On May 24, according to HuffPost, Jim Cheng, who was Virginia’s secretary of commerce and industry under former governor Robert F. McDonnell, spoke at a conference hosted by the Virginia Chamber of Commerce.
His goal: push for a new and supposedly grass-roots group to fight back against opposition to two controversial natural gas pipelines in the state.
“I am here today assisting a new organization, called Your Energy Virginia, that was created to raise the energy IQ of Virginians about the many benefits of natural gas. And to try to follow on these radical and uninformed elements within your communities that try to intimidate or shut down pro-energy supporters,” Cheng said, according to as tape recording obtained by HuffPost.
The emergence of the group and Cheng’s comments are especially curious given that the “radical and uniformed elements” are, in many cases, landowners whose property is targeted by pipeline firms and electric utilities for surveying and perhaps takeover by eminent domain. In some cases, the property has been in the owners’ families for decades if not centuries. Some are working farms; others are retirement havens for older residents.
But in these days of faux news and alternative facts, up is often down and left is often right.
Peaceful homeowners are “radicals” and “outsiders” who need to have “their energy IQ” score raised.
Plus, Your Energy Virginia is anything but a real bootstrap group. It is funded by the American Gas Association, which is creating similar “grass-roots” groups to fight opposition to pipeline proposals in New Jersey, Ohio and New England.
In Virginia, the phantom organization comes at a time when controversy rages on several fronts in the energy sector. At the heart of most of it is Dominion Energy, the powerful, Richmond-based utility that has handed out $425,000 to Democrats and $356,000 in the past year.
Dominion has been doling out political money for years and largely ignoring complaints about it. Not so today because Dominion has been fighting battles over disposal of coal ash from four power stations and building a high-voltage line across a scenic and historic spot on the James River.
Most controversial of all is the $5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline project, in which Dominion is the lead firm, that would take natural gas extracted by hydraulic fracturing in West Virginia, transport it over environmentally sensitive mountaintops and then run it through, some of the loveliest bucolic territory in the state. The other pipeline called Mountain Valley would do the same thing in southwest Virginia.
Dominion is feeling the heat. Gubernatorial candidates Tom Perriello, a Democrat, and Corey A. Stewart, a Republican, are strongly opposed to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has straddled the fence; other candidates are in support.
More than 60 Democrats running for office in Tuesday’s primary have vowed not to take Dominion money. Northam has accepted significant donations and owns stock in the firm. Meanwhile, Dominion has launched a marketing campaign to buff up its image by taking out full-page ads in newspapers, including The Post.
With the political climate increasingly dicey, one wonders why Virginia’s fossil fuel establishment would take a chance with a phony grass-roots group.
Why would they describe long-established property owners as outside radicals? Why risk alienating some rather bright folks by questioning their “energy IQ”? Why take such chances when the background of Your Energy Virginia can be so easily traced?
Let’s hope it’s just a passing phase during the Trump era when honesty, accuracy and transparency temporarily fell off the rails.