RICHMOND — Tom Perriello, who is running an upstart campaign for the Democratic nomination for governor, said he is opposed to two proposed natural gas pipelines, will not take campaign cash from utility giant Dominion Virginia Power and voiced doubts about offshore drilling — something he supported as a congressman.
“I will not take one dime from Dominion, but I will sit down with them any time to talk about pragmatic solutions that move us forward,” Perriello said at a news conference Wednesday at a park overlooking the James River.
The Democrat’s announcement came a week after a populist Republican running for governor, Denver Riggleman, appeared at the Capitol with his own anti-Dominion pitch, calling for a ban on political donations from the state-regulated monopoly.
[Riggleman, a contender for Virginia governor, takes on utility giant Dominion]
While Riggleman’s appeal was a defense of property rights and an attack on crony capitalism, Perriello’s centered on clean energy and jobs. Perriello also said he was “skeptical” about offshore drilling — something he backed during his single term in Congress.
“I’ve always been very skeptical of offshore drilling,” he said. “I’ve been a big supporter of offshore wind.”
Along with a bipartisan group of Virginia congressional members, Perriello sponsored a measure to allow oil and gas drilling off Virginia’s coast, Energy Tomorrow reported in March 2010. The Republican Party of Virginia’s website linked to that article last month in a post from Chairman John Whitbeck, who predicted that Perriello would flip on the issue.
“I look forward to yet another heart-felt, tear filled Jimmy Swaggart-style Facebook post in which Tom Perriello repents for his previous sins against the church of far-left liberalism,” Whitbeck wrote, referring to a long mea culpa Perriello had posted on Facebook to explain an abortion vote he said he now regrets. “He’s already apologized for his previous pro-life leanings and support from the NRA. His flip on offshore drilling should be one for the ages.”
During his successful 2008 campaign, Perriello called on TV stations to drop ads aired by incumbent Virgil Goode (R), complaining that they included the “libelous” claim that Perriello opposed offshore drilling, according to a news account from the time, to which Whitbeck’s post also linked.
In response to a request for comment, Perriello spokeswoman Remi Yamamoto emailed a statement issued when Whitbeck’s post first appeared.
“Tom believes a robust and innovative clean energy sector is key to Virginia’s inclusive economic future,” said Jessica Barba Brown, who was then Perriello’s campaign spokeswoman. “Throughout his career, Tom has been willing to consider offshore drilling only as part of a comprehensive energy strategy, and only if it is not done in environmentally sensitive areas. He has fought for strong environmental and safety regulations and would continue that track record as governor.”
At Richmond’s Libby Hill Park, Perriello laid out his opposition to two natural gas pipelines proposed for Virginia: Dominion’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline project and the Mountain Valley Pipeline Project, a joint venture that does not include Dominion.
“Wasting $8.6 billion on the technologies of the past and the energy sources of the past, on projects that will largely employ people from out of state and not in Virginia, to transport fracked gas from out of state across our beautiful heritage to other areas is not the way that we keep value in the community,” he said.
He said a focus on wind, solar and energy-saving weatherization projects would create more jobs and better protect the environment.
Perriello faces Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam in the June Democratic primary. Northam spokesman David Turner said the lieutenant governor supports the pipelines as long as property rights, safety and the environment are protected.
“As a doctor and a scientist, Ralph Northam always believes in a robust and transparent process driven by science, facts and property rights,” Turner said in an email. “This is why he urges the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality to hold this process to the highest possible standards with the utmost due diligence given to protecting our natural heritage. This is the logic that has underscored his long-standing opposition to offshore drilling.”
Aaron Ruby, a Dominion Energy spokesman, said Virginians strongly support the Atlantic Coast project.
“Virginians want new jobs; they want cleaner energy; they want more economic opportunity; and, they recognize that new infrastructure like the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is critical to making it happen,” Ruby said in a written statement. “This project is essential to the economic vitality and environmental future of Virginia. It will create thousands of new jobs, promote cleaner air in our communities and enhance the energy security of our region. It’s unfortunate Mr. Perriello has disregarded these important public priorities and the aspirations of most Virginians.”
In his visit to the Capitol last week, Riggleman drew attention to two bills aimed at Dominion, both brought by state Sen. J. Chapman “Chap” Petersen (D-Fairfax). One would have subjected electricity rates to review by the state. The other would have prohibited Dominion and other state-regulated monopolies from donating to legislators and statewide candidates.
Dominion is the largest corporate contributor in Virginia, having plowed $4 million into state-level races over the past decade.
Both bills died.
Riggleman, a distillery owner and one of four Republicans running for governor, has tangled with Dominion as a property owner. At one point, plans called for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to cross 50 acres he owns in Nelson County. He has said he is not opposed to the pipeline, but to eminent domain practices that he contends are unfair to property owners.