Cuccinelli unveils energy policy, as liberal think tank criticizes his tax plan

DAVID CRIGGER/BRISTOL HERALD COURIER/AP - Viginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli speaks during a campaign stop at Electro-Mechanical Corporation Line Power Division in Bristol, Thursday, May 16, 2013.

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II on Thursday sketched the outlines of a comprehensive energy policy that would promote all available sources, from nuclear energy to biomass, while emphasizing the importance of coal and the pursuit of offshore oil.

Cuccinelli, a Republican who is hoping to succeed Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), is in a tight race with Terry McAuliffe, a former Democratic National Committee chairman and fundraiser who has touted his record as an entrepreneur. Cuccinelli unveiled his energy policy the same day a liberal-leaning think tank released a critical analysis of the Republican gubernatorial candidate’s tax-cut proposal, as both campaigns have begun offering increasingly specific policy prescriptions.

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“We’ll fight for Virginia’s right to responsibly explore our offshore energy resources,” Cuccinelli said at a campaign event in Bristol. “We know they’re there, but the federal government isn’t even allowing us to go investigate how much is there and how much is recoverable.”

Last week, McAuliffe also paid a visit to Bristol, where he stopped by a coal company and later talked up the importance of the fossil fuel to Virginia’s economy, according to a published report. Cuccinelli’s campaign accused McAuliffe of a flip-flop from the position he took in an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic Party’s nomination four years ago.

Cuccinelli pledged to streamline the development of new energy-generating plants and technologies, from both traditional and renewable sources. Citing his victory over the EPA in a Fairfax County regulatory case, Cuccinelli also said he would resist “federal overreach” on environmental regulations and search for a balance between conservation or environmental protection and its cost to consumers.

“Our energy policy is all about creating jobs and making life easier for businesses and consumers,” Cuccinelli said during a visit to the Electro-Mechanical Corp.’s Line Power Division. He said he would not only promote new sources of energy but would fight regulations and taxes that drive up the cost for businesses and consumers.

“It’s not just about job creation and energy development, it’s also about keeping energy prices manageable,” Cuccinelli said, noting that he has held 10 town hall meetings in southwest Virginia devoted to the subject of utility rates.

Cuccinelli also took swipes at the federal government, saying he would do everything possible to see that Virginia opts out of federal regulations promoting the use of ethanol. And he suggested that he would give more emphasis to the private sector’s development of new and alternative energy sources instead of giving government more leeway to pick winners and losers with subsidies or other incentives.

Cuccinelli said government should strive to protect the environment while bearing in mind the cost that sometimes comes with doing so.

“[I]t’s always about a balance,” he said. “We want to protect the environment while balancing that protection with the critical need to increase energy production and improve and modernize energy technology . . . and bolster job creation.”

Cuccinelli’s announcement from deep in Virginia’s coal country also emphasized his support for the fossil fuel, which was first tapped in 1750 in Virginia but has come under attack because of its impact on air pollution and global warming.

Like other coal fields around the nation, Virginia’s have suffered in recent years, with thousands of people being thrown out of work as utilities switch to cheap abundant natural gas and Asia’s appetite has slowed with its economy. But many people in Virginia’s coal country also blame stricter environmental regulations at the federal level for what some have called a “war on coal.”

“This part of the state is the backbone of Virginia’s energy industry,” Cuccinelli said. “I’ve always believed, and will continue to believe, that more traditional sources of energy, particularly coal, are essential to sound energy policy for the commonwealth.”

Cuccinelli also sought to contrast his support for coal with the position of his opponent, McAuliffe.

Although McAuliffe expressed support for the coal industry during last week’s campaign swing in the area, Cuccinelli reminded listeners that McAuliffe opposed broadening the use of coal when he ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic Party’s nomination in 2009. In that race, McAuliffe noted that more than 50 percent of power generated at the time came from coal and that such production could not be ended right away. But he also emphasized the need to move away from coal.

“As governor, I never want another coal plant built,” McAuliffe said then. “I want us to build wind farms, biomass, biodiesel and solar — that’s my emphasis.”

McAuliffe spokesman Josh Schwerin called Cuccinelli’s plan “light on specifics but . . . heavy on ideology,” and he referenced the attorney general’s controversial effort to get the records of a former University of Virginia climate scientist.

“Ken Cuccinelli’s extreme record on energy and science has hurt Virginia,” Schwerin said. “When he didn’t like the conclusions of a scientist’s research, he abused his office to launch a witch hunt against UVA that cost $600,000 and embarrassed Virginia.”

On taxes, Cuccinelli has called for cutting both the individual and corporate rates, while also ending unspecified tax loopholes and business incentive programs.

The Richmond-based Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis examined one piece of that proposal — Cuccinelli’s plan to reduce Virginia’s top individual tax rate from 5.75 percent to 5 percent — and found that the state’s wealthiest citizens would benefit the most.

“Nearly 4 in 10 Virginians (39 percent), mostly low- and moderate-income households, would see no reduction in their income tax bill,” the institute said. “No Virginian earning less than $21,000 would receive a tax cut under the proposal and only half of all families earning between $21,000 and $39,000 would see their taxes reduced.”

More than three-fourths of the benefits of the tax cut would go to households earning at least $108,000, the analysis found, while middle-class taxpayers would get a relatively small cut.

Democrats have already criticized Cuccinelli for not spelling out how he would replace the revenue lost from his tax cuts. (McAuliffe, for his part, has proposed cutting or reforming some local taxes and has also not specified how to pay for it.) Now they are also accusing Cuccinelli of simply trying to help the rich get richer.

Cuccinelli’s campaign scoffed at the Commonwealth Institute’s analysis, noting that McAuliffe policy director Evan Feinman formerly worked at the think tank and calling its conclusions “as faulty as they are politically skewed.”

“The so-called analysis completed by the Commonwealth Institute is not worth the paper it is written on,” said Cuccinelli adviser Chris LaCivita, though he did not specify what was incorrect in the institute’s work. “McAuliffe is losing the economic debate because Ken Cuccinelli has put forward a serious pro-growth plan that will create jobs, in addition to the fact that McAuliffe’s business acumen has been exposed as completely fictional.”

 
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