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Fact-Checker: Does Deeds Back Bill That Could Kill His Neighbors' Jobs?

While state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds and fellow Democrats have been trying to focus the governor's race on Robert F. McDonnell's grad school thesis, McDonnell and fellow Republicans have been working to return everyone's attention to jobs.

The Republican Party of Virginia recently blasted him for supporting a ground-breaking bill in Congress that hopes to slow global warming by imposing limits on carbon-based emissions. McDonnell, while giving the GOP's response to President Barack Obama's weekly radio address, said the bill's proposed cap-and-trade regime would jeopardize 1,500 jobs in Deeds' district alone, a charge echoed by the state GOP.

Is it true that Deeds is supporting the bill? And is it true the bill could effectively shut down MeadWestvaco Corp's plant in Covington, Va.?

Deeds' campaign has offered a detailed five-page policy paper on energy that discusses the importance of conservation, nuclear power and renewable energy to reduce carbon emission. He even gives conditional support to oil-drilling off Virginia's coast.

But his platform is silent on the wisdom of cap-and-trade. On the campaign trail, Deeds also has been reluctant to state his position, saying it's a federal matter. So Deeds' position on the federal legislation is not clear.

But the Virginia GOP argues, in its Aug. 26 press release, that Deeds "supports" the bill. As proof, Republicans cite cite a Sierra Club questionaire that Deeds filled out during the primary. Asked what methods he would support to combat global warming, Deeds replied that he favored "the many measures" suggested by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's Commission on Climate Change, of which Deeds was a member. Among the highlighted recommendations in the commission's December 2008 final report was urging Congress "to establish a mandatory economy-wide cap-and-trade program."

(Specifically, the governor's commission favored a cap-and-trade regime that would cut greenhouse emissions 25 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050, based on 1990 levels. The bill passed by the House of Representatives, American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), has reduction goals of 17 percent and 83 percent, respectively, based on 2005 levels.)

The second question is trickier, as it goes to the heart of the debate about whether the American Clean Energy and Security Act will create jobs or zap them.

President Obama, in hailing the legislation on June 29, said that HR2454, also known as the Waxman-Markey bill, "will create new businesses, new industries, and millions of new jobs, all without imposing untenable new burdens on the American people or America's businesses." The president cited California's experience, saying the Golden State created 1.5 million jobs over the next 30 years after passing stringent energy efficiency laws in the 1970s.

Others, including industry groups such as the American Energy Alliance, argue that the cap-and-trade bill is a job killer. A study by the Heritage Foundation predicts that the bill could eliminate as many as 1.9 million jobs in 2012 and perhaps as many as 2.5 million by 2035. Manufacturers will lose 1.4 million jobs by 2035, the study says.

MeadWestvaco, whose plant in Covington has been around since 1900, is the largest employer in Alleghany County. It sees the bill as a serious threat.

"The risk to the plant and the jobs is very real," MeadWestvaco spokeswoman Alison von Puschendorf said.

Mark R. George, a MeadWestvaco vice president who oversees the Covington plant, said in a video created for the McDonnell campaign that the proposed cap-and-trade legislation could cost the plant "upwards of $60 to $80 million a year once you hit 2014. That's after we invest $300 milion to reduce our carbon footprint by 37 percent."

George said the plant exports about more than half of its products and might lose out to foreign competitors--and thereby threaten its survival in southwest Virginia.

"Where we currently stand with the economy in the Highlands is, we're on a decline," George says in the video, which is available on YouTube.

"If you look 30 years ago, we had three employers in this community that employed 1,000 employees or more," George says. "Two of those are gone. MeadWestvaco is here. We're still strong. We're competing all over the world, and our fear is that the government will pass legislation where we couldn't do that anymore. And without MeadWestvaco in the Highlands, there is no Highlands. Cap and trade would take all that away."

George also made similiar points in an op-ed that ran in some Virginia newspapers.

"If the ACES Act passes Congress, MeadWestvaco's Covington mill operations which provide 1,500 jobs in the Alleghany Highlands, will definitely be one of the losers," according to a draft of the op-ed provided by the company.

George referred calls to company headquarters.

MeadWestvaco Corp., a publicly traded company headquartered in Glen Allen, near Richmond, employs 22,000 people worldwide and operates in 30 countries, its annual report says. The company has contributed $10,000 to McDonnell's gubernatorial campaign, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. The company gave $500 to Deeds' state senate campaign in 2007, says.

-- Fredrick Kunkle

By Christopher Dean Hopkins  |  September 4, 2009; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  2009 Governor's Race , 2009 Governor's Race Fact Checker , Creigh Deeds , Election 2009 , Fredrick Kunkle  
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Next: McDonnell, Deeds Talk Business


I live in the Covington, Virginia area. And while I realize that there are many people employed at the Westvaco Plant, this plant needs to be monitored for it's emissions into our air. Westvaco's horrible odorous emissions permeate the whole city and surrounding area. I am a health care professional and can attest to the many cancers in the population of Covington and adjoining counties. Is the cause of these cancers from the air that we breathe? We need the Clean Energy Act to protect our environment for our children and grandchildren's health and well being. Westvaco needs to clean up it's act for the health and safety of the community it serves. Costs should be secondary.

Posted by: shrad433 | September 4, 2009 6:09 PM | Report abuse

One additional comment. With or without Westvaco, there will always be an Alleghany Highlands!

Posted by: shrad433 | September 4, 2009 6:14 PM | Report abuse

shrad433 - I commend you for your common sense, professional insight, and vision.

I do not live in that area, but know the general situation. I'm also not a fan of "cap-and-trade", per se, but that probably is better than nothing if it is the only approach on which many people can agree.

There ARE other jobs than those at Westvaco, but they must be developed. People have to think beyond the familiar and the feds and the state could provide incentives for renewable energy technologies such as plasma arc gasification. It converts trash to energy. Virginia permits hauling trash into the Commonwealth to just dump . . . what a waste.

Too complex to get into in detail here, but one of our most reliable renewable resources is the trash we create that could be converted into energy and synfuel.

Creigh Deeds has apparently not had time or inclination to learn enough about broadening opportunities, and people are preoccupied with trying to stay afloat and protect their jobs and ways of life. Therefore, I have slim hope for Virginia to take the lead in alternative technologies that would produce jobs and a cleaner environment. Politicians use the words, but are slow to follow through because constituents do not “get it”.

One thing for sure – Virginia’s tourist economy will tank if the air and water quality continue to decline.

Posted by: AnnDe | September 5, 2009 10:23 AM | Report abuse

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