Ecologists Need Not Apply

By Peter Galuszka

Stacking the deck seems to be the modus operandi of the administration of Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell.

First, he annihilated nearly the entire board of the Virginia Ports Authority.

And on Friday, he announced his new picks for the Virginia Coal and Energy Commission. It is a very important decision since the commission will have significant influence on whether the General Assembly decides to end a decades’ long ban on uranium mining and go forward with a proposed and highly controversial operation near Chatham in Southside. Plus, commissioners will influence whether Virginia continues with the highly destructive mountaintop removal method of coal mining in which thousands of areas of mountaintops are destroyed to get at thin coal seams. They also will set policy about how the state deals with hydro-fracking to get at deep natural gas reserves. The method could threaten groundwater with toxic chemicals.

McDonnell has appointed seven people. All are either energy company executives or lobbyists of some sort of large corporations that use coal, nuclear power or natural gas. Not one is from an environmental group. Not one has a scientific background. Let’s run through the list:

  • Barbara Altizer of Jewell Ridge in the far western coalfields is president and executive director of the Eastern Coal Council.
  • Jodi Gidley of Virginia Beach is president of Virginia Natural Gas.
  • Ken Hutcheson, is a top lobbyist at Williams Mullen, one of Richmond’s most powerful advocacy firms.
  • James K. Martin is a senior executive and lobbyist at Dominion Resources in Richmond. He is also a former executive at Peabody Coal. I had a run-in with Martin at the World Affairs Council of Greater Richmond of which is is president and I am a member. Martin refused to tell me anything about corporate contributions for the non-profit group or any information that is publicly available in their tax filings. I wouldn’t count him as an outspoken advocate of transparency.
  • John Matney of Bristol has been in the coal mining industry since the 1970s besides leasing coal reserves in Kentucky is head of a company that has a big golf course community in Georgia.
  • Donald L. Ratliff of Big Stone Gap is a lobbyist for coal-producer Alpha Natural Resources, which just took over troubled Massey Energy in June. Twenty-nine miners died in an underground mine explosion at a Massey mine in West Virginia in April, 2010 and Massey has been accused to ruining the Appalachians with its mountaintop removal surface mining operations.
  • Rhonnie Smith of Lynchburg is a retired executive from nuclear reactor maker Babock & Wilcox, which has fuel facilities in Lynchburg.

McDonnell did not choose one person from the Sierra Club, National Resources Defense Council, Union of Concerned Scientists or any of the groups that study the impact of fossil fuel on climate change.

This is entirely predictable of McDonnell, but the impact of his profound one-sidedness could be felt for years.

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3 responses to “Ecologists Need Not Apply”

  1. Virginia has a long and bad history of appointing cronies to various boards. The most illuminating comparison comes when you compare the appointments in Virginia to the appointments from Maryland. Read the resumes of the MWAA board for a look at the matter.

  2. I think the longer we go with more and more people out of work – the harder it is going to be to defend “protecting the environment” … I’m not saying it’s right or wrong – only that having a job is going to win out…

    it always have in WVA…… where the environment has always played second fiddle to mom and dad having food on the table for their kids.

  3. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    There seems to be another reality in places like West Virginia. Fact is, a number of jobs that pay well go without being filled. There is a shortage of experienced coal miners and railroad workers right now. When they hold jobs fairs, you might get scores of people. But when they actually apply and the background checks are done, many can’t be hired because they can’t pass the drug test (meth and oxycontin) or otherwise are unqualified. Plus, when people actually see that the work can be dirty, difficult and perhaps deadly, they back away. So, you might actually end up with a handful of people.
    You are right that willing and capable workers in those parts don’t have a lot of choices of jobs — unless they move away.

    Peter G.

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