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New Report Card Gives McAuliffe a D+ on Carbon Pollution, Clean Power in Virginia


I just got off a conference call with a coalition of environmental and social justice groups who this morning releases “a first-of-its-kind report card rating Governor Terry McAuliffe and his record on climate change and clean energy issues.” According to the press release, the report “will show that Governor McAuliffe’s actions in office thus far fall alarmingly short of his promises as a candidate and of the leadership Virginia needs, especially as climate disruption accelerates and harms the health and economic security of communities across the commonwealth.” Also, McAuliffe’s grades “encompass five categories, accounting for his administration’s actions on new fossil fuel infrastructure (including pipelines), coal ash, clean energy, sea-level rise and flooding impacts, and the federal Clean Power Plan.”

Speakers on the conference call included:

  • Mike Tidwell, Director, Chesapeake Climate Action Network
  • Ladelle McWhorter, Chairperson, Virginia Organizing
  • Dean Naujoks, Potomac Riverkeeper with the Potomac Riverkeeper Network
  • Joelle Novey, Director, Interfaith Power & Light (DC.MD.NoVA)
  • Laura Cross, Virginia Student Environmental Coalition

To read the report, click here. See below for a few screen shots. Also, here are a few more key points made by speakers.

  • Tidwell: “Overall, the Governor’s two-year record on these vital energy issues is poor – in several cases bordering on outright failure – especially in light of the growing urgency of the climate crisis. While the Governor has supported some modest new clean-energy policies – for which he deserves credit – he has embraced several high-pollution policies that threaten great harm to the climate. These include support for offshore oil drilling in Virginia (now rejected by the White House) and support for massive new pipelines traversing the state that would carry fracked gas from West Virginia and surrounding states. In 2013, Governor Terry McAuliffe ran for office promising to take real action on climate change. He promised to support substantive policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while promoting clean energy. He criticized his gubernatorial opponent for being a climate denier. McAuliffe said science would be a strong guide to his policies. But after more than two years in office, the Governor’s record has fallen far short of his promises... his support for fracked-gas pipelines threatens to be much more substantive in its impacts on clean air and a healthy climate. Scientists say that, worldwide, societies must keep 80 percent of the planet’s known reserves of fossil fuels in the ground if we are to have any chance of stabilizing the global climate. The fracked gas pipelines Governor McAuliffe supports – if built – would trigger so much fracking in neighboring states and so much gas use and gas leakage in Virginia that the net pollution result would be greater than all of the state’s current coal- and gas-fired power plants combined. His administration’s record on offshore oil drilling and on cleaning up the commonwealth’s toxic coal ash is equally poor…after running for office as a candidate who would work to reduce the threat of global warming, the Governor is instead supporting the biggest plan in a generation to increase Virginia’s role in expanding climate pollution.” “The fear is that Dominion will essentially write the Governor’s Clean Power Plan.”
  • McWhorter: “McAuliffe must act as the leader for all Virginians to address climate change…He gets low marks in other areas because he continues to support industries and developments that exacerbate our problems, like offshore drilling.”
  • Naujoks: The Potomac River is “the nation’s river,” but when it “comes to coal ash, the state of Virginia uses it as a dumping ground…Governor McAuliffe, when it comes to coal ash, gets a double F, just like his last name. He’s failed to protect local communities and drinking water supplies…His regulatory agency provides no regulatory oversite to police Dominion Virginia Power…Right now, as we speak, millions of toxic coal ash is being dumped into the James River from Dominion’s coal ash pond…[Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality – DEQ] has not required Dominion to clean up any type of coal ash…And worst of all, just recently, word came out that David Paylor, the head of the agency, was flown…to the Masters, had his bar tab picked up, paid for by Dominion…This type of activity is appalling to see the heads of regulatory agencies that are supposed to be policing [Dominion]…The town of Dumfries just recently requested and EPA criminal investigation…”
  • Novey: We are called to address the harm of climate change, need to “shift to cleaner energy.” Pope Francis has “galvanized action” on climate change.” “We see the implementation of Virginia’s Clean Power Plan as a critical opportunity for the Governor to truly lead. We’re calling on Gov. McAuliffe now to implement a strong Clean Power Plan in Virginia that maximizes reductions in heat-trapping climate pollution.”
  • Cross: It is “irresponsible to continue supporting fossil fuel infrastructure” like the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The “era of fossil fuels will end in my lifetime.” “It is completely unacceptable that our Governor continues to support the fracked gas [Atlantic Coast Pipeline]” or offshore drilling, where McAuliffe is “embarrassingly on the wrong side of history.” “Climate leaders don’t frack.” “No amount of money from fossil fuel interests is acceptable when they’re destroying my future and the future of the people that I [inaudible] with…Our futures are on the line and politicians like McAuliffe need to either lead the state towards [a clean energy] future or get out of the way.”

Yours truly asked a question about an issue not touched upon in this report — fossil fuel divestment, which McAuliffe a year ago said was NOT his role to get involved with. Cross noted the University of Mary Washington recently divested, which was an “exciting win.” She added that “the broader political climate is moving and McAuliffe is falling behind.” Tidwell said it would be hard to see McAuliffe getting “anything other than a failing grade on [this issue].” Naujoks asked, “if [McAuliffe] is a ‘fiscal conservative’…why isn’t he…looking where the markets are heading…global investments in renewable energy have now surpassed investments in fossil fuels…that’s where the market is going,” so if he really is fiscally conservative, he should be investing in renewable energy and divesting from fossil fuels.

P.S. I just received the press release from this conference call. See below.

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Virginia Organizing, the Virginia Student Environmental Coalition, and Interfaith Power & Light (MD.DC.NoVA) released the report, which grades Governor McAuliffe across five categories. He received the lowest marks—an “F” and “D-” respectively—for enabling toxic coal ash pollution and for promoting the largest proposed fossil fuel expansion Virginia has seen in a generation, including massive pipelines and new power plants fueled by fracked gas.

The high-pollution impact of the Governor’s support for fossil fuels threatens to overshadow his modest steps forward to spur clean energy and to address sea-level rise, the groups warn.

“When coastal Virginia is flooding at ‘normal’ high tide, we’re out of time for Governor McAuliffe’s ‘one step forward, two steps back’ approach,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “Climate leadership, at its core, means keeping fossil fuels in the ground, not lobbying for decades more reliance on fracked gas and offshore oil drilling. In this regard, the Governor has failed the climate, and the health and safety of Virginians, in a major way.”

Leaders with the Potomac Riverkeeper Network and landowners fighting the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines joined a tele-press conference this morning.

“Governor McAuliffe gets a double ‘F’ on coal ash just like his name. His administration has failed to protect its citizens by giving Dominion virtually a free license to pollute our rivers and drinking water. His regulatory agency has totally failed to provide any meaningful oversight of Dominion,” said Dean Naujoks, Potomac Riverkeeper. “Virginia’s chief regulator, David Paylor, has acted as a partner to Dominion, joining Dominion on a lavish golf trip before covering up a 27.5 million gallon coal ash wastewater dump into the Potomac River. Yet, the Governor has done nothing to rectify the situation.”

The groups give Governor McAuliffe an “incomplete” for his response to the federal “Clean Power Plan,” which they cite as the Governor’s biggest opportunity to transform his record.“Virginia Organizing is committed to clean energy to create new jobs and, most importantly, to protect our precious natural resources,” said LaDelle McWhorter, Chairperson of Virginia Organizing. “It is time for Governor Terry McAuliffe to take action and for that action to be in the interest of the people of Virginia, not those who represent the big polluters.”

Governor McAuliffe has sole authority to prepare a state plan to implement the federal rules, which are designed to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. Previously, McAuliffe lobbied with the state’s largest utility company, Dominion Virginia Power, to lower Virginia’s requirements. His design of a state plan could either fully embrace clean energy or allow Dominion to invest in more polluting gas and increase carbon emissions for years to come.

“Climate change presents an urgent moral challenge to Governor McAuliffe and all people of goodwill across the Commonwealth,” said Joelle Novey, director of Interfaith Power & Light (MD.DC.NoVA). “Virginia’s faith communities are already doing everything they can to shift to cleaner power, and today we call on Governor McAuliffe to follow our lead by developing a strong ‘Clean Power Plan’ that faithfully lowers pollution using real solutions: solar, wind and efficiency. We all are called to act on climate for the sake of our neighbors and future generations.”

The report and the speakers on today’s call noted other key areas where Governor McAuliffe’s administration can rectify low marks, from requiring utilities to move toxic coal ash to modern, lined landfills to using the state’s Clean Water Act authority to block key pipeline permits.

“Governor McAuliffe has so far abandoned landowners like me, as we fight to protect our natural heritage and homes from multi-billion dollar corporations and a derelict federal agency,” said Scott Ballin, an Augusta County landowner whose home lies in the path of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. “By joining calls for a combined regional pipeline review, and denying state water permits, Governor McAuliffe could yet become an ally.”

“The Governor’s support of fracked gas pipelines and infrastructure that blasts through venerable mountain forests, sullying streams, creeks and groundwater and destroying whole watersheds in its path to export terminals, is extremely short sighted,” said Roberta Bondurant, a long-time Bent Mountain resident and a member of POWHR (Protect Our Water, Heritage, and Rights) and Preserve Roanoke/Bent Mountain, groups fighting the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline. “Among those in the pipeline opposition is a cadre of incredibly capable and talented environmental and energy scientists, and the Governor should avail himself of their experience and wisdom to protect our water resources. He has the opportunity, in the Clean Power Plan, to establish his legacy of renewable energy. We encourage him to seize it.”

A concern repeated throughout the report is the role of Dominion—the largest non-party campaign donor and largest climate polluter in Virginia—in influencing the McAuliffe administration’s policies.

“Students are deeply concerned that Governor McAuliffe is putting the profits of Dominion before a healthy future for all Virginians,” said Laura Cross, a second year student at the University of Virginia and a member of the Virginia Student Environmental Coalition. “We hope this report card is a wake-up call for the Governor. We need real leadership, and we need it now.”

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