Pipeline Politics Stir Virginia Governor's Race
Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Lt. Gov. Ralph S. Northam , Perriello's opponent in the hotly contested Democratic gubernatorial primary, have said they support a thorough review process but do not oppose the multibillion-dollar projects supporters say will create jobs and boost the economy.
The Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines have drawn strong opposition from environmentalists, creating for Perriello an opportunity to position himself to the left of a party establishment firmly behind Northam.
On Thursday, Northam's campaign disclosed a previously unreported letter he sent to environmental regulators in February supporting a comprehensive review.
At a rally Thursday night in Northern Virginia with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders , I-Vt., a former presidential candidate, Perriello praised the state Department of Environmental Quality's decision to require individual water-quality permit reviews for each segment of the proposed Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines, a process Perriello called for in early February as an initial step toward slowing down or stopping the projects.
At the time, Perriello said, his call for a larger, more adversarial state role in the federally overseen projects was dismissed as ill-informed grandstanding.
"Never let the pundits tell us what's possible or not possible here in Virginia ," Perriello said at the rally after noting he was the "only Democratic candidate to come out against" the pipelines.
He expanded on the remarks in a series of Twitter posts Friday, calling the agency's decision "the product of a bold, people-powered campaign" driven by environmental advocates and landowners.
"When I stood up 2mos. ago to oppose these pipelines, pundits called it showmanship. That totally missed the mark," Perriello said. "This is about leadership."
McAuliffe has repeatedly said he has little authority to intervene even if he wanted to. The governor's office said Friday that McAuliffe did not influence the DEQ's decision on the water-quality reviews.
"This is a scientific process that's driven by people who are experts and should be making these decisions," said McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy . "The governor's view is that they should be making these decisions free from political considerations, and he's gone out of his way to protect the impartiality of the decision-making process."
Though the governor appoints the DEQ director and the seven-member State Water Control Board , McAuliffe has said he has no authority to intervene in regulatory decisions to block projects he does not like.
The DEQ had been considering whether to issue a permit for the hundreds of affected waterways under "blanket" federal rules, which pipeline opponents have criticized as insufficient. DEQ officials said the decision to pursue more rigorous reviews stemmed from both the agency's own concerns and "the public interest that's been expressed."
Dominion Resources , the lead developer of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, said Thursday that the $5.1 billion , 600-mile project is "fully on to track to receive final approval and begin construction this fall." The pipeline would transport fracked gas from the Marcellus shale through the heart of Virginia from the West Virginia to North Carolina state lines.
Northam's pipeline letter, dated roughly one week after Perriello's anti-pipeline announcement, asked the agency to "strongly consider" requiring individual permits.
"These projects must undergo a thorough evaluation of their impacts on our natural resources," Northam wrote. "Such a decision will provide an individualized analysis for each project that will increase public input and transparency."
Northam campaign spokesman David Turner said the letter was "entirely consistent" with Northam's position calling for "strict environmental quality measures."
Northam's letter said the state has an "important role to play in safeguarding Virginia's water resources," but noted that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission "is responsible for determining whether the pipeline projects will move forward and where they will be routed."
Republican gubernatorial front-runner Ed Gillespie fully backs the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. In a letter to federal officials last week, Gillespie called the pipeline "an important part of Virginia's energy infrastructure." Gillespie's Republican primary opponents are Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart and state Sen. Frank W. Wagner , R- Virginia Beach .
Both parties will choose their nominees in June 13 primaries.