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September 16, 2013

Yes, Virginia, There Are Climate Solutions

This year, Virginians will elect a new governor (one of only two gubernatorial elections this year, the other being in New Jersey). At the moment, Terry McAuliffe is leading climate denier and attorney general Ken Cuccinelli in the polls, but a lot can happen between now and November 5. The campaign has been -- to put it politely, heated -- but I think it's worth highlighting why reasonable Americans everywhere should hope that Virginia doesn't somehow get stuck with Cuccinelli.

The problem with Cuccinelli is summed up by the address of a website that the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club has created: Cuccinelli's extreme record not only shows him to be on the wrong side of every environmental issue but also to be anti-science and aggressively reactionary.

How else to explain Cuccinelli's bizarre attack, as attorney general, on former University of Virginia professor and climate scientist Michael Mann? His "civil investigative demand" for university records amounted to a witch hunt that wasted hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars -- all in an attempt to discredit the scientific consensus on climate disruption. You can't say Cuccinelli lacked zeal -- he took the fight all the way to the Virginia Supreme Court. In what was widely hailed as a victory for academic freedom, he lost.

In 2010, Cuccinelli also sued to make Virginia the first state in the nation to attack the scientific consensus that carbon pollution poses a threat to human health -- and that the EPA should do something about it. (Fortunately, he lost again.)

Those who engage in witch hunts often don't believe in science. But why has Cuccinelli consistently gone the extra mile to attack anyone who thinks that climate disruption is a real problem that requires action? You need look no further than the influence of fossil fuel companies, which have donated generously to his campaign.

Currently, Cuccinelli's office is under investigation because of assistance it gave to one of those companies -- Consol Energy, which extracted natural gas from many Virginians' property without paying royalties. In dozens of emails that Cuccinelli's office later tried to hide, Consol received assistance from a Cuccinelli subordinate about how it could beat a lawsuit from these landowners. A federal judge said she was "shocked" by this, and an investigation has been launched by the state's inspector general. Consol Energy, incidentally, is one of Cuccinelli's biggest campaign donors -- having given more than $100,000 over the past two years.

Cuccinelli is one of those politicians who love to talk about a "war on coal" while ignoring the reality that coal has been waging war on all of us for decades. The good news is that Virginians, like the rest of the country, are putting dirty coal in the rearview mirror. This is a state with the nation's highest concentration of technology workers. Clean, high-tech energy like wind and solar makes sense for Virginia's future -- not coal -- especially if you're talking about jobs. Virginia already has 11,000 jobs in renewable energy, with the prospect of 10,000 more if offshore wind is properly developed.

As long as the fossil fuel industries have cash to spend, they'll be able to find politicians like Cuccinelli who are willing to carry their water. The best way to fight back is with people power, so the Sierra Club's 60,000 members and supporters in Virginia will be knocking on doors and making phone calls between now and November to alert their friends, neighbors, and other voters to just how extreme Ken Cuccinelli's positions really are. And because this election is so much about what Virginia's future will look like, a big part of the focus will be on mobilizing potential voters on college campuses from Virginia Union to William & Mary to Hampton to Virginia State. Young people know what's at stake.

Across Virginia, though, it's going to take more than empty rhetoric from a climate denier about a "war on coal" to convince Virginians to turn away from a clean-energy future.

Paid for by the Virginia Chapter Sierra Club PAC. Not authorized by any candidate. 


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Michael Brune

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