McAuliffe's Bad Rep as an Environmentalist

Here's why Virginia's green community is highly critical of the governor.


Gov. Terry McAuliffe may be drumming up jobs, but in the process, he’s alienating Virginia’s green community.

McAuliffe is the focus of a number of protests and bitterly critical blog postings by such environmentalists as Ivy Main, a Washington-area lawyer who specializes in green issues, and the left-leaning blog Blue Virginia.

Their biggest criticisms involve:

  • McAuliffe’s support for Dominion’s $5 billion Atlantic Coast pipeline, which would take natural gas recovered by controversial fracking methods from Northern West Virginia through much of Virginia and on to North Carolina.

  • His support for the Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline project in Southwest Virginia, which likewise would take fracked West Virginia gas southeast.

  • His criticisms of the proposed Clean Power Plan by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The plan would reduce carbon dioxide emissions, believed to contribute to climate change. McAuliffe has sided with Dominion Resources and its complaints that the proposal would increase electricity rates by 2030, although a regional electricity exchange and environmental groups such as the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Natural Resources Defense Council say it will create jobs and modify rates.

  • McAuliffe has touted continued use of natural gas and nuclear at the expense of renewable energy sources and conservation.

  • McAuliffe was abrupt with a green activist at a conference as depicted by this video.

Environmental activists favored McAuliffe when he first ran for governor in 2009 because he supported renewables and was skeptical about proposals to drill for oil off the Virginia coast. While McAuliffe says he still backs renewables, Virginia remains far behind its neighbors, such as West Virginia and North Carolina, in their development. He's flip-flopped on offshore drilling and now favors the practice.

On the pipelines, which are being bitterly opposed by local residents angry at Dominion’s hardball surveying tactics, McAuliffe insists that spur lines form the main pipelines will create new industries and jobs in parts of the state that badly need them.

He cited Nelson County as one area where the protests against Dominion’s project are among the strongest. But Nelson is a rural spot known for dairy farms, bed and breakfasts and big resorts such as Wintergreen, not heavy industry.

Ivy Main, meanwhile, has been critical about McAuliffe touting natural gas and nuclear while saying it’s not his concern to worry about risks. While it gives off less carbon than coal, natural gas emits dangerous methane with environmental and safety consequences. The likeliest spot for a new nuclear reactor is at Dominion’s North Anna station, which was built on a geologic fault line and was shut down for months after a 2011 earthquake.