Elected Governor of Virginia Glenn Youngkinlast week’s nomination Andrew Wheeler be its natural resources secretary drew backlash from Democratic state lawmakers and climate activists, who have expressed concern about the former lobbyist’s ties to the coal industry and his environmental record under the former president donald trump. As secretary of natural resources, Wheeler would hold the state’s highest environmental job.
The nomination is expected to kick off a contentious confirmation fight as Democratic state lawmakers fear Wheeler could reverse climate policies and environmental protections championed by the former governor. Ralph Northam (D), according to at The Hill. Cabinet nominees must be confirmed by both houses of the General Assembly. Although Republicans control the House of Delegates, Democrats retain a narrow 21-19 majority in the state Senate.
However, Wheeler is not the only candidate or member of staff in Youngkin’s incoming administration to share ties to fossil fuel companies and energy providers.
Youngkin’s chief transformation officer, Eric Moeller, held senior positions at Valero Energy Corporation and AGE Refining, a Texas-based oil refiner, before joining a consulting firm. McKinsey & Company. While a partner at McKinsey, Moeller’s clients included a global offshore drilling operator and a North American mining company.
Margaret McDermid, Youngkin’s nominee for secretary of administration, was senior vice president and chief information officer of Dominion Energy — one of the largest utility companies in the state. She work there for more than 30 years before joining the Federal Reserve System in 2012.
The governor-elect also appointed Richard Cullen to be his legal adviser. A longtime political insider and donor at Youngkin’s campaign, Cullen is a senior partner and former chairman of the law and lobbying firm McGuireWoods. He joined the firm in 1977 and spent most of his career there, leaving only for brief stints as a U.S. attorney and Virginia attorney general.
Although Cullen has not personally lobbied for any energy, mining, oil or gas company, his company has received more than $2.7 million from Dominion Energy between 1998 and 2021, according to federal lobbying disclosures. From 2015 to 2020, the company was paid between $120,000 and $150,000 a year to lobby on a range of issues, including a controversial proposal for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a 600-mile gas pipeline through Virginia. . Cullen’s late brother-in-law, Thomas Farrell II was the CEO of Dominion Energy at the time. After years of fierce opposition from landowners and climate activists, the company canceled the project, citing regulatory uncertainty and rising costs.
Beginning in 2017, Dominion Energy also retained McGuireWoods for lobbying in the United States, according to at the Virginia Public Access Project.
Youngkin provided few policy details related to energy and environmental issues during the gubernatorial campaign, leaving his views on those issues largely unclear. Even though he recognized that rising seas pose a risk to coastal communities, he called Virginia’s Clean Economy Act – which requires the state’s largest utility companies to be 100% carbon-free by 2050 – “unenforceable” and stressed the need to embrace all energy sources: wind, solar, nuclear and natural gas.
More recently he sworn to withdraw the state from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, an 11-state carbon market in which power plants buy allowances for their carbon emissions in quarterly auctions.
The governor-elect’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
In one declaration announcing Wheeler’s appointment, Youngkin said, “Virginia needs a diverse energy portfolio to fuel our economic growth, the continued preservation of our natural resources, and a comprehensive plan to combat rising sea levels.”
He added that Wheeler shares his “vision to find new ways to innovate and use our natural resources to provide Virginia with a stable, reliable, and growing power supply that will meet Virginia’s electricity demands without impacting the costs on the consumer”.
A former chief executive of a private equity firm, Youngkin beat the former governor of Virginia. Terry McAuliffe (D) in the most expensive governor’s race in recent state history. Together, Youngkin and McAullife raised more than $136 million in the election, mostly from big donors contributing $10,000 or more. Virginia does not limit the amount that individuals can give to applicants.
Among Youngkin’s wealthy benefactors were several people connected to the energy and natural resources sector, according to campaign finance records. Richard Giliam, the former president of a family-owned Virginia coal mining company, donated $300,000 to Youngkin’s campaign. Bruce Gottwald, the former head of a petroleum additives company in the state, contributed $250,000. Mindy Hildebrand, whose husband co-founded Hilcorp, the largest private oil and gas company in the United States, donated $100,000.
In total, people and companies in the energy and natural resources sector have contributed more than $1.2 million to Youngkin’s campaign, according to a OpenSecrets To analyse campaign finance records.
McAullife raised less than half of this amount comes from the energy and natural resources sector. The area contributed nearly $7.7 million to all candidates and committees during the 2021 Virginia election cycle.