Greeted by pipeline protesters during a visit to Roanoke, Gov. Terry McAuliffe stuck by his support for the construction of new natural gas lines Friday — but he stressed the final call isn’t his to make.

“I just want to be clear,” McAuliffe said. “This is a federal issue. This is not a state issue. The governor has no say in this pipeline.”

McAuliffe, a supporter of the Mountain Valley Pipeline and separate Atlantic Coast Pipeline project to the north, made an early-morning appearance at the Hotel Roanoke where he spoke to about 75 people at a business council of Roanoke breakfast that was closed to the media.

Pipeline opponents stood outside the downtown hotel holding up signs with messages including, “McAuliffe Favors Natural Gas Over Property Rights.”

Referencing the Mountain Valley proposal, protestor David Trible said, “This is a private, for-profit company that’s proposing the pipeline, and their only goal is to make money.”

“The right to claim eminent domain in this instance just doesn’t make sense. It sets a terrible precedent.”

Trible, of Bent Mountain, was among about two dozen demonstrators who gathered by the hotel. The group greeted the governor with chants of “Call it off, McAuliffe.”

McAuliffe, who was also asked about pipelines during Friday’s breakfast event, said in an interview that the lines can be responsibly built and will aid the state in its pursuit of new businesses.

“This will allow us to have some of the cheapest energy in the country,” he said. “We can bring manufacturing back to Virginia. Southside and Southwest Virginia need manufacturing.”

One protester, who came into the hotel, called out, “The gas is going overseas.”

McAuliffe quickly disputed that. “This gas is not going overseas. This is gas that we get to use here in Virginia. That’s clear. So let’s just have the facts.”

EQT Corp., NextEra Energy and other partners, including WGL Midstream, are behind Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC. The pipeline venture is preparing to file for approval with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission later this year. The partners’ intent is to run a pipeline from Wetzel County, West Virginia, to Pittsylvania County to transport natural gas extracted from hydraulic fracturing.

In 2014, WGL Midstream announced a sales agreement to export natural gas to India. Last month, a spokesman with WGL Midstream wrote in an email that the Mountain Valley Pipeline could be part of the company’s supply portfolio for exports to India, depending upon market conditions and other factors.

Bullish on Edwards

Looking ahead to the Nov. 3 elections and the fight for control of the state Senate, McAuliffe said he felt bullish about the Democratic Party’s chances — including in the 21st District, where Democratic Sen. John Edwards of Roanoke is facing two challengers.

McAuliffe, whose PAC gave a $7,500 in-kind donation to Edwards last month, said the local district is among the top races in the state.

“Gaining control of the Senate is of critical importance to move ahead on other issues,” McAuliffe said. “Closing the [health insurance] coverage gap is so important, and [it’s important to have] John Edwards in the Senate, working with me as he’s done on so many issues, helping build the economy.”

The Senate is now split 21-19 in favor of Republicans. If Democrats pick up one seat, they’ll effectively control the chamber with Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam breaking ties.

Edwards, a five-term incumbent, is facing a well-funded Republican opponent in Nancy Dye, a retired surgeon. He also has an independent challenge from Roanoke Commonwealth’s Attorney Donald Caldwell, a longtime Democrat.

His campaign drew some negative notice earlier this year after posting weak fundraising numbers. But he’s since ramped up his outreach and out-raised Dye in the last two reporting periods.

On Friday, he said he expects to continue bringing in strong numbers for the rest of the year. But he added he felt the media focus on his campaign coffers is overblown.

“Why don’t you talk about something else besides money?” he asked reporters with a laugh. “Issues, record, accomplishments, experience, things like that. The things the citizens actually care about.”

In addition to McAuliffe, the state party is putting resources into the election, deploying seven field organizers to the 21st District.

Edwards differed from McAuliffe on the pipeline issue and said there is “no question” the natural gas will end up going overseas.

One partner in the Mountain Valley proposal recently said the project could be used to supply exports to India, though no final decision has been made.

“The idea that it’s not going to go overseas, I don’t think anybody believes that,” said Edwards, who’s raised concerns about the environmental and safety risks of the pipeline.

Alicia Petska covers what's happening in Roanoke County and the City of Salem.

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