In Virginia, legalized corruption is draining our checkbooks and harming our communities. Candidates for public office are allowed to accept unlimited campaign contributions from the publicly regulated utilities they have a duty to oversee, while the rest of us have to pick up the cost with higher energy bills and renewable energy jobs fleeing to North Carolina and Maryland.
Dominion Energy, the electric utility that provides power to two-thirds of Virginia’s residents, is by far the largest corporate donor to Republican and Democratic lawmakers in Richmond. Giving over $1 million per year to legislators in political gifts, Dominion has pushed communities and small business-owners out of the decision-making process in Richmond. For example, they opposed former Delegate Ron Villanueva’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) bill, also supported by Governor Ralph Northam, that would have addressed climate change and generated millions of dollars to help address sea level rise in Hampton Roads, which inordinately affects African-American communities.
This political manipulation has real impacts. Dominion’s current legislative gambit would allow it to pocket up to $1 billion in past overcharged electric bills and charge ratepayers twice for certain infrastructure projects. This is outrageous. Furthermore, Virginia ranks dead last in wind energy installed in the Mid-Atlantic, despite the potential to create thousands of jobs in Hampton Roads from offshore wind power (with over 11.3 gigawatts of wind available on our coasts). Our communities are paying too much for electricity while many struggle to find jobs that would be created by investments in local renewable energy projects.
This corruption is unacceptable. That is why I have joined the Clean Virginia Project, a citizen-funded initiative to advance clean governance, clean energy, and clean competition in Virginia. We are asking candidates for public office to pledge to refuse campaign donations from Dominion Energy. In return, politicians will have access to no-strings attached campaign financing from concerned Virginia citizens.
As a pastor, I believe that morality matters. Legalized corruption erodes our moral foundations as a community. And of course the costs, as they always do, fall overwhelmingly on the parts of our region that are the most vulnerable, while God reminds us that we shall be judged by how we treat the least among us. With financial independence from the monopolies they are supposed to regulate, legislators will be able to finally bring justice to communities poisoned by arsenic and other toxic chemicals that leach from Dominion’s coal ash waste water site at the Chesapeake Energy Center. They will be able to create jobs in clean energy and protect our communities from the threat of sea level rise via climate resiliency measures.
Clean Virginia wants to make clear to citizens across the state that our elected officials have a choice. Our representatives can give consumers back the nearly $1 billion we are owed for overcharges by Dominion, or they can continue to protect the profits of monopolies at the expense of small businesses and consumers.
We will bear close witness to their choice and, as a citizenry, stand in judgement.