Moran Vows to Oppose Coal-Fired Power Plant

Former delegate Brian Moran, right, shown last year with House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem), is reaching out to environmentalists.
Former delegate Brian Moran, right, shown last year with House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem), is reaching out to environmentalists. (By Steve Helber -- Associated Press)
By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 23, 2009

RICHMOND, Jan. 23 -- Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brian Moran vowed Thursday to fight a proposal to build a coal-fired power plant in southern Virginia, breaking with political leaders who have tried to shore up the once-powerful mining industry.

In a news conference near the state Capitol, Moran said the proposed plant in Surry County would contribute to global warming, worsen air quality in Richmond and Hampton Roads, and contribute to nitrogen pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.

"The approval of this plant will occur under the watch of Virginia's next governor. I think it is important for Virginians to know where their governor stands on this issue," Moran said. "We should be investing and developing clean sources of energy. We need to harness the energy of wind and solar."

With dozens of coal mines in southwest Virginia, the industry has been a mainstay of the state's economy for generations. Moran said that as governor, he would be reluctant to support coal-fired power plants unless they were equipped with scrubbing technology that is better than what is now available.

Moran's announcement suggests that he intends to reach out aggressively to environmentalists. And it comes as he tries to retool his campaign in response to the entry into the race of Terry McAuliffe, a former Democratic National Committee chairman and a prolific fundraiser. State Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (Bath) is also running in the June 9 Democratic primary.

Last week, Moran's campaign finance report showed that he was spending money faster then he was raising it during the July 1 to Dec. 31 reporting period. Meanwhile, McAuliffe reported collecting nearly $1 million.

Moran initially was viewed as the establishment Democratic candidate, picking up endorsements from an array of elected officials and business leaders. Now, Moran is positioning himself as an insurgent to appeal to the party's liberal flank.

In the past two weeks, Moran has also come out against drilling for oil off Virginia's coast, and he proposed a mandate that 25 percent of the state's energy needs be met with renewable resources by 2025.

"His campaign is starting to take on a definable shape. He spent the last week saying he's the greenest of them all," said longtime Virginia political analyst Robert D. Holsworth. "He is trying to position himself as the grass-roots, progressive alternative to the big-money status quo guy."

On Tuesday, Moran hired Joe Trippi as a top adviser. Trippi worked on the presidential campaigns of Howard Dean and John Edwards, harnessing the Internet to court liberal activists.

Democratic strategist Dave "Mudcat" Saunders said he considers the three-way Democratic contest in Virginia "anybody's race." He said there is "starting to be a big, big breath of animosity between the supporters" of the three candidates.

Moran's position on the Surry plant appears to run contrary to his stand on a coal-fired plant scheduled to be built in Wise County. As a member of the House in 2004, Moran voted to authorize the Wise project. Last year, when environmentalists tried unsuccessfully to derail the Wise plant, Moran was quoted on the blog Raising Kaine as supporting it, remarking that Virginia was the "Saudi Arabia of coal."

Some other leading Virginia Democrats -- including Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and U.S. Sens. James Webb and Mark R. Warner -- have said that although it's important to find cleaner ways of burning coal, the state should continue to support its coal industry.

Delacey Skinner, a McAuliffe spokeswoman, said McAuliffe, too, wants to invest in renewable energy sources. But Skinner added, "Before we go around shutting down coal plants and losing that economic development opportunity, we need to make sure we have a replacement."

Peter Jackson, a Deeds spokesman, said Deeds wants to keep "all options on the table" about future coal plants.

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