After Winning Support Of Environmentalists In 2013, McAuliffe Looks To Boost Virginia’s Coal Industry

CREDIT: AP Photo/Steve Helber

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), who has something to smile about right now.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is looking to carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology as the answer to the coal industry’s economic struggles in his state, calling jobs in CCS-equipped coal plants the “jobs of the future.”

“[Virginia] should be the leader on all the latest, 21st Century coal technology,” McAuliffe said last week. “Those are the jobs of the future. We need to build on the assets we have.”

Though he presented himself as a more climate-conscious candidate than his opponent Ken Cuccinelli in last year’s governor’s race, McAuliffe has advocated for CCS before as a way of keeping coal a viable energy source, and has adopted a more pro-coal stance over the years. When he sought the Virginia Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2009, McAuliffe said Virginia needed to move past coal, but was still supportive of CCS technology as a way of reducing coal emissions in the state. “As governor, I never want another coal plant built,” he said in 2009. “I want us to build wind farms, biomass, biodiesel and solar. That’s my emphasis.”

The 2013 election saw a candidate that was more supportive of coal’s growth in Virginia, saying the state needed to “make sure we do what we need to, to make sure this vital industry here in Virginia continues to grow.” The Appalachian coal basin extends into Southwestern Virginia, making the U.S. coal industry’s decline a pressing issue for SW Virginians. But CCS isn’t likely to completely revive the industry in Virginia — competition from natural gas and cheaper coal in Wyoming, mining’s increasingly automated techniques and the fact that Central Appalachia’s coal could be running out all factor in to the decline.

Despite this warming to the coal industry, McAuliffe said in October that he supports the EPA’s power plant regulations. Statements like this, coupled with Cuccinelli’s climate denialism, helped McAuliffe garner major support from environmentalists. During the 2013 campaign, environmental groups were major contributors to McAuliffe’s campaign.

McAuliffe’s comments come not long after news that his Inaugural Committee accepted $75,000 from fossil fuel companies. Fossil fuel companies also donated to McAuliffe’s campaign, although they gave more to Cuccinnelli — McAuliffe received $60,000 from Dominion Resources and $10,000 from Alpha Natural Resources over the course of the campaign.

Though the U.S. Department of Energy has called CCS a “next-generation” technology that will help enable an “all-of-the-above approach to develop clean and affordable sources of American energy,” there are concerns about the safety and effectiveness of the process. CCS has been linked to earthquakes in Texas, and a 2012 study concluded there was a “high probability” that earthquakes could be triggered by large-scale CCS, and called CCS a “risky, and likely unsuccessful, strategy for significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”