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Congressional Candidates' Views on Clean Energy, Climate Change: VA-09

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Originally posted on The MarkUp.

This is the nineteenth article in a continuing series by the NRDC Action Fund on the environmental stances of candidates in key races around the country.

From the Scotch-Irish who settled there starting in the 1760s to today's residents, the people of southwestern Virginia are fiercely independent. The 9th Congressional District, which covers all of southern Virginia west of Roanoke, has been known as the "Fighting Ninth," because of its raucous politics. The district was first dominated by farmers, later coal miners (though the coal industry has been in decline for more than twenty years there), and now by workers in high-tech industries. Bill Clinton carried the district twice, however George W. Bush won in 2000 and 2004 by wider margins than Clinton ever did, and John McCain won the district 59-40% in 2008.

Democrat Rick Boucher is in his 14th term representing the district in the U.S. House. Boucher's family is steeped in southwest Virginia politics - his mother was Washington County's Democratic Party chairwoman, and his grandfather and great-grandfather were Democratic members of the state House of Delegates. He hasn't faced a particularly close race since his first re-election bid in 1984. This fall he will be challenged by Republican Delegate and House Majority Leader, Morgan Griffith.

During his long Congressional career, Boucher has voted as a moderate, making his greatest mark on telecommunication and technology issues. He's been a reliable vote on clean energy and environmental issues, earning a c from the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) last year. Boucher played an influential role in shaping the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), the first global warming bill ever to pass a chamber of Congress, as the leading voice for coal-state representatives on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. On the House floor during debate on ACES, Boucher said the bill:

...achieves broad reductions in greenhouse gases, enhances America's energy security, and by placing a price on carbon dioxide emissions will unleash investments in clean energy technologies that will create millions of new jobs. These energy technologies will evolve from America's laboratories. They will be deployed at home. They will be exported around the world. They will be the foundation for our next technology revolution...

This is a responsible measure. It is carefully balanced. It reduces greenhouse gases by 83 percent by 2050 as compared to 2005 levels. It keeps electricity rates affordable. It enables coal usage to grow as the demand for electricity increases. And it opens the door to a more secure energy future and the creation of millions of new jobs innovating, deploying and exporting to the world the new low CO2 emitting technologies that will power our energy future."

Boucher backs up his claims in that speech with facts from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, and experts at the Environmental Protection Agency. But that hasn't stopped Morgan Griffith from asserting, without any persuasive evidence, that ACES will "result in massive job cuts in Southwest Virginia's coal industry while raising electricity, gasoline, and heating prices for all consumers." Though, as someone who also says that "many scientists do not even believe [global warming] is happening," Griffith doesn't seem bound by the facts.

The truth, according to our top experts at the National Academy of Sciences is that "Some scientific conclusions or theories have been so thoroughly examined and tested, and supported by so many independent observations and results, that their likelihood of subsequently being found to be wrong is vanishingly small. Such conclusions and theories are then regarded as settled facts. This is the case for the conclusions that the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities." As to Griffith's loss of jobs argument, according to collaborative research by the University of Illinois, Yale University and the University of California, ACES could lead to as many as 1.9 million new jobs nationally; 50,000 in Virginia alone.

Griffith's misguided views on clean energy legislation and climate change become more understandable when you look at his major campaign contributors. For starters, Griffith has received $5,000 this cycle from the notorious Koch Industries, which according to Greenpeace, has "quietly funneled [$50 million] to climate-denial front groups that are working to delay policies and regulations aimed at stopping global warming." Koch also has a horrendous environmental record, including being fined $30 million for its role in 300 oil spills that resulted in more than three million gallons of crude oil leaking into ponds, lakes, streams and coastal waters. As if that's not bad enough, Griffith also has taken $2,500 in contributions from Valero Energy, one of the Texas oil companies funding an effort to repeal California's landmark clean energy and climate law. Finally, over the years, Griffith has accepted large donations from coal interests (e.g., the Virginia Coal Association) and from coal-fired utilities like Dominion Virginia Power. Unsurprisingly, Griffith has a poor environmental record (e.g., a measly 27% rating from the Virginia League of Conservation Voters in 2009).

The NRDC Action Fund believes that it is important for the public in general, and the voters of specific Congressional districts, be aware of this information as they weigh their choices for November.

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