RICHMOND, Va. - Three prospects for governor in 2013 on Thursday promoted an "all-of-the-above" approach to energy development in Virginia, including coal, offshore wind, natural gas and other renewables.
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, both Republicans, also took aim at the Obama administration and the Environmental Protection Agency for what they called the war on coal and the federal government's decision to keep Virginia waters off limits to oil and natural gas development until at least 2017. The decision followed the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster.
Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who said he has not decided whether to seek his party's nomination for governor, stressed that the U.S. should strive to end its dependence on foreign oil and promote the development of new industries in coal country as the fuel becomes more difficult to mine.
"All of it is on the table," McAuliffe said of fossil fuels and green energy. "I'm for all of it."
The three spoke separately at a forum sponsored by the industry group Consumer Energy Alliance during the final day of the Governor's Conference on Energy, an annual event promoted by Gov. Bob McDonnell. He has promoted Virginia as an energy capital of the East Coast, pursuing a policy that includes the development of coal, nuclear, bioenergy and renewables.
Cuccinelli, a climate change skeptic, was especially critical of President Barack Obama and the EPA for clean-air policies that he said has made it more and more difficult for the coal industry in Appalachia and the power companies that use coal for energy. He cited the announcement last month by Alpha Natural Resources to close eight mines in West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania, eliminating 1,200 jobs by early next year.
"We're in for a future of brownout and blackouts," Cuccinelli said to a sparsely attended convention hall, adding that renewable energy is not adequate to fill the gap right now. "This is a war on coal."
The "human costs" of coal cutbacks would hit hard especially in southwest Virginia, he said, rippling through every level of an economy that depends almost exclusively on mining.
Cuccinelli said environmental protections were important but he said they should be balanced by their impact on jobs and the economy.
Bolling agreed with the importance of mining in a region called the "Saudi Arabia of coal" but also emphasized nuclear power and offshore energy development, which he said had the biggest single potential for growth for Virginia. He too called for a balanced policy on energy development that weighs environmental and economic concerns.
Federal regulations have become "so out of balance over the last four years that they have to be reined if we have realistic chance of achieving energy independence as a country," Bolling said.
McAuliffe, a businessman who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination to face McDonnell, played down regulations hampering energy development and said states ought to be innovative. "Get in front of all these regulations," he said.
While he called coal critical, he said other opportunities should be pursued in coal-reliant communities.
"We're always going to need it, we're always going to have it. My point is let's build on top of it so we can bring in new businesses," said McAuliffe, who exports electric cars to Europe from a new auto plant in Mississippi.
Asked after his remarks if he had decided to try anew to run for governor, McAuliffe said he was holding off on a decision until U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D- Va., decides whether he will seek again to serve as governor. "He's still thinking, maybe," he said of Warner.
Steve Szkotak can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sszkotakap.
Consumer Energy Alliance: http://consumerenergyalliance.org/
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