by Virginia River Healers
On June 13th, Virginia Democratic voters will have the ability to put a Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and numerous Delegates on the Democratic ticket. But will those candidates stand up for Virginia’s rivers and water security?
Numerous coalitions of community members, associations, and citizen-founded organizations around the state are defending their water. This is a critical election year for Virginia water security, as the Executive Branch wages attacks on the Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency, and climate agreements.
These federal assaults are being felt locally across the state. EPA cuts equate to a $9 million cut to Virginia’s efforts to clean the Chesapeake Bay and the development of sustainable aquaculture practices with Virginia watermen and women. Actions at the federal, executive level have helped to accelerate fossil fuel pipeline projects across the country, as well as here in Virginia, potentially moving them forward without full environmental assessments. President Trump’s steps to open up offshore drilling off the Atlantic Coast has put Virginia’s coasts and marine life back in a line of critical defense. An executive call to undo the Clean Power Plan could impact the closure plans for over 30 million tons of coal ash waste across the state that is predominantly located on Virginia’s rivers and in communities of color.
Regardless of party affiliation, we need to move forward as a state with a united water protection front. The Virginia River Healers asked all Democratic primary candidates to take a pledge for Virginia water security. The pledge focused on four key water issues that Virginians across the state are either currently facing or will be facing in 2018.
All Democratic candidates were asked if they will stand with Virginians and take action on the following key water security threats.
- Oppose the construction and permitting of large volume fracked-gas pipelines such as the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
- Oppose hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and take action to enact a statewide fracking ban.
- Oppose offshore drilling and seismic sound surveys.
- Oppose current coal ash waste permits and take action to have all coal ash waste removed from Virginia’s rivers and sources of drinking water.
★★★★ Designates candidates that have responded to our call and will stand up for Virginia water security against all four identified threats.
The pledge list can be found at http://www.riverhealers.us/watersecuritypledge
Virginia Democratic Primary Candidates – Governor
★★★★Tom Perriello (D)
★★ Ralph Northam (D)
Review of Democratic Candidates for Governor
Disclosure: Tom Perriello’s office replied to our specific questions and pledge request. Although we tried on multiple occasions to reach Ralph Northam, we did not receive either a pledge or a response from Northam or Northam’s staff, leaving us to rely on responses and statements Ralph Northam has made throughout the election cycle.
Perriello: “I will use all available powers to prevent the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipeline projects from proceeding. These pipelines pose immediate harm as well as serious risks to communities across Virginia. The construction process will require seizing private property through eminent domain for corporate gain, and the pipeline will leave 21 counties vulnerable to devastating leaks.” That is a strong answer and one Tom Perriello has backed up. Perriello has stood on the front lines with Virginia water protectors across the state and spoken up in town halls to fight the ACP and MVP pipelines.
Northam: Northam has not taken a definitive position on either the ACP or MVP. Northam, like current Governor Terry McAuliffe has put his environmental position in the trust of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). A federal commission that has rubber stamped pipeline projects in the past and that has successfully kept the energy market dependent on fossil fuel development under the leadership of FERC Chairman Cheryl LaFleur. Northam’s team stated that he “believes the facts and process should dictate the pipeline decision.” Northam has called for environmental review, but his long ties to Dominion Power money ($113,000 this election cycle from Dominion executives, board members, lobbyists and political action committee) may be compromising his ability to take a position that is in the best interests of Virginians.
Perriello: Stated that he is against offshore drilling and seismic sound surveys that impact coastal marine life. We were hoping for a stronger statement of leadership from Perriello at this point in the election. We really need a governor who will not just oppose, but adamantly fight to keep drilling off Virginia’s coasts. This is the only issue out of the four that Northam has been more direct about, but Perriello’s position on both the drilling practice and seismic sound surveys on our shores is a grateful shift from his previous support of offshore drilling under the Obama Administration. Perriello hails from the mountains of Charlottesville, but is showing all Virginians that he is now more aware and passionate about the water issues the Eastern Shore and Virginia Watermen and women face.
Northam: “I am the only statewide elected official over the years that has been outspoken against offshore drilling.” Northam stated this during the April 29th debate and it checks out. Northam, being from the Eastern Shore defended the Virginia Coast from offshore drilling through the Obama Administration. Northam has sung this point throughout his campaign and he is a champion for the Chesapeake Bay. But his inability to recognize, listen, and empathize with Virginians facing water threats from pipelines and coal ash perhaps shows us a politician who acts in the best interest of his property on the Eastern Shore.
Perriello: Perriello’s staff relayed that he will oppose statewide fracking and work to enact a statewide ban. We think Perriello could take a more direct voice when speaking publicly about this issue.
Northam: During the April 29th debate, Northam stated that he will oppose fracking.
Although both candidates are opposed to fracking, they should really show clearer leadership on this issue. Governors that demonstrate clear leadership have been able to rally their state legislators and pass statewide fracking bans. With a stronger voice on the matter, a Virginia Governor could follow New York Governor Cuomo’s leadership, and successfully ban fracking in Virginia.
Perriello: “As governor, I will push to continue the moratorium on the dumping of coal ash into our lakes and rivers and require that polluters pay for the removal or recycling of this ash.”
Northam: “We have to see what the studies come back and say; we can’t prejudge a solution and we should let the science dictate the solution. As a doctor, I don’t issue a diagnosis until I have all the facts. The same rule applies here.” In this statement, Northam is referring to SB 1398, that now requires environmental studies to be conducted and reported to VADEQ by December. Northam’s statement shows that he understands the environmental policy surrounding coal ash. But what Northam has failed to address is the years of systemic environmental dispossession resulting from Dominion dumping coal ash waste near low income communities and their water sources.
This year and 2018 will be important years for coal ash solid waste permits. These permits will decide how Dominion Energy’s toxic coal ash waste sites will be closed, which is why we need a Governor to oversee this process who not only understands the science but also the root of the problem.
Here is where Perriello’s position on water security stands above Northam’s. In an April 22nd statement, Tom Perriello pledged: “I will work with localities and the General Assembly to fund clean water infrastructure and expand statewide water quality testing for drinking water sources and Virginia’s natural waterways. I’ve refused donations from Dominion and Appalachian Power, and will fight to ensure that our Commonwealth protects our people and not powerful interests.” This stance is consistent with Perriello’s understanding of systemic environmental issues that disproportionately impact people of color and low-income families. Taking a position to free Virginia politics from the monopoly money of Dominion Energy is what Virginia needs to become a true democratic water state.
Review of Democratic Candidates for Lieutenant Governor. All three Democratic Candidates for Lieutenant Governor responded to the Virginia Water Security Pledge.
Virginia Lieutenant Governor (Statewide Primary Election)
★★★★Gene Rossi (D)
★★★★Justin Fairfax (D)
★★★ Susan Platt (D) (still waiting for that pledge on coal ash)
Rossi- “I strongly oppose both pipelines (Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline).”
Fairfax- “I am against both the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline. There has been no case made as to why these pipelines are necessary, with regard to both economic and environmental factors. These pipelines will disrupt state land and wildlife, leading to even more destruction of Virginia’s ecosystems. We do, however, need to create sustainable, higher paying jobs in many areas without unnecessarily harming the environment or health of those in nearby communities.”
Platt- “Yes” (Oppose the construction and permitting of large volume fracked-gas pipelines such as the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline)
Rossi: “I support a statewide ban on fracking.”
Fairfax: “I oppose fracking and support a statewide ban. Fracking leads to contamination of ground soil, air, and our water. Fracking leaks cause polluted streams, rivers, and drinking water which threatens the health of local communities. Regions with fracking have also seen increased levels of air pollution. Fracking’s threats to public health and the environment heavily outweigh the benefits.”
Platt: “Yes” (Oppose hydraulic fracturing and take action to enact a statewide fracking ban)
Rossi: “I strongly oppose offshore drilling”
Fairfax: “I am against offshore drilling. There is clear evidence that offshore drilling poses a substantial risk to the Chesapeake Bay and the regional economy. Virginia is heavily dependent on all that the Bay provides, and an oil spill would be absolutely devastating to our economy and environment. I will fight to protect the Bay.”
Platt: “Yes”(Oppose offshore drilling and seismic sound surveys)
Rossi: “I believe we must remove coal ash waste from Virginia rivers and tidal zones.”
Fairfax: “Virginia needs to adopt a policy of closely monitoring and securing coal ash deposits from seeping into Virginia’s waterways. The pattern of environmental incidents arising from coal ash storage areas breaking down has been very troubling to me, and as Lieutenant Governor I will work to promote policies that will ensure that coal ash does not pose a risk to our rivers, wetlands, and tidal zones. For the coal ash that has already entered our waterways, I will support efforts to remove it and prevent it from doing further harm to our precious rivers, wetlands, and the Chesapeake Bay. In the longer term, I hope that Virginia’s production of coal ash will be reduced as we transition to cleaner energy sources, including wind, solar, and hydroelectric energy sources.”
Platt: “We feel that there are more questions that need to be answered before we say that all ash needs to be removed. Senate Bill 1398 is a great starting point to make sure we are holding Dominion Energy and others like them accountable.”
All three Democratic Candidates for Lieutenant Governor responded to the Virginia Water Security Pledge. Both Rossi and Fairfax pledged to take on all four identified threats. Platt came close to following, but the former Altria lobbyist wavered on what exactly to do about the 20+ million tons of Dominion’s coal ash waste impounded in ponds and landfills across the state. Platt is right; SB 1398 is a good start and will hopefully provide governmental officials and Virginia communities with the environmental studies needed to propose better alternatives to the “cap in place” methods proposed by Dominion. But right now we need officials that recognize evidence already exists that these sites are putting waste contaminates in our rivers and will help accelerate the clean up procedures instead of following the status quo requirements of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and federally set safety standards. We need action in regard to coal ash and both Fairfax or Rossi seem most likely to provide Virginia with leadership that can best put to rest a colonizing legacy of coal and lead us towards a democratic water state.
The Virginia River Healers will be updating the pledge list as candidates respond. If you see that a correction needs to be made to any of the following candidates or if a candidate would like to clarify their support for Virginia’s rivers and water please let us know at email@example.com
-The Virginia River Healers