McAuliffe betrayed Southwest Virginia and most of western and central Virginia with his endorsements of the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines. He set into motion scenarios that would increase the greenhouse gas emissions in Virginia by millions of tons and devastate the water, air, livelihoods and peace of mind of everyday Virginians. His endorsements of harmful projects, knowingly made while community members along the route were strongly opposed, played out on stages shared by former Dominion Energy chief executive Tom Farrell, as they partnered for a news conference in 2014. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline developers had McAuliffe’s ear as he dismissed his constituents.
He supported the high-diameter fracked-gas pipelines traversing through the steepest mountains of Virginia and through fragile karst limestone while disregarding thousands of voices from Southwest Virginia who warned there was no safe way to build high-diameter fracked gas pipelines in the region. He secretly signed memorandums of understanding with the pipeline developers relieving them of liability for environmental damage for a payment of $85.3 million on his way out of office.
Despite proof that the pipelines were bad proposals from the start, McAuliffe refused to denounce these pipelines. Evidence of their unnecessary status included the nearly flat energy load demand seen in Virginia for years, proving gas from the pipelines would not serve anyone but the pockets of a few corporate executives. Simultaneously, he publicly touted himself as a clean-energy leader. The Virginia Council on Environmental Justice, whose members were appointed by McAuliffe, advised Northam that both pipelines presented disproportionate impacts to low-income communities, Indigenous communities and communities of color. They also highlighted that the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s Buckingham Compressor Station would be destructive to the historic Black community of Union Hill.
What came of the projects? The concerns constituents and experts had been imploring McAuliffe to acknowledge were confirmed: Mountain Valley Pipeline construction resulted in hundreds of water violations, a criminal investigation and numerous lawsuits. Multiple permits for the pipelines were vacated. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline was recently canceled.
McAuliffe lapped up tens of thousands of dollars in donations from Dominion Energy, the owner of the former Atlantic Coast Pipeline, though he said he would refuse the company’s donations this time around.
Now, McAuliffe thinks he should get a second term as governor after he abandoned Virginia communities for corporate profit, after supporting projects that would force Virginia farmers to give up their livelihoods for unnecessary and dangerous pipelines and after trying to make the rest of Virginia look away as Black, Indigenous and low-income communities bore the brunt of the pipelines’ threats.
McAuliffe betrayed Virginia. He sacrificed the water, air and public health of Virginia communities for a grotesque partnership between extractive fossil fuel infrastructure developers and the executive branch of our state government, paving the way for Northam’s horrid track record of the same.
Virginia has a chance to move forward, away from the traditional capitulation of our state government to industry.