Environmentalists are baffled at why Terry McAuliffe — Virginia’s otherwise green governor — is so enamored of the natural gas pipelines that want to cut paths across his state.

When Dominion Resources announced its proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline last fall, the governor stood with the company — quite literally. He was there alongside company executives in the state Capitol, where the project was announced.

For the Mountain Valley Pipeline, the governor merely issued a press release four months after the project was unveiled — which may say something about how this part of the state is more lightly regarded in the capital, or perhaps it simply reflects the pipeline company’s lower political profile.

In any case, the Democratic governor, who’s repeatedly noted that the state is criss-crossed with pipelines already, has voiced strong support for both pipelines on economic grounds. He called the Atlantic Coast Pipeline “an energy superhighway” — opponents probably wouldn’t debate that — and “a game-changer” for the economy that will “spur economic growth in all parts of the commonwealth.”

That’s probably a bit of a stretch. The pipeline would cut through Highland and Augusta counties on its way to Hampton Roads; the gas might create jobs in Norfolk and Portsmouth, but probably not in Norton and Pound. Let’s not quibble over grammar and geography, though. The point is: Here’s a left-of-center governor who strongly believes that the pipelines will help create jobs (and it probably goes without saying that a more fossil fuel-friendly right-of-center governor would surely think the same thing).

This was a point McAuliffe stressed during his recent trip to Roanoke to speak to business leaders. The Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would run from West Virginia through the New River and Roanoke valleys on its way to a connection with another pipeline in Chatham, is a big deal for this part of the state — and in a good way. “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.”

Key fact number one: Companies are busy converting from coal-fired plants to gas-fired ones as gas becomes cheaper and environmental regulations make it harder to burn coal. Earlier this year, the nation passed a milestone: We now derive more electricity from natural gas than we do from coal.

Key fact number two: Franklin County, in particular, is eager for natural gas. County officials say they’ve lost economic development prospects because there’s no natural gas line in the county.

Key fact number three: Officials in Carroll County can point to companies that located there because of a natural gas pipeline.

Conclusion: While there’s no guarantee that the pipeline would lead to job creation along the Mountain Valley Pipeline route, it’s reasonable to assume that it might. That would seem to position this as the classic, and somewhat stereotypical, jobs vs. the environment fight (assuming, of course, that the connection fees aren’t so prohibitive that we wind up with no exit ramps off this “energy superhighway,” in which case the whole jobs argument collapses).

That also raises a moral question: Do opponents have an obligation to propose an alternative (and realistic) way to create jobs in those localities if there’s no natural gas pipeline?

One easy answer would be “no,” perhaps even “no” preceded by a reference to a certain well-heated underworld that’s said to be warmed by something other than natural gas. I’m here just living my life, not doing anything to anybody. You’re the one who wants to run roughshod over my property, and now you’re telling me it’s suddenly my obligation to find a solution to a problem that’s vexed politicians for years? What the #$%& kind of question is that? Now get off my property, or I’ll shove that surveyor’s tripod right up your &^%!

A softer answer would still be “no,” but framed this way: There’s no pipeline now. So maybe it represents the potential for jobs, maybe it doesn’t. But by opposing it, we’re not taking anything away from somebody that they have now. We’re just saying let us be. Why do we need to provide an alternative for something we don’t even know will happen anyway?

A different answer though would be . . . well, that’s hard to say. The obvious alternative answer would be “yes,” especially if you’re unemployed or underemployed and think those who oppose the pipeline are simply being selfish. These people are worried about their view, or their back yard; I can’t even afford a back yard and the main view I have is a dead-end future!

When public affairs are discussed, a question that often arises is whether someone who opposes a proposal — whatever the proposal — has an obligation to come up a suitable alternative.

In the General Assembly, for instance, Republicans are dead-set against accepting federal dollars to expand Medicaid. Their concerns about expanding federal programs may or may not be valid, depending upon your viewpoint. However, none of them seem eager to come up with another way to deal with the 400,000 low-income Virginians who don’t otherwise have health insurance. Democrats have a solution. If Republicans don’t like it, don’t they have a moral obligation to say how they’d fix the problem?

We just got through one of the annual Remote Area Medical clinics in Wise County, where doctors come in from all over to treat patients at the Wise County Fairgrounds. It’s a local application of a Third World model. Is that really how we want health care in our state to work?


It’s different, of course, when the opponents are other politicians; elected officials have responsibilities to fix problems, even if they choose to ignore them. The pipeline opponents, though, are mostly ordinary citizens, who just want to be left alone. Should the standard for them be different? Probably so, you’d think, right?

Still, the question remains: If natural gas from the Mountain Valley Pipeline could create jobs in Southside and Southwest Virginia, what’s the alternative for creating those jobs if there’s no access to what is now the nation’s most common fuel? Anyone want to tackle that?