From Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s perspective, it’s probably best to just keep a lid on what state officials say publicly about the controversial natural gas pipelines proposed to cut through the state.
Based on reports this week, that’s exactly what he wants to do.
According to the Roanoke Times, a new policy compelling officials to brief McAuliffe’s office before commenting on the pipelines resulted from a meeting in Richmond that included representatives from 13 state agencies involved in overseeing permitting and construction.
“There’s no effort to muzzle anyone,” assured Brian Coy, a spokesperson for McAuliffe.
McAuliffe backs both the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline and spoke strongly in favor of each months before either had been officially filed with federal regulators.
READ MORE: Pipe Dreams: The push to expand natural gas infrastructure
I get it. Having more than a dozen agencies handling projects as contentious, and politically precarious, as the pipelines would be difficult enough. Knowing that the press and the public are prodding officials at those agencies for information only complicates things further for the administration.
But that doesn’t make suppressing speech any less problematic. And regardless of how representatives from Richmond describe the tactic, that’s what it is. Rather than speak out of turn or hold their breath while waiting for the official OK, we can assume agency officials will just speak less often and be more guarded when they do.
“This is a gag order, pure and simple,” said Ernie Reed of Friends of Nelson County, in a press release yesterday.
Among opponents of the pipelines, the administration’s actions have only deepened skepticism of McAuliffe and his relationship with Dominion, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s primary backer.
“There’s only two possible reasons the Governor would want state agencies to ‘coordinate’ their comments — one is to control those comments and the other is to vent them through his contacts with Dominion,” said Friends of Nelson President Joanna Salidis.
Friends of Nelson and many other groups across Virginia have been dismayed at McAuliffe’s repeated emphasis on the pipelines’ potential benefits, especially when paired with his apparent ignorance of the threats they pose to landowners, natural resources and the climate.
Last week, Friends of Nelson invited the governor to visit Nelson County to speak to residents about his support for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and, presumably, to hear their concerns. As of today, McAuliffe has not responded to that invitation.
The Roanoke Times reminded readers of how McAuliffe campaigned on a platform of government transparency. Friends of Nelson added that the governor promised to prioritize clean energy. His abiding support of what’s good for the pipelines is putting both of those positions at risk.
In another half-hearted attempt to defend the decision, McAuliffe spokesperson Brian Coy told the Roanoke Times, “Things work better when the left hand is aware of what the right hand is doing, preferably before it winds up in the paper.”
I’m glad that wound up in the paper.
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