Virginia governor Tim Kaine had a tough task at his town hall meeting in Manassas in the Washington, DC, exurbs this weekend, where he was, in part, trying to prove to Obama that he could be an effective vice presidential candidate. Not only had he just said he favored so-called "right to work" (hat tip Matt Stoller) laws that make it nearly impossible for workers to exercise their rights to form a union, he also recently gave into pressure from Dominion Power to hike electricity rates on Virginians to pay for the construction of a massive, new polluting coal-fired power plant.
You can just see the GOP attack ads coming: "When Barack Obama had the chance to choose a vice presidential candidate, who did he pick? The one governor who's actually raised electricity rates in a sweetheart deal with lobbyists. Raised them so much, in fact, that his own state government said the extra costs would put almost 1,500 Americans out of work. Barack Obama: Job Killing Machine."
Not exactly what we need at this time of great economic anxiety and anger at rising electricity costs.
During the meeting, Kaine called on me to ask a question, and I questioned his ability to serve as an effective vice presidential nominee because of his backing for this new coal plant.
I've included an excerpt of his (very lengthy) response below:
I think the senator and I have the same position on energy, including coal. But first let me talk about energy policy because this is what I believe and what I believe the senator believes too. If you look at energy on a pie chart, there's nuclear, natural gas, renewables. Every state has a different mix. In Virigna we are right about the national average on coal. We're about 47, 48 percent coal. Coal is the biggest native source of energy that we have right now. There are some who disagree with me about this and I respect their right to disagree but I've spent a lot of time really weighing this. We do not have a no-coal future in this country any time soon. What we need to do is take the coal portion -- that 47 percent in Virginia and nationally -- and we need to make it smaller and cleaner. The way to do that is by investing in new cleaner coal technology and by shuttering plants that are older and dirtier and making them retrofit up to newer standards...
Kaine's response was inaccurate in its fundamental point: Obama's campaign has said he won't back new coal plants like the Dominion plant under debate in Virginia because it doesn't have the technology necessary to capture coal's carbon dioxide releases (technology that seems to increase the amounts of other nasties anyway).
It was also inaccurate in terms of its commitment to clean energy. It's kind of amazing: while Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas is standing up to Big Coal and stopping a pollution-spewing plant, and California is using its energy dollars to invest in the biggest solar plants in the world, Tim Kaine is leading Virginia and America into the future with...coal, expensive energy, and a divided and disgruntled state.