Do­min­ion En­ergy blew decades of po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal on a gas pipe­line no one wants.

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY MIKE TIDWELL AND LADELLE MCWHORTER Mike Tidwell is di­rec­tor of the Ch­e­sa­peake Cli­mate Ac­tion Net­work. LaDelle McWhorter is chair­per­son of Vir­ginia Or­ga­niz­ing.

More than 60 can­di­dates for the Vir­ginia House of Del­e­gates have re­jected cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions from fos­sil-fuel giant Do­min­ion En­ergy. Two can­di­dates for gov­er­nor, a Demo­crat and a Repub­li­can, have, too. It’s the equiv­a­lent of an earth­quake.

Why is this hap­pen­ing to Do­min­ion, the once all-pow­er­ful cor­po­ra­tion that has “owned” Rich­mond for decades? To un­der­stand, all you have to do is vi­su­al­ize ver­dant Roberts Moun­tain in Nel­son County, nes­tled in the heart of the Blue Ridge range of cen­tral Vir­ginia.

Fed­eral reg­u­la­tors have re­vealed that Do­min­ion in­tends to re­move the tops of moun­tains, in­clud­ing Roberts Moun­tain, to build a pipe­line for gas from hy­draulic frac­tur­ing. In­deed, us­ing pub­licly avail­able doc­u­ments, op­po­nents of the pipe­line have shown that the sum­mit of Roberts Moun­tain could be “re­duced” by 60 feet, lit­er­ally ex­ploded away.

But that’s just the be­gin­ning of Do­min­ion’s plans for the At­lantic Coast Pipe­line for fracked gas. It’s a gas “su­per­high­way” trag­i­cally sup­ported by Vir­ginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D). To com­plete the full length of the pro­posed pipe­line — from the frack­ing fields of West Vir­ginia and into Vir­ginia — the com­pany would have to re­move the tops of 38 miles of heav­ily forested, mostly pris­tine ridge­lines in the two states. From 10 to 60 feet would be shaved off to cre­ate a wide, flat sur­face to al­low Do­min­ion’s heavy equip­ment to lay a 42-inch-di­am­e­ter pipe. Much of the land would be seized out­right us­ing em­i­nent do­main from landown­ers who ob­vi­ously don’t want their moun­tain­tops blown apart and per­ma­nently de­stroyed.

As de­tails emerged over the past month, the Do­min­ion plan has shocked the con­science of many Vir­gini­ans. In town-hall meet­ings statewide, po­lit­i­cal can­di­dates re­port that “pipe­line re­sis­tance” is one of the top things they hear. And noth­ing bet­ter sig­nals a can­di­date’s pledge to fight back than to turn down a com­pany’s cam­paign do­na­tions.

But grow­ing voter dis­sat­is­fac­tion with Do­min­ion in­volves more than lev­el­ing moun­tain­tops for a fracked-gas pipe­line that is not needed, ac­cord­ing to an in­de­pen­dent en­ergy anal­y­sis. Do­min­ion also has dumped highly con­tro­ver­sial coal-ash liq­uid into ma­jor Vir­ginia rivers (the James, trib­u­taries of the Po­tomac, the El­iz­a­beth). And now Do­min­ion wants to save money by bury­ing mil­lions of tons of re­main­ing toxic coal ash right where it sits along these rivers to sat­isfy new fed­eral health and safety re­quire­ments. The ash, which has ac­cu­mu­lated from decades of coal com­bus­tion at nearby Do­min­ion power plants, is al­ready sus­pected in places to be leak­ing highly toxic sub­stances into the rivers. A bet­ter so­lu­tion is to move the coal ash to mod­ern, safe land­fills. But Do­min­ion says this is too ex­pen­sive. Cue more pub­lic back­lash.

Fi­nally, adding to Do­min­ion’s un­pop­u­lar­ity is its de­sire to build a $19 bil­lion (yes, with a “b”) nu­clear re­ac­tor at its North Anna plant. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Mark R. Her­ring (D) says it’s un­needed and a bad deal for con­sumers.

As the tide shifts against Do­min­ion, it’s al­most com­i­cal to watch the com­pany try to de­fend it­self. On the de­struc­tion of 38 miles of moun­tain­tops, for ex­am­ple, Do­min­ion says the re­moval will be “tem­po­rary.” Af­ter clear-cut­ting hun­dreds of thou­sands of square feet of trees, much of it rare vir­gin forests, Do­min­ion will use TNT to re­move the ridge tops, lay the pipe and then pile the mil­lions of tons of rock and soil back on the moun­tains. This will cre­ate a 38-mile-long rub­ble pile that will be de­nuded for years and sus­cep­ti­ble to po­ten­tially cat­a­strophic land­slides for decades. Do­min­ion ac­tu­ally says this is en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly and re­spon­si­ble.

And McAuliffe agrees. He could re­verse him­self and save his de­cid­edly mixed en­vi­ron­men­tal legacy. Un­der the fed­eral Clean Wa­ter Act, McAuliffe has the power to stop Do­min­ion’s rad­i­cal At­lantic Coast Pipe­line by deny­ing the com­pany the wa­ter pol­lu­tion per­mits it needs. A pro­posed pipe­line in New York state was halted this way.

In Vir­ginia, that could set the stage for an era in which lead­ers not only re­ject Do­min­ion’s cash but also per­ma­nently re­ject the com­pany’s en­tire propol­lu­tion agenda. The com­mon­wealth could then be­gin to catch up with neigh­bors North Carolina and Mary­land on wind and so­lar power. And in­stead of a moon­scape, Roberts Moun­tain in Nel­son County could be­come a fully forested tes­ta­ment to an en­tirely new en­vi­ron­men­tal or­der in Vir­ginia.

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