Va. Governor Bucks Activists, OKs Coal Plant

Published November 1, 2008

Once hailed by environmentalists as a champion of green causes, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (D) now finds himself the scourge of his erstwhile supporters.

Kaine’s fall from grace results from his support of a new $1.8 billion, 585-megawatt coal-fired power plant set for construction in Wise County in mountainous southwestern Virginia.

Solid Green Credentials

Kaine, an ardent proponent of the theory of human-induced global warming, garnered praise from environmentalists in September 2007 when he unveiled his “Virginia Energy Plan.” Kaine claimed the plan would reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state by 30 percent. Kaine also backed the Warner-Lieberman “cap-and-trade” bill to limit greenhouse gas emissions, which was rejected by the U.S. Senate in June.

But the green accolades quickly gave way to howls of protest when it became clear Kaine would not oppose Virginia Dominion Power’s plans to construct the new plant in the middle of the commonwealth’s coal country.

Confronted by Virginia’s growing demand for reliable sources of electricity, Kaine in June sent a carefully worded letter to the state’s Air Pollution Control Board, in effect urging the board not to put any regulatory hurdles in the way of the proposed plant.

“I am writing you to provide you with clear direction on my expectations for the process to be utilized in issuing permits,” Kaine wrote. “My intent (is) … to assure consistency, certainty, and predictability in the process of issuing decisions.”

Activist Objections

Construction of the power plant, which still awaits approval of several state permits, is opposed by a coalition of environmental activist groups who call themselves Wise Energy for Virginia.

The coalition includes the Sierra Club, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, Southern Environmental Law Center, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and Appalachian Voices.

When not criticizing Kaine directly, Wise Energy for Virginia and others opposed to the plant say the facility will harm the environment by emitting into the air unacceptable levels of carbon dioxide, mercury, and other pollutants, and by threatening the nearby Clinch River with fly-ash waste.

Advanced Green Technology

Dominion, however, notes the advanced environmental safeguards planned for its plant will minimize such impacts. The plant will have scrubbers and other technologies limiting emissions of mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and particulate matter.

The new facility will be called the “Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center.” Dominion chose the name because the plant will burn not only conventional coal but also waste coal and scrap wood. The company estimates construction of the plant will create 800 jobs in Wise County and the plant will employ 75 full-time workers when completed.

Kaine’s support of the facility is in sharp contrast to action taken earlier this year by Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D), who blocked construction of two coal-fired power plants in her state.

“America faces an electricity crisis if we do not build new, reliable power plants,” said Dan Simmons, director for state policy at the Washington-based Institute for Energy Research. “Coal will be a part of the energy mix for the foreseeable future because it is dependable and inexpensive—two things renewable energy is not. Virginia needs additional electricity for the future, and the new power plant in Wise County is an indispensable part of powering Virginia’s economic growth.”

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.