Former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello warned in a Virginia gubernatorial debate Tuesday that Dominion Energy’s push to construct a natural gas pipeline in the state is “going to move Virginia backwards” — as he sought to distance himself from Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam in the Democratic primary.
When Mr. Northam passed on a chance to come out against the proposed Atlantic Coast pipeline, Mr. Perriello pounced, saying he is concerned about the environmental impact of the pipeline and the political sway that Dominion Energy — the biggest corporate donor in Virginia — has over elected leaders in Richmond.
“You don’t lead the fight against sea level rise by making a $6 billion, 50-year investment in fossil fuel infrastructure,” Mr. Perriello said. “Right now, our utilities want to raise our rates to be able to invest $6.7 billion into fracked gas pipelines that they haven’t even proved are necessary. That is not where the jobs and the businesses are growing over the next generation.”
He quipped, “This is like someone coming to you right when digital cameras were taking off and saying you should bet your pension fund on Eastman-Kodak.”
Moments earlier, Mr. Northam said he supports a strict environmental review of the pipeline and made the case that he has a progressive record on energy issues.
“I have fought against offshore drilling. I have fought against fracking in Virginia as well as uranium mining,” he said. “I have led the charge on sea-level rise.”
The primary race in Virginia is shaping up as the first true test of what voters want from the Democratic Party after the presidential election of Donald Trump.
However, Mr. Northam has been billed as the establishment candidate thanks in part to the support he has received from Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, and the party’s entire congressional delegation — with the sole exception of Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, who isn’t taking sides in the race.
Mr. Perriello, meanwhile, has endorsements from Sens. Bernard Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts — darlings of progressive activists in the state, many of whom oppose the pipeline.
Running from West Virginia through Virginia and into North Carolina, the proposed pipeline received additional attention Tuesday after The Washington Post reported that Thomas F. Farrell II, chairman of Dominion Energy, sent a letter about the primary to its 76,000 employees, retirees and shareholders in Virginia.
The note urged them to vote in the June 13 primary and to consider the project in that context — calling it “one of the largest and more important projects our company has ever undertaken.”
“Please take time to review the candidates’ positions and see how they stand on critical projects such as the Atlantic Coast Pipeline,” Mr. Farrell said.
The winner of the race will take on the victor in the Republican primary race among Ed Gillespie, Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart and state Sen. Frank Wagner.
Mr. Northam said he has been a more reliable ally of the pro-choice movement and has been a staunch opponent of offshore drilling and the National Rifle Association.
“I am the only candidate running for governor this year that has never had an ‘A’ rating from the NRA,” he said, alluding to the fact that Mr. Perriello received the NRA’s top grade when he ran for Congress in 2008.
He also tried to draw a contrast with Mr. Perriello over his support as a member of Congress for the “Stupak Amendment,” which was pushed by pro-life Democrats.
“I have unequivocally been pro-choice,” Mr. Northam said. “We don’t need somebody who is multiple choice. We don’t need to be asking questions: What box is someone going to check?”
The two candidates also were divided over taxes, with Mr. Perriello vowing to raise taxes on the wealthy to help cover the cost of an agenda that includes universal pre-kindergarten and two years of tuition-free community college.
“We have to be willing to close tax loopholes and ask those making a million dollars or more to pay a little bit more to invest in workforce development and the transportation needs that are holding back growth,” Mr. Perriello said.
Mr. Northam countered that he has learned during the 10 years he has spent in the legislature — six years in the state Senate and four years as lieutenant governor — that getting a tax increase through the state legislature is not realistic.
“They can call me tax-and-spend, but I think those that know me know my record. I haven’t been one to step forward and wanting to raise taxes because, realistically, it is not possible in the commonwealth of Virginia,” he said.
Mr. Northam and Mr. Perriello found a lot of common ground, saying the state should accept Medicaid expansion under Obamacare and pass tighter restrictions on guns — including enacting universal background checks and reviving the state’s the “one-gun-a-month” law.
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