Virginia’s Wayne Powell Is An Environmental Profile In Courage

BY ON November 2, 2012

Congressional candidates discuss climate change
As the country begins to pick up the pieces after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, the conversation is finally getting around to the question of why climate change wasn’t addressed during the Presidential debates.

Virginia is now being mentioned as a crucial swing state. This Congressional race is certainly one to watch. Perhaps that was why I was so impressed to hear candidate Wayne Powell, (who is challenging incumbent Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for the seat he has held in the 7th District of Virginia since 2001) speak boldly and openly about the environment showdown with Cantor.

It was the first such match up for Cantor in a long time. Powell may not be a polished politician like Cantor, and his self-effacing manner may seem folksy, but his military demeanor and substantial creds tell a different story. Powell is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate with a Masters Degree in Spanish, as well as a law degree. He is a retired colonel who went back into active service after 9/11, tasked with commanding a “specialized Army intelligence unit” in Washington, D.C. He describes himself as a small business owner, referencing his law firm, Powell and Parish.

I watched him challenge Cantor during the CSPAN televised encounter. He presented his proposal for building wind farms off the coast of Virginia—rather than drilling for oil. I contacted him to get a fuller picture of his concerns and proposals for the environment. He granted me an exclusive interview for Moms Clean Air Force.

Below are his answers to several of my questions, edited for clarity and space. In addition, to his e-mailed responses, he included an overview comment as an introduction to his points of view.

“This week we are reminded of the power of nature. This is not a science fiction movie. This is now. If we don’t implement a real renewable energy policy, this will not be the end of the ‘superstorms’ in our country and the world, but the beginning. Last year it is estimated that the effects of Hurricane Irene cost $10 billion. Sandy is expected to cost between $30 and $40 billion. An overwhelming number of scientists in the world have come to the conclusion that the effects of humans on the planet, more specifically the ‘carbon footprint’ we have—including the use of fossil fuels and the continuing use of fossil fuels—have long-term harmful effects on our planet. They will likely affect habitability sooner than we think.”

Coal burning power plants are a major source of air pollution. According to, Cantor received $73,844 from the industry, coming in sixth for members of the house. Are you concerned about the influence of coal and big oil in this race?

“In addition to receiving contributions from the coal industry, Cantor is among the top ten in receiving money from the gas and oil industry.  These industries want and receive Cantor’s votes for their money—and he delivers. He has received the fifth highest amount of contributions from the oil and gas industries, and sixth from the coal industry during this campaign cycle. I have tried  in this campaign to first expose the influence the fossil fuel industries continue to exercise over Cantor and his colleagues. Then, after exposing this influence, it is necessary to educate the public about the science regarding climate change and the ways in which developing renewable energy sources will slow this change. Particularly with regard to the air and water quality, a national mobilization and investment in renewable energy with concomitant tax incentives, should be launched in those very coalfields—to show that there are economical, clean, and cheap alternatives to polluting coal, oil, and gas.”

Virginia ranks 32nd nationally for air quality. You are next to several states, including West Virginia, which has air pollution problems. Cantor received a rating of 0 percent from the League of Conservation Voters. He has pushed back on clean air legislation. How would you differ?

“Cantor’s voting record clearly reflects the real constituents to whom he answers—the big oil, gas and coal energy companies contributing to his campaign. We should always preserve clean air legislation, and I would vote against any attempt to roll back that legislation. Along with an effort to initiate a renewable energy plan for the country, I would increase the clean air standards to protect the health needs of children, the elderly, and the sick—whose conditions are frequently worsened by less regulated air pollution and soot.”

I was given access to a poll conducted by Hickman Analytics, a public opinion research and consulting firm, engaged by the Powell campaign. In what appears on the surface to be a David and Goliath endeavor, the findings of their telephone polling had some interesting results. It stated, “Cantor is not particularly popular in his Republican-leaning district…After hearing a positive description of Powell and negatives about Cantor, the horserace is statistically even”

If Powell racks up enough votes to win, it will be a definitive victory for our children and those who want to see more strong voices addressing energy and environment issues on the Hill. Powell has made it abundantly clear that he is not interested in kicking the can down the road.

Photo: AP Photo/Steve Helber


TOPICS: Clean Air Rules and Regulations, Coal, Politics, Virginia