By Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau
RICHMOND – Terry McAuliffe took a dozen days to declare support for the EPA’s tighter regulations on coal plants, burying his announcement until Virginians were fixated on a federal government shutdown and the debut of Obamacare.
But neither the Democrat’s delay nor his position may change the dynamics of the state’s contentious gubernatorial race.
“People out here vote Democrat or Republican, no matter what,” said John Belcher, executive director of the Virginia Mining Association, headquartered in the southwestern coal town of Norton.
Virginia’s coal country went heavily for Mitt Romney in 2012, and Belcher anticipates the GOP redoubt will hold for Republican Ken Cuccinelli, a staunch critic of EPA measures.
But with the state’s population growth favoring Democrat-heavy Northern Virginia, coal votes don’t carry the weight they used to.
Besides, Belcher said he doubts that “average run-of-the-mill coal miners relate to Virginia politics and coal as much as they do to federal issues.”
While Republicans continue to blast away at what they call the Obama administration’s “war on coal,” Belcher said he believes McAuliffe will get a pass from loyal southwest Democrats on Election Day, Nov. 5.
“People see the federal government as more of a problem than the state governor,” Belcher told Watchdog.org in an interview.
Dominion Power, the state’s largest electric utility, reflects the declining influence of coal. The company has not opposed the EPA regs, and says it is relying less on the mineral for power.
Dominion spokesman Dan Genest said nuclear output accounts for 44 percent of its generation, compared with 30 percent for coal and 23 percent for natural gas.
Genest said neither of Dominion’s upcoming “combined-cycle” generating stations, which burn a combination of waste coal and biomass, would be affected by the EPA rules.
The utility, meanwhile, is continuing to diversify its energy sources. The U.S. Department of the Interior accepted Dominion’s $1.6 billion bid to develop a sprawling wind farm on 112,000 acres off Virginia’s shores.
Cuccinelli says alternative-energy ventures, along with tougher carbon-control regulations, raise the price of power for Virginians, squeezing lower- and middle-income households hardest.
Beyond cost, Belcher said, “If the rules that are proposed go into effect, we don’t have the technology to reduce the emissions to the standards set (by the EPA).”
As attorney general, Cuccinelli represents customers in utility rate cases, and he has criticized taxpayer-funded bonus programs that subsidize power companies’ “green” power initiatives.
On Tuesday, the populist Republican had a message for coal country about the EPA rules now embraced by McAuliffe:
“I can tell you that these regulations are legally tenuous, and if I’m governor, you can count on me to fight them. If Terry is governor, you can count on him to roll over to the federal government.”
Contact Kenric Ward at email@example.com or at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward