The Virginia League of Conservation Voters is spending $1.8 million to help elect Democratic gubernatorial contender Ralph Northam, another sign that his noncommittal stance on two planned gas pipelines isn’t costing him the financial support of environmentalists.
Michael Town, the group’s executive director, told The Washington Post on Thursday that the political action committee would donate $700,000 to Northam, following the launch of a $1.1 million field operation to support state Democrats.
That’s slightly more than the organization spent in 2013 to elect Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), who is barred from seeking consecutive terms.
Town said the league is supporting Northam because of his commitment to advancing state policies to combat climate change and reduce pollution.
Northam, the sitting lieutenant governor, faces Republican Ed Gillespie in November.
“We made a lot of progress on conservation and climate change and protecting the environment over the last four years, and it’s vital that we continue that progress, especially when we have a Trump administration with a radical agenda scrubbing climate change from the public discourse,” Town said.
Northam has taken heat from activists and rural residents for not opposing the construction of two natural gas pipelines set to cross the state. He has said the pipelines should meet rigorous environmental standards but that the decision over their fate lies with federal regulators, not state officials.
The issue involves two projects inspired by the boom in fracked natural gas. The $5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline, proposed by Dominion Energy and several partners, would run some 550 miles from West Virginia through central and southern Virginia and into North Carolina, with a spur flung out to Hampton Roads.
The 300-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline would also start in West Virginia but would enter Virginia in the southwest — near Blacksburg — and connect with an existing pipeline in Pittsylvania County. It’s being built by a partnership led by EQT Midstream.
Northam casts himself as an environmentalist — raised on the Eastern Shore, opposed to offshore drilling, an advocate for alternative energy. But he has been unusually hazy on the pipelines. Like McAuliffe, a fellow Democrat who has more openly supported the pipelines as job creators, Northam has collected thousands of dollars in campaign donations from Dominion.
Gillespie, who has also received donations from Dominion, supports the pipelines.
It’s unclear whether the pipeline opponents have enough sway to hurt Northam at the polls. So far, Northam’s position hasn’t stopped big cash infusions from environmentally minded donors.
“We oppose the pipeline, but we know out of the two candidates, there’s one candidate who is terrible on the issue and there is one we can work with,” Town said.
Billionaire climate change activist Tom Steyer announced earlier in August that his organization, NextGen America, would spend at least $2 million to elect Northam by mobilizing young voters.
Steyer opposes new fossil fuel infrastructure, including pipelines, but said that Northam is the better choice on environmental policy and that his group would continue pushing for clean energy alternatives.