by Ali Symons
Prior to the June 2017 VA primary, I went to many meet-and-greets of as many Democratic candidates I could go to. I sat on the floor of someone’s house, one foot away from Ralph Northam’s shoes, as he paced back and forth speaking to the crowd about why he would make a good Governor of Virginia. I also saw Tom Perriello on many occasions, to the point where I became familiar with his standard speech.
I can’t tell you the number of times I would hear folks in the Democratic grassroots say that Northam was the better candidate because of his experience in the Virginia General Assembly as Lt. Governor, and also because of his party establishment’s backing. The thinking was that, in the standard formula of political campaigns, you need the party endorsement and the resources that come with it in order to win. And beating the Republican candidate is the all-important end goal. The actual quality of the Democratic candidate comes second.
I deliberated on my choice between the two candidates for a long time, but in the end went with Perriello because of two things: his strong stance against the pipelines and for campaign finance reform. I didn’t know at the time all the really bad things about Northam – that he was a lifelong Republican before switching in 2007, or that he was getting a truckload of money from Dominion — and so went with my gut feeling at a certain level. (Wish I had known you back then to give me all the inside dirt, Lowell!) And despite my reservations about Northam, I willingly voted for him in the general election. I voted for the “not Gillespie” guy. Because, ya know, as a lifelong liberal and progressive, what else was I going to do? But now, seven months into Northam’s governorship, we’ve reached a point where I need to get some things off my chest.
After all of Northam’s talk of relying on “the science” to ensure that the Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipeline are constructed under the most stringent oversight and mitigation measures possible, he has finally come out and said unequivocally that he is FOR building these fracked-gas pipelines (see this article). This means that he lied. He lied during the Democratic primary. He lied going into the general election last year. And he has been lying ever since. Until now.
This is what Northam, many Virginia legislators, and his Dominion pals will tell you about the pipelines: “We need this gas because we need to be able to turn the lights on and transition away from dirty coal in a way that won’t disrupt the economy. And — JOBS!”
But here’s the thing. these are natural gas transmission lines, not distribution lines that are going to hook the gas straight into homes and businesses. The 42-inch, 300+ mile Mountain Valley Pipeline & 600+ mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline will ship fracked gas from the Marcellus Shale deposits of West Virginia straight to the coast (and a few gas-fired power plants along the way) to be compressed into LNG (liquid natural gas) and shipped overseas.
Also worth noting is that we currently have an excess capacity of gas pipelines in Virginia. The Transco and WB Xpress pipelines are currently not operating at full capacity, with Transco only at 54% capacity and projected to increase only to 57% by 2030. Electricity consumption in Virginia and across the US has also flatlined in the past 7 years due to several factors, including improved energy efficiency. Today, Virginians simply don’t need more gas pipelines to keep the lights on and heat our homes. This is simply a case of mining natural resources for corporate profits. The pipelines developers (Dominion et al & EQT et al) have Northam, more than half the Virginia legislature, the State Corporation Commission, and Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) in their pockets (“captured”), doing their bidding and making sure that the regulatory pathway is cleared for the projects to move ahead.
Now, here’s something that needs to be said.
FRACKED METHANE GAS IS NOT CLEANER!! IT IS A FOSSIL FUEL THAT LEAKS METHANE, WHICH IS 84 TIMES MORE HEAT TRAPPING THAN CO2. AND PIPELINES EXPLODE ALL THE TIME. ALL THE TIME!
As for the jobs, only 34 permanent jobs will be created in total from these pipeline projects. The rest are temporary jobs while the pipelines are being constructed: think tree cutting, clearing the land, digging, laying the pipes, etc. Meanwhile, if we were to adopt a smart and comprehensive clean energy development plan that incorporates not only modernization of the electrical grid infrastructure but smart urban planning, mass transit system, and energy efficiency programs, we could create a whole new, cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable economy that creates good permanent jobs in the long term. We’re talking jobs that allow one to have good quality of life. Prosperity for ALL rather than just a few y’all! Imagine that!
The kind of thinking that assumes massive, destructive, privately funded infrastructure projects are good for the economy and jobs is what I call “lazy economics.” It means that the main criteria they’re looking at are: 1) you have the capital to invest in the project; and 2) proof that you have a business model that is viable – meaning you have guaranteed buyers for your gas.
AND because the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) guarantees these pipeline developers a 14% rate of return, and in the case of Dominion they can pass the cost of their capital investments onto Virginia ratepayers (us!), they are incentivized to build gas pipelines RISK FREE! It’s like getting to go gamble at a casino with someone else’s money! What do you care if you lose it all?
This “lazy economics” is also premised on the assumption that “what’s good for business is also good for the economy overall.” If the CEO and shareholders of corporations do well, then we all do well. Wait, isn’t that discredited trickle-down economics? Isn’t that what Republicans believe? Not OUR Democratic elected officials, surely!!?? Oh, wait, I think the “we” is the Democratic party and candidates who keep taking donations from these corporations. More money = the Dems can win elections = Political Power. Got it. Silly of me to think that “we” means “the people”. (Never mind that this strategy of how to win elections is not proven nor guaranteed!)
Yes, supporting Democratic candidates and elected officials over Republicans is important, but should simply having a D next to one’s name and the endorsement of the party establishment be sufficient? If we want real change in these times, we must walk the talk. Vote for our true values, not based on fear or some (often erroneous) calculation of what is needed to beat the Republicans. Aren’t we past that yet? I thought Trump was the turning point for us. For me it meant I’m not going to keep compromising my true values just because I’m afraid of something worse. And the “we need a moderate so we can appeal to the centrists” thinking is also outdated. The swing voters are not who we need to be courting. We need to engage and activate our own liberal base. We need to get to the folks who are sitting at home and not participating.
So, the next time we have a chance to elect a Tom Perriello over a Ralph Northam in a Democratic primary, I hope we will not squander it like we did last June. The primaries are where real change will happen. Stop second-guessing and double-thinking about what we think is needed to beat the Republican candidate. We need to vote with our values, not our fears. It is now or never. Our social order and planet depends on it.