RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Environmentalists said they are upset that one of Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe's top environmental officials testified in support Wednesday of federal legislation they say will hurt efforts to curb pollution from coal ash.
Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Director David Paylor testified Wednesday before a U.S. House subcommittee in favor of a bill backed by electric utilities and sponsored by Republican U.S. Rep. David McKinley of West Virginia. Paylor said McKinley's bill would improve recent federal U.S. Environmental Protection Agency coal ash rules by giving utilities greater clarity regarding regulation as well as giving states additional flexibility in controlling pollution.
In his prepared remarks, Paylor said he appreciated "the opportunity to share with you Virginia's views" on the bill. Those remarks also had the state agency's logo on them.
Paylor told The Associated Press after his testimony that he wasn't representing the McAuliffe administration but the Environmental Council of the States, whose members lead state environmental protection agencies. Paylor is a past president of the group, which he said prepared his written testimony.
"I don't know that the McAuliffe administration has an official view on the bill one way or another," Paylor said.
Brian Coy, a spokesman for the governor, said McAuliffe has no position on McKinley's bill.
Roanoke River Basin Association Executive Director Andrew Lester said the McAuliffe administration is sending mixed messages.
"Either you represent the state of Virginia or you don't," Lester said.
Environmental groups, which were among some of McAuliffe's biggest financial backers during his 2013 gubernatorial campaign, said that McKinley's bill would make already weak EPA rules even weaker.
Coal ash, which is a coal combustion byproduct, is a hot topic in Virginia's environmental community. A massive coal ash spill last year by Duke Energy in North Carolina affected more than 50 miles of the Dan River in Virginia, according to Paylor.
And the Southern Environmental Law Center said last year it intends to sue Dominion Virginia Power under the Clean Water Act over its coal ash storage at two sites in Virginia.
Dominion is the largest electric utility in the state and enjoys close ties with several state elected officials, including McAuliffe.