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Mr. Farrell, do you feel Dominion’s profits are more important than people and the planet?

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by Deborah Kushner

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported the following exchange between Dominion CEO Tom Farrell and me last week (“At Dominion Shareholder Meeting, Pipeline Opponents Address CEO”):

“Mr. Farrell, do you feel Dominion’s profits are more important than people’s lives and the planet?” … “Obviously, I don’t,” he told Kushner, adding that the various facts she had laid out, in his view, “just don’t comport with reality.”

No wonder electronic recording devices aren’t allowed in shareholder meetings. The following is my full statement, so the public can for themselves discern (Tom Farrell’s version of) “reality” from fiction.

Dominion is a big business – the country’s 6th largest utility in numbers of customers. My question is: “Does Dominion have a heart?”

Last year’s proxy vote shows that Dominion’s shareholders increasingly care about climate impacts, and the company’s responsibility for it.  Imagine if because you live in Norfolk, you’re often late for work, driving your children to school because their bus stop is underwater. Or your farm crops fail year after year because of intense heat and storms. Or your generations-old cattle operation will likely cease because a pipeline HAS to run smack through the middle of it, despite years of failed requests to move it to a perimeter location. Climate issues are about real people and real places. This isn’t business as usual, and neither should Dominion’s business practices be.

The 2017 American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s ‘State Energy Efficiency Scorecard’ gave Virginia a 0 out of 20 possible points for Utility & public benefits programs & policies. That report ranked Virginia next to last, above only West Virginia. Ranked against other states for natural gas efficiency program savings in 2016, Virginia scored a 0. To be fair, so did 17 other states, but is that the kind of company we want to keep? In electric efficiency program spending by state, Virginia scored a 0 along with 19 other states.

In natural gas efficiency program spending by state, Virginia scored a 0, along with 21 other states.

Ceres named Dominion as the lowest ranked US investor-owned electric utility on clean energy deployment in 2 of 3 criteria: incremental annual energy efficiency and life cycle energy efficiency.

According to the US Energy Information Admin, “Virginia experiences the 10th highest average residential electric bills in the US.”

Last year, Maryland increased its renewable portfolio standard target from 20 to 25% by 2020. Virginia’s RPS goal is 15% by 2025.

Highly contaminated groundwater from Dominion’s unlined coal ash pits is flowing into the James & Potomac rivers, yet we import North Carolina’s ash for industrial use

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s path is disproportionately routed through Native American, African-American and Appalachian communities. Historic Union Hill in Buckingham County is the planned site of the state’s only compressor station, where some residents will live 150’ away from this 57,000hp, 24/7 machine. Who could live next to that? 

We cannot cut carbon emissions by building more fossil fuel infrastructure, despite an attractive 14% return. 

Political candidates began shunning Dominion dollars in last year’s elections, and the trend grows.

Mr. Farrell, do you feel Dominion’s profits are more important than people and the planet?

Dominion, accustomed to having its way, throws “donations” both left and right to ensure favor. Mr. Farrell remains intent on business as usual…A guaranteed up-to-14% return is rosy indeed in these times. But times are a-changin’, as shown in the wave of Dominion donation refusals.

All the Virginia shareholder comments at the meeting asked for environmental stewardship, and all were quickly dismissed.

Mr. Farrell, the public has educated itself, given our planet’s dire situation. ”Business as usual” finds us teetering on the brink of climate disaster. Your claims of only “microscopic amounts of methane escape from pipelines”; toxic emissions “wiped out of our fleet”; and pride that 50+ acres of trees have been cut to make way for the wonders of the Cove Point LNG export terminal (a huge commitment to continuing a fossil fuel path) are horrific denials of our true plight.

If you so “obviously” put people’s welfare over profits, you would not endanger our air, water and land. If you’re amazed by your opposition’s tenacity, it’s because the horrors of Flint, Michigan, San Bernardino and along every leaking and exploding pipeline are real. If we’re lucky enough to not live in the path of a proposed pipeline, we know that but for grace, there go we.