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Youngkin and McAuliffe give few details on how they’ll handle Dominion Energy

Dominion Energy sign above building
Dominion Energy has given $200,000 political donation to a group attacking Glenn Youngkin, but it's not clear where he stands on new oversight for the powerful utility company. (Crixell Matthews/VPM News).

Republican Glenn Youngkin has stepped up attacks on Dominion Energy in the homestretch of a race against Democrat Terry McAuliffe, including in a new TV ad. But Youngkin has given few indications of how he would handle the powerful Richmond utility if he were elected governor. McAuliffe says he favors more oversight of regulated utilities but has not given details on how that might happen.

Dominion, which delivers power to most of Virginia as a state-sanctioned monopoly, surfaced as a campaign issue after the Richmond Times-Dispatch and Axios reported the company gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to a secretive political group that has attacked Youngkin for not being conservative enough.

After the donation became public, Dominion CEO Bob Blue wrote a letter to employees saying the company didn’t fully vet the Accountability VA political action committee. Blue said the company had asked that its $200,000 worth of contributions be returned, according to the Times-Dispatch. Rayhan Daudani, a spokesperson for the company, wouldn’t say whether they’ve actually gotten the money back.

Youngkin seized on the news. Dominion “overcharged everybody in Virginia over a billion dollars,” Youngkin said in a speech last week in Suffolk, referring to an estimate of the company’s excess profits prepared by state regulators. “And they used some of it to fund Terry McAuliffe’s campaign. Folks, I go into this job with absolutely no deals cut."

Daudani said the company’s political contributions do not come from customer’s bills. McAuliffe spokesperson Renzo Olivari said the campaign did not “authorize” any of the attacks but would not say if there were any other connections between the campaign and the PAC.

Youngkin declined to answer a question on whether he supported more oversight of the company. “I'm right now scratching my head into what in the world they're up to,” Youngkin said last week as staff moved him away from the press. Matt Wolking, a spokesperson for the campaign, declined to elaborate.

Youngkin has critiqued the Virginia Clean Economy Act, which mandates Virginia’s electrical grid be carbon neutral by 2050. He also hedged on whether humans are accelerating climate change, despite the broad scientific consensus on the topic, but said the threat posed by a warming climate needs to be addressed.

McAuliffe says he will aim to move the VCEA’s deadline up to 2035. And he says he supports new oversight of Dominion, though he has been vague about details.

“I want [electricity] as reliable and as cheap as possible,” McAuliffe said in an interview earlier this week. “So clearly, we'll have more oversight.

“We'll have the SCC [State Corporation Commission] and other watchdogs making sure it's reliable, it's cheap, and I'd like to see it 100% clean,” he added.

Many Dominion critics are wary of McAuliffe, who signed a 2015 bill that stripped regulators of some oversight powers. McAuliffe also embraced the company’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline that was cancelled last year. His campaign has not directly accepted checks from Dominion this cycle.

Critics say Dominion has used its contributions and influence in the General Assembly to cut away regulations they say protected consumers from higher rates. The company maintains customer bills are competitive with other states.

Clean Virginia, a group challenging Dominion’s influence, has not yet given to McAuliffe or Youngkin but has so far invested $2.5 million in several dozen House of Delegates candidates. All but one of them, Del. Glenn Davis (R-Virginia Beach), are Democrats.

“This electoral cycle has laid bare that voters of every party agree — the era of corporate monopolies ruling Virginia politics must end,” said Brennan Gilmore, the group’s executive director.

Stephen Haner, an editor for the conservative site Bacon’s Rebellion, former lobbyist and critic of Dominion’s influence, said Youngkin was a “blank slate” when it came to his stance on regulatory matters.

“He has not been involved in any of the bad decisions to date, however, which gives one hope,” Haner wrote in an email. 


Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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