Today the Sierra Club held a demonstration at a fundraiser for Senator Frank Wagner of Virginia Beach. “Frank Wagner is Dominion’s Man! He Obstructs the Clean Power Plan” and “Frank Wagner Takes Dirty Money! While the seas are rising and that’s not funny!” were just a few of the chants launched at the Senator and those attending his fundraiser at the Westin Hotel in Virginia Beach. Frank Wagner has been named by the Sierra Club as the #1 obstructionist to climate action in the General Assembly, and for good reason.
This year’s General Assembly session was, as always, an exciting whirlwind of discussion, debate, and decision and it was not without its theatrics. Climate change mitigation was a hot topic in Richmond and not for the reasons you may think. There is a strong and vocal cadre of General Assembly members who are opposed to reasonable policies to address climate change. The most outspoken of these opponents is Sen. Frank Wagner of Virginia Beach who, shockingly, represents residents of Hampton Roads. One would think that supporting action on climate change would be a no brainer for someone representing people living in the region 2nd only to New Orleans when it comes to being vulnerable to sea level rise from climate change. But Sen. Wagner seems to be putting his purse before the people as he’s taken nearly $50,000 in campaign contributions and gifts from Dominion Virginia Power, the state’s largest and most dominant utility, over his General Assembly career. Add that to the $43,643 in campaign contributions since 2009 from Virginia based Alpha Natural Resources, one of the largest coal companies in the country, and you can start to see where his loyalties lie. There is no denying that Sen. Frank Wagner is very cozy, too cozy, with the fossil fuel industry, the industry that has put literally billions of dollars into fighting common sense actions to address climate change and transition our energy mix to more clean and renewable energy.
The efforts to obstruct and attack initiatives that support climate action were on display multiple times in the General Assembly this year. These attacks were focused on the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), a flexible and common sense approach to reducing carbon emission from our nation’s power plants, and also the first EVER federal action to address climate change. The plan sets a state by state goal for emission reduction and then leaves it up to the states to implement a plan to achieve those goals that fits best for each state . Sen. Wagner himself proposed three pieces of legislation that were aimed at either outright obstructing action on climate change or at least slowing it down.
First SB 1349, aka “the Dominion rate freeze bill” didn’t specifically target the EPA rule but to justify the bill Senator Wagner repeated claims by Dominion that the rule was unfair to Virginia and could result in electricity bill increases of 30% or more. EPA estimates and an independent analysis by the ICF consulting group found that the Clean Power Plan would actually reduce customers’ bills if investments were made in efficiency. A recent report by PJM, the organization that operates the regional electrical grid also confirmed that, contrary to Dominion’s and Wagner’s claims, the Clean Power Plan could reduce electricity bills. But this bill basically allows Dominion to overcharge its customers and there is no way for us to know about it. A very telling side note to go along with this; when it became public knowledge that Senator Wagner also owned stock in Dominion, he sold his shares during the legislative session.
Another bill introduced by Sen. Wagner was SB 1202, which failed, would have infringed on the authority of the Governor and other state agencies to develop a state implementation plan to comply with the EPA rule and in essence reduce Virginia’s carbon emissions. Finally SJ 273, which actually passed, calls for an unnecessary study of alleged errors by the EPA in assessing the health benefits of the Clean Power Plan, basically just another way for Wagner and his fossil fuel buddies to continue the narrative that the EPA rule is bad, bad, bad.
Sen. Wagner’s blatant disregard for the needs of his constituents is shameful and should not stand and the same goes for Dominion Virginia Power’s extreme influence on governance in Virginia. According to the Virginia Public Access Project, Dominion made $1.4 million in Virginia political campaign contributions in 2012 and 2013. That’s just one year’s worth of donations, and I promise you they didn’t just start donating to politicians last year! This kind of corporate cronyism must be addressed and gotten rid of if we are to continue to have a free and just society. The Sierra Club, along with other organization throughout the state, are starting to take Dominion and their politicians to task. They’ve started a new campaign called “The People V.S. Dominion” and will be held the demonstration in Virginia Beach Towne Center to call out Sen. Wagner’s climate obstructionism at a fundraiser on Thursday. For more information about the campaign or the demonstration go to www.VASierraclub.org or contact the author.