Conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity is taking aim at state Sen. John Edwards — one of Southwest Virginia’s last Democrats — in the final weeks of the election season.
In mailers and TV ads, Americans for Prosperity has blasted Edwards for backing “reckless new energy mandates” from the federal government.
The ads allude to the new U.S. Clean Power Plan that aims to cut carbon emissions from power plants over the next 15 years.
Edwards, D-Roanoke, said he was surprised to be attacked over a point of federal policy.
“They got the wrong guy,” he said. “I’ve never cast a vote in Washington, D.C., in my life. I’m a state senator.”
Americans for Prosperity argued Edwards has tacitly supported the federal push by voting against bills seeking to curb the mandates.
Senate Bill 1365 laid out some requirements for state regulators to follow while developing an action plan to meet the federal pollution limits.
The measure passed the Senate with broad support — including from Edwards — but was rejected when it returned from the House of Delegates with language giving the General Assembly veto power over the plan.
The amendment was voted down in the Senate with 17 Democrats and 15 Republicans opposed, including Edwards and the bill’s patron, Sen. John Watkins, R-Powhatan.
House Bill 2246 barred Virginia’s air pollution control board from enforcing federal emissions limits on new residential wood-burning heaters.
It passed and was signed into law by Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Edwards was among seven senators voting no.
“This vote once again showed Sen. Edwards’ willingness to side with big government bureaucrats at the expense of Virginia families,” Tyler Foote, state director for the Americans for Prosperity Foundation – Virginia, wrote in an email.
Edwards, speaking broadly to the General Assembly debate over the federal standards, questioned the point of efforts to sidestep the measures.
If the state doesn’t devise a plan and comply with the requirements, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can impose its own plan.
“The federal government can trump state law on this issue,” he said.
Instead of waging a fruitless battle, Edwards argued, the state should focus on strengthening alternative energies like solar.
“Solar and renewables are the energies of the future,” he said. “That’s not to say we don’t want to protect coal and natural gas or that they won’t have any place. They certainly will. But I think in the future we need to promote those things that will be, not only cost-effective and energy-efficient, but also protect our environment.”
Foote countered the state ought to take a “wait-and-see approach” to the mandates. Several other states are challenging the Clean Power Plan in court.
Edwards is the only Virginia lawmaker that Americans for Prosperity reported targeting with an ad campaign right now.
The group began peppering the 21st District with mailers more than a week ago and late last week ran a TV ad.
The ad, in an ominous voiceover, said Edwards supports a Washington scheme to force through new regulations that would kill jobs and raise utility bills for families and senior citizens.
There are many conflicting estimates circulating about the economic impact of the Clean Power Plan. The Americans for Prosperity spots quote two excerpts from an article the Richmond Times-Dispatch wrote in August: “jobs will be lost” and “could lead to … increase in electricity rates.” The Roanoke Times also ran the article.
The excerpts appear to refer to comments made by University of Virginia environmental economist William Shobe.
The full sentences read:
“Some coal-mining jobs will be lost, and some jobs such as installing solar panels might increase, but the net effect on jobs is likely to be small, Shobe said.”
“While the plan could lead to an increase in electricity rates depending on how it’s implemented, efficiency efforts such as insulating homes, among other measures pushed by the plan, could result in overall smaller electricity bills, Shobe said.”
Americans for Prosperity acknowledged the uncertainty about the impact of the new standards — which haven’t gone into effect yet — but added some estimates predict an average Virginia household will see its power bills rise by over $470 a year and that thousands of energy-sector jobs could be lost.
“Is that really a chance that you want to take?” Foote asked.
Edwards is in a three-way race for re-election against Republican Nancy Dye and independent Donald Caldwell.
The 21st District is among a handful of targeted races this year in the fight between Democrats and Republicans for control of the closely divided Senate.
Edwards is one of only two Democrats from western Virginia remaining in the Senate. The other, Sen. Creigh Deeds of Bath County, is uncontested for re-election.
The Democratic Party of Virginia responded to the new attack ads with an email blast designed to raise the hackles of donors.
“It’s what we feared,” reads the fundraising appeal. “Americans For Prosperity, the political arm of the ultra right wing Koch Brothers, just placed an enormous TV buy against one of our top Senate Democrats.”
Americans for Prosperity is backed by the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch.
Foote described the TV push as a “modest” ad buy costing in the five figures. He said his group felt its message would have particular resonance in Edwards’ Southwest Virginia district.
“Energy is important all across the state, but particularly in that region,” Foote said. “We’re holding Sen. Edwards accountable and hope his constituents will do the same.”
The ads urge residents to contact Edwards’ office and voice opposition to the federal mandates. Americans for Prosperity does not make endorsements or participate in the election process, Foote said.
Its ads are not a show of support for Edwards’ challengers, he said.
During forums and interviews, Dye has expressed support for an all-of-the-above energy plan that includes coal, natural gas, nuclear and renewables.
She’s also said the state needs to “resist federal overreach” that drives up energy prices.
“I think the EPA overreach has been detrimental,” she said last week.
Caldwell said he supports the pursuit of clean, renewable energy, but added it will take time for that technology to become affordable enough and plentiful enough.
“You have to balance clean energy and reliable energy against each other,” he said. “As a matter of market economics, people are going to use the resources that are the cheapest and most reliable. And that’s the way it will go until something comes along that is cheaper and just as reliable.”