Dominion, Virginia’s largest utility, has a state monopoly to provide electricity to much of the Commonwealth, and, overall, it does its job keeping our lights on. As a result, the public tends to view the company favorably. Dominion employees are out there in hurricanes and snow storms restoring our power, a dangerous job that we much appreciate.
All that is good, even though it must be noted that we pay for this essential service through our utility bills, and as a state monopoly, Dominion is guaranteed at least a 10% profit. Dominion also spends a lot of time and money (from our utility bills) cultivating that favorable public opinion, from sponsoring community activities, institutions and charities to hiring veterans as they leave military service.
Then there is the other Dominion you’ve more than likely heard about recently. Numerous environmental shortcomings related to coal ash and taking people’s land for the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline project have earned Dominion a lot of negative publicity. Occasional articles and editorials document and lament Dominion’s potent political clout as the largest corporate political contributor to both Democrats and Republicans. What has gotten much less media attention are Dominion’s plans to increase its climate-disrupting levels of carbon pollution by 80%, not counting its “fracked” natural gas Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
Appreciating Dominion for delivering our electricity does not excuse the shameful and unethical actions of its executives in the pursuit of profit at the expense of good government and our climate. Corporate decisions are made by real live persons, not by artificial corporate “persons.” So in criticizing the actions of a corporation, like Dominion, it is more accurate to lay the responsibility on the corporate executives who call the shots, and to call them out by name, just as we do with politicians.
Who is responsible for these reckless, destructive, corrupting corporate practices at Dominion?
It starts at the top, with Dominion Resources CEO Thomas F. Farrell, II. Tom is a good buddy of disgraced Governor Bob McDonnell, and he also sits on the Board of cancer merchant Altria, formerly Phillip Morris. Over the years, Farrell has personally contributed $646,007 to Virginia politicians, with $483,027 (75%) going to Republicans (source: VPAP.org).
Then there’s Robert “Bob” Blue, President and CEO of Dominion Virginia Power. A Yale Law graduate, Bob Blue served as Director of Policy and counsel to then-Governor Mark Warner from January 2002 to May 2005 before joining the Dominion executive team in July 2005. Of the $38,785 he has contributed personally since 2005, $29,435 (75%) has gone to Democrats (VPAP.org).
But both Farrell’s and Blue’s personal political contributions pale in comparison to what they dole out in the name of Dominion. Over the years, Dominion has given $5.5 million to Republicans and $4.6 million to Democrats. All this money buys political clout, regardless of which party is in power, and ensures that Dominion can let its coal ash continue to pollute our rivers, rely on our politicians to support its natural gas pipelines, and refrain from taking serious actions to address climate change.
Dominion executives Tom Farrell and Bob Blue generally avoid speaking about climate change; in fact, it is not easy to find examples of them even using the terms “climate change” or “global warming” on the record. But the fact that Dominion has every intention of more than doubling its carbon pollution over the next 25 years makes it clear where they stand. Additionally, while over 100 corporations, from Google to Virginia-based Mars, have quit the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) over its active obstruction of progress on climate issues, Tom Farrell’s and Bob Blue’s Dominion continues to actively support this discredited, pro-corporate legislation mill.
So why are Tom Farrell and Bob Blue pushing a long range energy plan that increases their company’s carbon pollution 80% by 2040, and where is all this climate-disrupting pollution coming from?
Let’s answer the second question first. The answer is fracked natural gas. Dominion is building fracked natural gas infrastructure as fast as a compliant General Assembly, Governor and State Corporation Commission will let it, which illustrates that there are essentially no limits on what Dominion can get away with.
And why are Farrell and Blue pushing a plan that relies primarily on gas and boosts their carbon emissions by 80%, even the cost of solar and wind have plummeted (and continue to do so)? The reason is that Dominion Virginia Power, our electric utility, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Dominion Resources, which operates “one of the nation’s largest natural gas storage systems with 1 trillion cubic feet of storage capacity and serves more than 6 million utility and retail energy customers,” with “14,400 miles of natural gas transmission, gathering and storage pipeline.” In short,, Dominion Resources is in the naturall gas business, and the obvious conflict of interest and self-dealing in selling its own gas to its public utility, Dominion Virginia Power, apparently doesn’t bother politicians or regulators steeped in the institutionalized legalized corruption that represents the “Virginia Way.”
This 80% increase in carbon pollution, as noted earlier, does not include any of the carbon pollution associated with operating the Atlantic Coast Pipeline; a conservative estimate of the emissions associated with that pipeline finds that the project would double Dominion’s current total carbon pollution.
We urgently need to address the climate crisis that prompted 190 countries to sign on to the Paris Climate Accord requiring an 80% reduction in carbon pollution by 2050. Yet, here in Virginia, Tom Farrell and Bob Blue are still pushing fossil fuels to advance Dominion’s natural gas business and to boost short-term profits over the health of the planet and the well-being our children and their own.
Instead of more fossil fuels, deep investments in clean energy, solar, wind and efficiency, are what is needed. Instead, thanks largely to Dominion, Virginia consistently ranks near the bottom among states in developing renewable energy and efficiency. Even worse, Tom Farrell and Bob Blue use their company’s lobbying clout and campaign contributions to oppose solar, wind and efficiency and to suppress competition. For example, it appears that Dominion acquired the rights to develop wind power off the coast of Virginia — only so it could block competition, with no real intention of developing this proven source of renewable energy and good paying jobs.
How do Tom Farrell and Bob Blue get away with all this? It all goes back to the money they lavish on our politicians and the company’s ubiquitous lobbying presence in Virginia. Listen to our public officials, and with few exceptions will you ever hear them level criticism or object to Dominion’s outrageously self-serving energy policy actions. To the contrary, many repeat Dominion’s talking points verbatim.
Perhaps the most nonsensical example is Dominion’s commitment to install 400 megawatts of solar in Virginia by 2020. Governor McAuliffe regularly uses this talking point when he says he wants to make Virginia #1 in solar. But the fact is, if we only have 400 MW of solar by 2020, Virginia will be even further behind in the race for clean energy jobs. Last year alone, North Carolina installed over 1,000 MW of solar. By comparison, Tom Farrell and Bob Blue just built two new fracked gas-fired power plants,, generating 3,200 MW of electricity and a lot more carbon pollution.
With Virginia’s lax ethics laws and unlimited campaign contributions, Dominion executives Tom Farrell and Bob Blue have more power over Virginia energy, climate and environmental policy than our politicians – let alone the voters. Governors serve one four-year term and they’re gone. In stark contrast, Farrell, Blue and Dominion lobbyists like Bill Murray are there, year in and year out, running the energy, lobbying and political conglomerate we know as Dominion, corrupting our politics and energy policy in the process.
Virginians need to be better informed about Tom Farrell and Bob Blue and how they manipulate, even warp Virginia politics to their advantage. The media, too, needs to do a better job shining a bright light on how these powerful business leaders and their politician allies rig the system in their own favor. Some Virginia public officials will defend Farrell and Blue, arguing that they have a duty to their shareholders to maximize their profits. But, Dominion Virginia Power is a public utility, a state-regulated monopoly that is also obligated to serve the public’s interest in renewable energy, efficiency and a healthy environment. Right now, Dominion is certainly not serving the public interest in any of those ways.
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