Just before 9 a.m. Friday, the Obama administration issued strict new carbon emissions limits that could have a major impact on Virginia’s coal and electricity industries. Two hours later, the Republican-led House approved a bill that would keep the government running for a few months but withhold funding for the Affordable Care Act, potentially increasing the chances of a federal shutdown Oct. 1.
The back-to-back events put both Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) and businessman Terry McAuliffe (D) on the spot, as the two leading candidates to be Virginia’s next governor each avoided taking clear positions on the actions of their fellow party members.
McAuliffe and Cuccinelli both gave lunchtime speeches at a small-business summit in Fairfax, and Cuccinelli made a point of condemning the EPA’s proposed rules, saying they would effectively prohibit the construction of coal-fired power plants, further devastate the commonwealth’s hard-hit coal fields and boost energy prices for everyone.
“The administration renewed its war on coal today,” Cuccinelli said, adding — as he often does — that “a war on coal is a war on the poor” and that Virginia “needs a governor who’ll fight for those folks” who depend on the coal industry.
McAuliffe’s campaign issued a statement reserving judgment on the new rules.
“Terry agrees with the broad swath of scientists, economists, and military leaders, who view climate change as a looming problem for Virginia,” campaign spokesman Josh Schwerin wrote in an e-mail. “While he agrees that there needs to be some limit on carbon pollution and believes that Virginia can and should lead the way in building new plants that create low-cost, low-carbon energy, he looks forward to further reviewing the President’s proposed rules in detail and studying their impact on Virginia’s economy.”
McAuliffe reiterated those points while speaking to reporters after his speech Friday. He said he would review the new rules “very quickly” but would not specify how long it would be before he would take a firm position on them. McAuliffe also did not give a direct answer when asked whether he believed any more coal-fired power plants should be built in Virginia. (He said during the 2009 Democratic primary that he hoped to never see another coal plant open in Virginia.)
During his speech at the summit, McAuliffe sought to link Cuccinelli to the Republicans on Capitol Hill who believe Congress should not approve another short-term spending bill unless it defunds Obama’s health-care measure.
“I hope when he speaks here today, Mr. Cuccinelli will encourage his tea party allies in Congress to stop using the threat of a federal government shutdown to achieve their ideological goals,” McAuliffe said. “These are my opponent’s top allies and supporters, and he has an obligation to protect Virginia.”
Cuccinelli did not address the issue during his remarks, and he did not speak to reporters after the event because, his campaign said, he was late for a session to prepare for next week’s candidates’ debate.
Asked whether Cuccinelli had a position on linking Affordable Care Act funding to the government spending bill, Cuccinelli spokesman Richard Cullen did not give a direct answer and instead turned his fire on McAuliffe.
“It’s pretty rich that in the same week it was revealed that Terry McAuliffe wants to shut down Virginia’s government, he’s now focused on whether the federal government is going to do the same,” Cullen said, referring to remarks by McAuliffe that he would not sign a budget as governor if it did not include funds for expanding Medicaid. “No one wants to see the federal government shut down, period. Ken Cuccinelli is not running for Congress, he’s running for governor. . . . Ken Cuccinelli would more than welcome a debate with Terry McAuliffe on the issue of Obamacare.”
Cuccinelli gave a similar answer in the past when asked whether he would support a proposed comprehensive immigration bill, noting: “I am running for governor. That’s a state office.”
But he also made a point of taking a clear stance against military intervention in Syria this month, while criticizing McAuliffe for declining to take a position.
“How is that even possible? I’ve yet to meet one person who doesn’t have strong feelings about this issue,” Cuccinelli wrote of Syria on his Facebook page.