should represent Disneyland!

— D. Leslie Schreiber

Nous sommes touts Parisien

The Terry McAuliffe Show

Governor McAuliffe checks out a made-in-Virginia three-wheeler outside the Virginia Beach Conference Center.

Governor McAuliffe checks out a made-in-Virginia three-wheeler outside the Virginia Beach Conference Center.

by James A. Bacon

Terry McAuliffe doesn’t just fill the room — he fills the banquet hall. He’s loud, he’s animated,  he’s funny and he’s prone to superlatives. Economic development success, he proclaims, comes from superior salesmanship and the art of the deal. Indeed, if he doffed a wig of thinning blond, slicked-back hair, you’d be hard pressed to tell him apart from Donald Trump.

The governor regaled the audience at the 2015 Governor’s Transportation Conference in Virginia Beach around noon today. Among some of the more notable quotes:

Referring to Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne, McAuliffe said with typical enthusiasm: “He’s the greatest transportation secretary in the history of Virginia!”

Similarly, John Rinehart, CEO of the Port of Virginia is “the greatest port director in America!” The recent increase in container traffic, the governor added, is “an absolutely extraordinary record! … Ladies and gentlemen, we are going to have the greatest port in America!”

Touting the benefits of the Interstate 95 tolled HOT lane project, he proclaimed the awesomeness of private-sector concessionaire Transurban. “Give Transurban a great round of applause!” he urged the audience.

As for those opposed to paying tolls on the proposed Interstate 66 megaproject in Northern Virginia, they’re not just misguided or mistaken. What they’re saying about tolls is “an absolute lie! It’s a fiction! It’s misleading to voters!”

McAuliffe said he has probably spent more time promoting Virginia overseas than any other governor. Ever. And one could surmise from his remarks that he’s given foreigners the hardest sell. He told a story about talking to some wine stewards in France. “I spent an hour convincing them that Virginia wines are better than French wines.”

The governor has made self-driving cars and unmanned aerial vehicles a major economic development priority for Virginia. His goal, he said: “I want a clone in every home in Virginia. And I wanted it manufactured in Virginia!”

Agree with him or disagree, McAuliffe is never dull.

Virginia GOP Flunks the ABC Test

abc_storeby Justin Trent

With the Virginia Department of Alcohol Beverages Control in the news again, residents of Virginia have another opportunity to ask their elected officials why the Commonwealth of Virginia holds a monopoly over an entire industry. In addition, small government conservatives should consider whether the continued existence of Virginia ABC proves that the Virginia GOP is just another big government party.

As readers may know, Virginia ABC was established in response to the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. The agency was given a monopoly over the sale of distilled spirits and it controls the distribution of alcoholic beverages (which means that it controls the selection of beers and wines available to Virginia consumers). It was given full police powers in 1936. Those powers landed the agency in hot water in recent years with its agents’ arrest of University of Virginia students.

As a native-born Virginian, I have always been told that the Virginia GOP is the political party that supports the free market and defends against government overreach. Imagine my confusion, then, at the unwillingness of General Assembly Republicans to dismantle the Virginia ABC when they had the chance.

I decided to look back through history and see if the Virginia GOP has ever had am opportunity chance to privatize Virginia ABC without the need for bipartisan support. (Some Democrats have supported privatization in the past, but for the sake of this exercise I assumed that all Virginia Democrats support the existence of Virginia ABC.) Because of the shift in party alignment in the early 1970s, I started by identifying the Republican governors who have held office since the 1970s: Mills Godwin (’74-’78), John Dalton (’78-’82), George Allen (’94-‘98), Jim Gilmore (’98-’02) and Bob McDonnell (’10-’14). During the terms of Godwin, Dalton, and Allen, the Virginia Democrats controlled at least one house in the General Assembly; as a result, I give both those governors and the Virginia GOP a pass on the assumption that Virginia Democrats would have blocked privatization. But what about the Gilmore and McDonnell eras?

It turns out that the Virginia GOP had control of both the governor’s mansion and the General Assembly during the General Assembly sessions held in 2000, 2001, 2012, and 2013. They could have passed a bill privatizing the Virginia ABC if they had really wanted – and there is evidence that at least some Republicans in the General Assembly were in support of privatization during those windows of opportunity.

Here’s a short breakdown of the attempts to privatize Virginia ABC:

  • In 1995, John Watkins (R) and Harry Purkey (R) sponsored bills.
  • In 1996 and 1997, a similar bill was sponsored by William P. Robinson, Jr., a Democrat.
  • From 2002 through 2005, Allen Louderback (R) sponsored a privatization bill in each session. Frank Hargrove (R) co-sponsored Louderback’s bill in 2005.
  • In 2006 and 2007, there were no bills.
  • In 2008, Bob Marshall (R) and David Poisson (D) both sponsored privatization bills.
  • In 2009, Poisson sponsored his bill again and Purkey sponsored a bill that called for a study of privatization.
  • In 2010, Marshall sponsored his bill again and Purkey sponsored his study bill again. Mark Obenshain (R) also sponsored a bill in the Senate.
  • In 2011, Obenshain and Watkins sponsored a bill in the Senate, while Robert Brink (D) sponsored a bill in the House.

So, what about those brief windows in 2000, 2001, 2012, and 2013, when the Virginia GOP was in power? It turns out that no privatization bills were sponsored during those years. None. How strange – especially when you consider that Watkins, Purkey, Marshall, Louderback, and Hargrove were all in office during 2000 and 2001, and Obenshain, Marshall, and Purkey were all in office during 2012 and 2013. In other words, the same Republicans who pushed privatization when the Democrats held a crucial office were quiet when their own party held all the cards.

Marshall and Obenshain are well-known for their “small government” bona fides. But where were their principles, when they had the opportunity to enact real change and privatize the sale of alcoholic beverages? And what about all of the other conservative state legislators who served at those times but didn’t push for privatization?

There are two answers, neither of which should be acceptable to small government conservatives: Either the Virginia GOP is addicted to the revenue provided Virginia ABC (a criticism that is frequently leveled at Democrats) or the Virginia GOP is a party that only provides lip service to the ideal of “limited government.”

Justin Trent lives in the Richmond region.

Purge the Algorithms

Ned Ludd

Ned Ludd

by James A. Bacon

It’s Labor Day, a suitable occasion for opining on the future of work…

One of the great questions of our era revolves around the impact of robotics and artificial intelligence on the job market. People have fretted about automation since the days of Ned Ludd, the knitting-frame wrecker. Machines have been replacing human labor on a large scale for more than two centuries now. Yet somehow the economy managed to generate more new jobs, and somehow our society has managed to become more productive and prosperous than ever.

Some say, this time it’s different. The nature of automation is changing.

My friend David Rafner refers me to an article in Space Daily describing how biophysicists are developing an algorithm for inferring laws of nature from time-series data of dynamical systems. The hope is that large-scale computing can spot patterns that elude mere mortals. If the biophysicists are successful, they will have made a huge advance toward Ray Kurzweil’s vision of the Singularity, in which computing power and AI exceed humans in intelligence, thus accelerating the rate of scientific discovery and the rate of technological development.

Machines first reduced the demand for physical labor; soon AI will reduce the demand for cognitive labor. Once those two sources of employment dry up, what’s left? While machines build the cars, plow the fields, manage the currency transactions and conduct the scientific research, what will humans do? Will we revert to a nation of artists, musicians, writers and craftsmen? Perhaps. David thinks there still will be room for philosophers and bloggers. But I’m not confident that the United States can accommodate 320 million philosophers and bloggers. Personally, I think the only occupational category that’s safe is politicians.

Work is so central to our culture — so essential to our standard of living, our status, our self-worth — one can’t help but fear will happen when the AI-enhanced robots take over. Who will control the wealth and power as robots (a form of capital) replace labor? Will the plutocrats rule? or will we distribute material blessings so that all of us are freed from drudgery and toil? And what would a life free from labor and toil be like? Would humans have any purpose? Would life have any meaning beyond the hedonistic pursuit of pleasure? Are we not destined for an existential crisis that will give rise to nihilism, thrill seeking and violence?

As much as I love my time away from paid toil, I see no substitute for work. Ned Ludd wrecked the knitting machines. Maybe it’s time to start purging the algorithms.

Something to Think About

Last week I was reading in the New York Times an article on Jeb Bush’s plans for the economy. One of his talking points was to reduce the federal workforce by 10%. For a state as dependent on the Feds as Virginia, this could have serious financial implications. Already, in the CNBC rankings as the best state for doing business, Virginia has dropped from at or near the top to 12th in the most recent poll.  One of the reasons given was the decrease in federal spending. We can debate whether the government spends,  but such a cut in Northern Virginia and the Norfolk area could have significant impact.

— Les Schreiber

Alpha Natural Resources: Running Wrong

Alpha miners in Southwest Virginia (Photo by Scott Elmquist)

Alpha miners in Southwest Virginia
(Photo by Scott Elmquist)

 By Peter Galuszka

Four years ago, coal titan Alpha Natural Resources, one of Virginia’s biggest political donors, was riding high.

It was spending $7.1 billion to buy Massey Energy, a renegade coal firm based in Richmond that had compiled an extraordinary record for safety and environmental violations and fines. Its management practices culminated in a huge mine blast on April 5, 2010 that killed 29 miners in West Virginia, according to three investigations.

Bristol-based Alpha, founded in 2002, had coveted Massey’s rich troves of metallurgical and steam coal as the industry was undergoing a boom phase. It would get about 1,400 Massey workers to add to its workforce of 6,600 but would have to retrain them in safety procedures through Alpha’s “Running Right” program.

Now, four years later, Alpha is in a fight for its life. Its stock – trading at a paltry 55 cents per share — has been delisted by the New York Stock Exchange. After months of layoffs, the firm is preparing for a bankruptcy filing. It is negotiating with its loan holders and senior bondholders to help restructure its debt.

Alpha is the victim of a severe downturn in the coal industry as cheap natural gas from hydraulic fracturing drilling has flooded the market and become a favorite of electric utilities. Alpha had banked on Masset’s huge reserves of met coal to sustain it, but global economic strife, especially in China, has dramatically cut demand for steel. Some claim there is a “War on Coal” in the form of tough new regulations, although others claim the real reason is that coal can’t face competition from other fuel sources.

Alpha’s big fall has big implications for Virginia in several arenas:

(1) Alpha is one of the largest political donors in the state, favoring Republicans. In recent years, it has spent $2,256,617 on GOP politicians and PACS, notably on such influential politicians and Jerry Kilgore and Tommy Norment, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. It also has spent $626,558 on Democrats.

In 2014-2015, it was the ninth largest donor in the state. Dominion was ahead among corporations, but Alpha beat out such top drawer bankrollers as Altria, Comcast and Verizon. The question now is whether a bankruptcy trustee will allow Alpha to continue its funding efforts.

(2) How will Alpha handle its pension and other benefits for its workers? If it goes bankrupt, it will be in the same company as Patriot Coal which is in bankruptcy for the second time in the past several years. Patriot was spun off by Peabody, the nation’s largest coal producer, which wanted to get out of the troubled Central Appalachian market to concentrate on more profitable coalfields in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin and the Midwest.

Critics say that Patriot was a shell firm set up by Peabody so it could skip out of paying health, pension and other benefits to the retired workers it used to employ. The United Mine Workers of America has criticized a Patriot plan to pay its top five executives $6.4 million as it reorganizes its finances.

(3) Coal firms that have large surface mines, as Alpha does, may not be able to meet the financial requirements to clean up the pits as required by law. Alpha has used mountaintop removal practices in the Appalachians in which hundreds of feet of mountains are ripped apart by explosives and huge drag lines to get at coal. They also have mines in Wyoming that also involve removing millions of tons of overburden.

Like many coal firms, Alpha has used “self-bonding” practices to guarantee mine reclamation. In this, the companies use their finances as insurance that they will clean up. If not, they must post cash. Wyoming has given Alpha until Aug. 24 to prove it has $411 million for reclamation.

(4) The health problems of coalfield residents continue unabated. According to a Newsweek report, Kentucky has more cancer rates than any other state. Tobacco smoking as a lot to do with it, but so does exposure to carcinogenic compounds that are released into the environment by mountaintop removal. This also affects people living in Virginia and West Virginia. In 2014, Alpha was fined $27.5 million by federal regulators for illegal discharges of toxic materials into hundreds of streams. It also must pay $200 million to clean up the streams.

The trials of coal companies mean bad news for Virginia and its sister states whose residents living near shut-down mines will still be at risk from them. As more go bust or bankrupt, the bill for their destructive practices will have to borne by someone else.

After digging out the Appalachians for about 150 years, the coal firms have never left coalfield residents well off. Despite its coal riches, Kentucky ranks 45th in the country for wealth. King Coal could have helped alleviate that earlier, but is in a much more difficult position to do much now. Everyday folks with be the ones paying for their legacy.

Renewable Energy: A Tale of Two Virginias

Apologies to Mr. Dickens

Apologies to Mr. Dickens

By Peter Galuszka

Call it a tale of two Virginias – at least when it comes to renewable energy.

One is the state’s traditional political and business elite, including Dominion Resources and large manufacturers, the State Corporation Commission and others.

They insist that the state must stick with big, base-loaded electricity generating plants like nuclear and natural gas – not so much solar and wind –to ensure that prices for business are kept low. Without this, recruiting firms may be difficult.

The other is a collection of huge, Web-based firms that state recruiters would give an eyetooth to snag. They include Amazon, Google, Facebook and others that tend to have roots on the West Coast where thinking about energy is a bit different.

Besides the Internet, what they have in common is that they all vow to use 100 per cent of their electricity from renewable sources. What’s more, to achieve this goal, all are investing millions in their own renewable power plants. They are bypassing traditional utilities like Dominion which have been sluggish in moving to wind and solar.

So, you have a strange dichotomy. Older business groups are saying that the proposed federal Clean Power Plan should be throttled because it would rely on expensive renewables that would drive away new business. Meanwhile, the most successful and younger Web-based firms obviously aren’t buying that argument.

I have a story about this in this week’s Style Weekly.

In Virginia, the trend is evidenced by Amazon Web Services, which sells time on its cloud-computing network to other firms. It is joining a Spanish company, Iberdola Renewables LLC, in building a 208-megawatt wind farm on 22,000 acres in northeastern North Carolina, just as few miles from the Virginia border. Three weeks earlier, on June 18, Amazon announced it plans a 170-megawatt solar farm in Accomack County on the Eastern Shore.

Dominion, which has renewable projects in California, Utah and Indiana and the beginnings of some small ones in Virginia, says it is not part of the projects. It could possibly get electricity indirectly from them. Amazon’s power will be sold on regional power grids to business and utilities.

When they complete such sales, the Net-focused firms will get renewable energy certificates that can be used to show that they have put as much renewable energy into the electricity grid as they have used, says Glen Besa, director of the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club.

This will be especially important in Northern Virginia where there are masses of computer server farms used by Amazon and others. These centers used 500 megawatts of power in 2012 and demand is expected to double by 2017. Also, for years, the region has hosted such a large Internet infrastructure that at least half, perhaps 70 percent, of the Net’s traffic goes through there.

Part of the back story of this remarkable and utility-free push for renewables is that environmental groups are shaming modern, forward-looking firms like Amazon to do it.

Amazon Web Services was the target of criticism last year when Greenpeace surveyed how firms were embracing renewable energy. The report stated that the firm “provides the infrastructure for much of the Internet” but “remains among the dirtiest and least transparent companies” that is “far behind its major competitors.”

Dominion also got bashed in the report. Greenpeace says, “Unfortunately, Dominion’s generation mix is composed of almost entirely dirty energy sources.” Coal, nuclear and natural gas make up the vast majority of its power sources.

Its efforts to move to renewable sources have been modest at best. In regulatory filings, Dominion officials have complained that renewable energy, especially wind, is costly and unreliable although they include it in their long-term planning.

Dominion has plans for 20-megawatt solar farm near Remington in Fauquier County and is working on a wind farm on 2,600 acres the utility owns in southwestern Virginia. It has renewable projects out-of-state in California, Utah and Indiana. The output is a fraction of what Amazon plans in the region.

In a pilot offshore wind project, Dominion had planned on building two wind turbines capable of producing 12 megawatts of power in the waters of Virginia Beach. It later shut down the project, saying new studies revealed it would cost too much. It says it might continue with a scaled down project if it got extra funding, such as federal subsidies.

The utility says it must build more natural gas plants and perhaps build a third nuclear unit at its North Anna power plant to make sure that affordable electricity is always available for its customers.

As Amazon announced its new renewal projects, Greenpeace has changed its attitude about the company. Now it praises Amazon for its initiatives in Virginia and North Carolina. “I would like to think we have pushed Amazon in the right direction,” says David Pomerantz, a Greenpeace spokesman and analyst. He adds that Amazon has some work to do in making its energy policies “more transparent.”

One unresolved issue is that two neighboring states, North Carolina and Maryland, have “renewable portfolio standards” that require that set percentages of power produced there come from renewables. West Virginia had such a standard but has dropped it. In Virginia, the standard is voluntary, meaning that Dominion is under no legal obligation to move to solar or wind. It also gives the SCC, the power rate regulator, authority to nix new power proposals because they might cost consumers too much, providing Dominion with a handy excuse to move slowly on renewables.

Another matter, says Pomerantz, is whether Virginia’s legislators will enact “renewable energy friendly policies” or watch hundreds of millions of dollars in renewable project investments go to other states, such as North Carolina.

So, you have a separate reality. Traditionalists are saying that expensive renewables are driving away new business, while the most attractive new businesses are so unimpressed with traditionalist thinking that they are making big investments to promote renewable energy independently.

It isn’t the first like this has happened.