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June 12, 2013

Big Polluter Politics at Their Worst in Virginia

Cucinelli
Virginia Attorney General and Gubernatorial Candidate Ken Cuccinelli

There are plenty of examples of politicians across the country doing or saying anything to push the agenda of their big polluting buddies, but rarely has the evidence been so clear and so outrageous as with what is happening in Virginia.

The office of Virginia Attorney General - and gubernatorial candidate - Ken Cuccinelli did more than just bend over backwards to help Big Coal and Big Gas executives in their legal battle with Virginia residents. In fact, a federal judge said she was shocked by the extent to which Cuccinelli’s office had been aiding and abetting Big Coal in its fight not to pay landowners for the gas it has taken from them.

So what happened?

In Virginia, the Gas and Oil Act lets natural gas companies extract methane gas without landowners’ permission as long as they pay for what they take. Even landowners who have sold the rights to coal on their land are still due compensation for gas, according to this law. But the Big Coal companies taking both haven’t been paying what they owe.

To get their rightful compensation from Big Coal, landowners were forced to go to court. Years of litigation have since ensued in which individual cash-strapped landowners are engaged in a class-action legal battle with Big Coal’s army of attorneys - an army that a federal judge learned was staffed with Generals straight from Ken Cuccinelli’s office.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Pamela Meade Sargent found emails that show Cuccinelli’s Assistant Attorney General Sharon Pigeon was helping coal giant Consol Energy (CNX) and gas driller EQT with their legal defense against Virginia landowners - and Judge Sargent was not happy.

Sargent wrote: “Shockingly, these emails show that the Board, or at least Pigeon, has been actively involved in assisting EQT and CNX with the defense of these cases, including offering advice on and providing information for use on the Motions before the court.”

While Cuccinelli’s lieutenants have been fighting side by side with Big Coal, the Attorney General himself has been raking in contributions from the very same polluters who’ve been benefiting from the assistance. This year alone, Cuccinelli has received $86,000 in campaign cash from Consol - a party directly involved in this suit.

This is not the first time Cuccinelli’s office has done the bidding of polluters, either. A candidate for Virginia Governor this year, Cuccinelli has received $50,000 in campaign money from the Koch Brothers, notorious big oil barons who've thrown political cash to their closest allies all across the country and the Commonwealth. The Koch's have even personally hosted a high-dollar fundraiser for Cuccinelli. And its no wonder - his reckless agenda is in lockstep with their own.

“Almost from the first day he was elected, Attorney General Cuccinelli has abused his office on behalf of fossil fuel polluters.  Hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars have been spent in unnecessary litigation costs as Cuccinelli pursued frivolous suits against the Environmental Protection Agency and even the University of Virginia, all in the name of publicity, climate denial and political gamesmanship,” said Virginia Sierra Club Director Glen Besa.

Now, prominent Virginians like State Senator Phillip Puckett are demanding an investigation into Cuccinelli’s office for putting taxpayer resources to use in a legal battle against those very same taxpayers.

“Cuccinelli should be on the right side of the people that he serves, not his campaign contributors,” said Senator Puckett.

Besa went further, adding “One has to wonder, whose interests are Attorney General Cuccinelli representing? The people of Virginia or the fossil fuel industry?”

--Sierra Club Intern Lauren Lantry

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