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Environment & Energy Report

Governor Races in Virginia, N.J. Through Energy Policy Lens

Nov. 3, 2017, 8:37 PMUpdated: Nov. 3, 2017, 11:10 PM

The result of Virginia’s race for governor on Tuesday could eventually affect President Donald Trump’s efforts to promote domestic energy production. The nation’s other gubernatorial election, in New Jersey, could be seen in terms of what states are doing to address climate change.

Virginia voters head to the polls Nov. 7 to decide whether they back Republican Ed Gillespie, who favors construction of two major natural gas pipelines and supports oil drilling off Virginia’s coastline, or Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who opposes offshore drilling, but has not taken a position on the pipelines.

“I think it’s fair to say the Virginia governor election is the first electoral test of Trump’s attacks on clean air and water,” Alyssa Roberts, spokeswoman for the League of Conservation Voters, told Bloomberg Environment.

New Jersey voters will decide whether to back Democrat Phil Murphy, who wants the state to take action on greenhouse gases that cause climate change, or Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who hasn’t made energy or environment a major part of her campaign.

Industry and Gillespie

Gillespie has backed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s decision in October to approve construction of the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast natural gas pipelines that would go through Virginia. Northam, however, said he would support the decision of the Virginia State Water Control Board, which has yet to certify that the two projects wouldn’t violate state water quality standards. Without the certification, the projects cannot move forward.

Natural gas companies have given to both candidates. EQT Corp., a natural gas exploration company, gave $20,000 to Gillespie and $25,000 to Northam, according to the nonpartisan, nonprofit Virginia Public Access Project, which tracks money in state politics.

The U.S. Marcellus Gas Infrastructure LLC gave $10,000 each to Northam and Gillespie. The group is a joint venture formed to construct and operate the Mountain Valley pipeline.

Gillespie is a former Republican National Committee chairman and a counselor to former President George W. Bush. Gillespie’s stances on domestic energy production earned him the backing and contributions from oil-refining and production companies.

Energy Company Support for Gillespie

Those contributions include $50,000 from Ray Hunt, chairman of Hunt Consolidated Inc., a Dallas-based company involved in oil and gas exploration and production, and $25,000 from Oklahoma-based Devon Energy, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.

Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions Inc., a nonprofit group that seeks to engage Republican policymakers on energy, gave $5,000 to Gillespie, according to the Virginia project.

“Ed Gillespie has a plan that will sustain and strengthen investments in science, engineering and clean, renewable forms of energy to ensure good-paying jobs and affordable power for all Virginians,” Heather Reams, Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions’ managing director, told Bloomberg Environment.

The Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce backed current Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, in 2013, but decided this year to endorse Gillespie, a Republican. Virginia governors aren’t allowed to seek a second consecutive term.

“His support for the natural gas pipelines and for offshore energy exploration was among the factors that made us endorse Mr. Gillespie,” James Corcoran, chief executive officer of the Northern Virginia chamber, told Bloomberg Environment.

Environmental Groups Back Northam

Trump directed the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in April to reconsider, and possibly revise, the Obama administration’s decision to hold off on leasing oil and gas drilling off the Atlantic Coast from Delaware to Florida.

Northam’s backing of the Obama administration’s pause on offshore drilling and his deference to the state water-control board helped his campaign to receive $2.6 million from the Virginia League of Conservation Voters and $995,000 from climate activist Tom Steyer’s NextGen Climate Action, according to the Public Access Project.

Mike Town, executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, said his group enthusiastically backs Northam on the strength of his opposition to offshore drilling and his plan to address the effects of climate change-attributed sea level rise on the state’s coastal cities, notably Hampton Roads.

“Mr. Gillespie’s plan calls for addressing sea level rise without even mentioning climate change,” Town told Bloomberg Environment.

Clean Energy for New Jersey

In New Jersey, the governor’s race hasn’t focused as much on offshore drilling as on climate change and cleaner forms of energy.

Murphy is a former Goldman Sachs executive and ex-U.S. ambassador to Germany. He has called for transitioning the state to 100 percent carbon-free electricity and supports increasing the amount of electricity that utilities are required to purchase from wind and solar sources. He also has advocated the development of 3,500 megawatts of offshore wind generation by 2030.

“Within his first 100 days in office, Phil will start the process of creating a new State Energy Master Plan that will set New Jersey on a path to 100 percent clean energy by 2050,” according to a statement on his campaign website.

Guadagno has called for a greater focus on renewable energy as a part of seeking to improve the state’s overall economic climate.

“The only way we’re going to focus on our renewables is if we get together and start talking about the number one problem in New Jersey, and that is job creation and the cost of living in New Jersey,” she said during an Oct. 17 debate with Murphy.

She said the state isn’t going to “bring an ecosystem to New Jersey to develop those renewables” if it doesn’t “start making it less expensive to do business here.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Amena H. Saiyid in Washington at asaiyid@bna.com; Gerald B. Silverman in Albany, N.Y. at GSilverman@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rachael Daigle at rdaigle@bna.com