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136th generation of new Virginia State Police Troopers graduate

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On Friday, Aug. 12, 2022, the Commonwealth will graduate its 136th generation of Virginia State Troopers. The 18 new troopers will be presented their diplomas during commencement exercises at 10 a.m. at the State Police Training Academy located at 7700 Midlothian Turnpike in Chesterfield County.

“The 136th has completed one of the toughest law enforcement academies in the country and are now joining a long line of distinguished troopers,” said Colonel Gary T. Settle, Virginia State Police Superintendent. “2022 marks the 90th anniversary of the Virginia State Police and these new troopers will forever be part of our valued history. We are proud to have them as part of the Virginia State Police family.”

The new troopers have received more than 1,300 hours of classroom and field instruction in more than 100 different subjects, including de-escalation techniques, strategies to assist people in mental health crisis, ethics and leadership, fair and impartial policing, constitutional law, emergency medical trauma care, and public and community relations. The members of the 136th Basic Session began their 28 weeks of academic, physical and practical training at the Academy Jan. 26, 2022.

The soon-to-be graduates of the 136th Basic Session are from every corner of the Commonwealth, as well as California, Iowa, Maryland, New Hampshire and Washington.


Upon graduation, the new troopers will report to their individual duty assignments. For their final phase of training, each trooper will spend an additional six weeks paired up with a Field Training Officer learning his or her new patrol area.

 136th BASIC GRADUATING CLASS:

Name – Hometown – Assignment

  • Gilmar Raymund Bulado Alcasid – Lakewood, California  – Portsmouth/Suffolk/Chesapeake
  • Usman Asif – Leesburg – Fairfax
  • Emily Marie Ball – Meriden, New Hampshire – Prince William
  • Cornelius Clyde Boykins, Jr. – Williamsburg – Prince William
  • Jarrad Jeffrey Byrd – Gate City – Prince William
  • Patrick Arthur Cantrell – Pound – Botetourt
  • Jason B. Chatman, Jr. – Richmond – Henrico
  • Morgan Bethany Douglas – Chesterfield – Dinwiddie
  • Coltin Allen King – Fort Chiswell – Fluvanna
  • Clayton Ander Linville – Richmond – Hanover/Henrico
  • Noah Aaron Maxfield – Castlewood – Rockbridge
  • Andrew Ray Murley – Sac City, Iowa – Rockingham
  • Jimmy Williams Nguyen – Frederick, Maryland – Fairfax
  • Joshua Michael Nowacki – Fredericksburg – Stafford
  • Bryan Baxter Pitts – Puyallup, Washington – Hampton/Newport News
  • Justin Lee Ramey – Sperryville – Rockingham
  • Nicholas Ryan Thompson – Chesapeake – Hampton/Newport News
  • Roosevelt Westbrook – Norfolk – Norfolk/Virginia Beach
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Trump allies have interviewed nearly 200 election officials to probe for weaknesses

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(Parker Michels-Boyce / For the Virginia Mercury) Volunteers for “Operation Eagles Wings” are using surveys in eight states to seek support for conspiracy theories.


This article was originally published by Votebeat, a nonprofit news organization covering local election administration and voting access.

Two of Donald Trump’s most prominent allies in his fight to overturn the 2020 election are leading a coordinated, multi-state effort to probe local election officials in battlegrounds such as Michigan, Arizona, and Texas ahead of the November election.

The America Project, an organization founded by Michael Flynn, a retired three-star general, former national security adviser, and former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne, has so far interviewed or attempted to interview officials in nearly 200 counties across eight swing states, according to copies of notes, recordings of the interviews, and other documents Votebeat found on web pages associated with the organization. The survey questions reflect the same debunked conspiracies and misleading information about elections that Flynn and Byrne have been propagating for years.


The survey questions appear intended to detect potential weaknesses in local election systems and gather detailed information about how elections are run. Election experts say the information could easily be used to fuel misinformation campaigns, disrupt voting, or challenge results.

“It seems consistent with their efforts to really understand how to manipulate the machinery of election administration in this country,” said Ben Berwick, counsel at national nonprofit Protect Democracy, a research and advocacy group.

In 2020, Byrne and Flynn were among the Trump loyalists who devised a plan to seize voting machines across the country and dig up enough evidence of fraud to persuade state lawmakers, Congress, or the vice president to overturn the election results. Now, they are focusing their efforts on the midterm election, with new strategies. A group backed by The America Project, for example, is attempting to purge voter rolls in Georgia ahead of the election.

The surveys are part of The America Project’s latest mission, dubbed “Operation Eagles Wings,” which is organized on foramericafirst.com, with web pages for each of the swing states the group is focused on. Key to the effort is building relationships with local election officials, according to two manuals for local volunteers on the organization’s websites. The officials are asked their opinions on debunked conspiracy theories to determine whether they are like-minded individuals. Interviewers are also marking down which clerks are particularly helpful.

Berwick points out that it’s the mission of prominent Trump supporters to fill positions of power — from governors down to local clerks — with people who believe their allegations of election fraud and improprieties. Noting who does and does not support the cause, he said, may be the group’s way of determining “who will be sympathetic to their efforts in the future.”

Election officials have generally been friendly to their interviewers, but have also repeatedly assured them that their elections are fair, voting machines are secure, and voter rolls are accurate.

In Harris County, Georgia, an election official repeatedly assured the interviewer that no one voted on behalf of deceased voters in the county.

“In some counties they did,” the interviewer insisted. “They weren’t removed from the rolls. And there have been some reports. It’s down to the proof. Prove it.”

The America Project and its officers did not respond to phone and email requests for comment about the surveys.

Surveys probe administrators on debunked theories

The survey questions vary slightly by state, though nearly all ask if counties remove deceased voters from the rolls. They also request contact information for vendors who service voting machines, and whether the county will consider designating a “neutral” third-party group to provide “training and support” for poll watchers. Some ask whether voting machines are connected to the internet, and if the local election officials are confident that local advocacy groups register voters “without bribery, intimidation or coercion.”

Interviewers asked the officials whether they support counting votes using a “manual process like that used in France.” This is a common talking point of such activists, who routinely praise the country for efficiently hand-counting votes and use it as justification to end the use of vote-counting machines. “If France can do it, we can do it!” shouted Trump’s former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon on his War Room podcast earlier this year. Mike Lindell, his guest and a prominent conspiracy theorist who is also the owner of MyPillow, agrees. “Terminate the machines!” yells Lindell. There are several differences between French and U.S. elections that make hand counting more effective in that country.

Byrne and Flynn have both voiced strong support for these ideas, routinely claiming without evidence that voting machines were manipulated and that left-leaning activists routinely facilitate mass voter fraud. “Our country and its founding principles are under attack by globalists and their allies in government, Wall Street, the legacy media and by others which make-up the political left in this country,” the Georgia for America First website states. “The weapon of choice is our vulnerable election system.”

The America Project was the top funder of the Arizona Senate’s election review, and Byrne supported the now-discredited investigation of voting machines in Antrim County, Michigan. Both have said they’ll continue to work to remake American elections.

“This will be our last shot,” wrote Byrne in his book, “The Deep Rig,” which he self-published last year. The book declares: “If we do not restore election integrity by then, then next election will also be rigged [sic], and we will have tipped our way into a fascist, authoritarian dystopian version of America, run by Goons.”

“Operation Eagles Wings”

A key goal of Operation Eagles Wings is to create small volunteer teams across the country who observe the entirety of the election process, starting in part with the surveys, according to the manuals Votebeat found.

It’s the expansion of what they have dubbed “the Virginia model,” which refers to the work of Cleta Mitchell’s Election Integrity Network in Virginia to create a network for the state’s 2021 election, according to the manuals.* The America Project provided funding to that effort.

The larger Operation Eagles Wings initiative is aimed at educating “election reform activists on everything from grassroots training to election canvassing and fundraising,” according to The America Project’s website. The site claims the group provides training “for Americans who want to make sure there are no repeats of the errors that happened in the 2020 election.”

“We need to do everything in our power to protect the voting process from election meddlers who care only about serving crooked special interest groups that neither respect nor value the rule of law,” the homepage says.

Along with the surveys, the initiative encourages election skeptics to serve as poll workers and observers, perform in-person “voter registration audits,” and to visit “large farms, factories, businesses and especially care homes,” and ask residents whether anyone is forcing them to vote, according to the manuals.

Election officials’ top concern? ‘Misinformation.’

Volunteers have conducted interviews in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin, according to copies and audio recordings of the interviews that Votebeat found online. Most of the documents are stored on what appear to be unlisted pages of a site called libertyshepherd.com, which had no active homepage as of Friday, while the Florida documents are accessible from the state’s page on foramericafirst.com.

Election administrators surveyed by the group told Votebeat they weren’t bothered by the questions themselves, inviting them as opportunities to debunk misinformation.

Many election officials told the interviewers that their top concern about the upcoming election was misinformation. In Sterling Heights, Michigan, City Clerk Melanie Ryska told the interviewer that people insinuate “that we aren’t doing something right, that we are hiding something, that our [absentee] ballots are not legitimate, that we have early voting when we don’t, that we are trying to sway the vote somehow.”

Ryska told Votebeat in an interview that she is glad when people come to her for information rather than get it elsewhere.

“I just think it is great that different organizations are actually talking to clerks now and trying to get their side of the story, if you will because the misinformation dramatically hurts the election administrators, their team, the process,” she said. “Because it just creates so much mistrust in the process.”

Susan Nash, city clerk in Livonia, Michigan, said she was interviewed by two women with the group this summer. “Nothing wrong with questioning,” Nash told Votebeat. “It’s better to contact the clerks instead of getting misinformation elsewhere.”

Most interviews were conducted in person or by phone, with the interviewer filling out the survey themselves. Two election supervisors showed the completed surveys and told Votebeat the volunteers had not accurately recorded their answers.

Cortney Hanson, city clerk in Novi, Michigan, said the interviewers recorded most of her responses correctly, except for one question. They used their own words to mischaracterize the funds the city accepted from the Center for Tech and Civic Life before the 2020 election, writing that she accepted “Zuck bucks” — a term championed by some conservatives referring to the grant, which had been underwritten by grants from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan.

“It’s not a term I would ever use,” Hanson said.

Wendy John, the county recorder in Graham County, Arizona, told Votebeat by email that the recorded answers “did not accurately reflect my response at all.” She did not elaborate.

Loaded questions

The range of questions asked by the survey puzzled experts. Barry Burden, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin, said the survey was made up of an odd “scattering” of questions, few of which would elicit useful information about the systems used by the counties in question. He said that they would burden election officials who are already swamped with work and records requests given the upcoming midterms.

Flynn and Byrne, he said, “don’t have a good record of being fact-based and practical.”

The manuals say that Flynn and Byrne intend to post survey results publicly, something Burden said risks circulating incorrect information.

For example, several of the questions ask about security practices — such as whether counties use a specific database to remove deceased voters from the rolls. The state may use the database, but not the county —  a nuance that wouldn’t be captured by the survey.

In some surveys, election administrators were asked how many households in their jurisdiction have “more than 7 individual registered voters living at the same address.” While this appears to address bloated voter rolls, there are many instances where more than seven voters might lawfully live at the same address, such as college campuses and assisted living homes. Activists around the country have been filing voter challenges on those and other grounds, which are routinely thrown out by local election offices and courts.

At the end of the survey, the interviewer is asked to “characterize your interaction with the Supervisor of Elections as (circle all that apply): Helpful, polite, defensive, unhelpful, antagonistic.”

“They could be trying to find friends and enemies among election officials,” Burden said. “It’s really not clear. It’s just another strange part of the survey.”

The volunteer who interviewed Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards in Polk County, Florida, in June circled helpful and polite and wrote that she was “super nice, very friendly and accomodating [sic].” The volunteer who interviewed Brenda Hoots, supervisor of elections in Hendry County, Florida, characterized her as “defensive.” Below his circled response, he wrote, “One of the most defensive interviews to date.” He placed stars next to the comments.

Hoots said she always tries to be very open about their procedures and wants the public to understand elections, but the person conducting the survey got mad when she tried to clarify her answers.

“Am I defensive?” she told Votebeat when shown the survey results. “Yes. This is my job. This is what I do. When you question this, you are questioning my integrity as a person.”

Correction, Sept. 30: This article originally misidentified the Election Integrity Network as the Election Integrity Group.

Reporters Oralandar Brand-Williams and Natalia Contreras contributed to this article.

Jen Fifield is a reporter for Votebeat based in Arizona. Contact Jen at jfifield@votebeat.org.

by Jen Fifield, Votebeat, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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U.S. Supreme Court mulls federal water, wetlands rules

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Coastal wetlands off the Eastern Shore of Virginia. (Sarah Vogelsong / Virginia Mercury)

The U.S. Supreme Court opened its term Monday with an Idaho case that could significantly restrict the federal government’s power to enforce clean water laws and prove crucial in determining wetland protections.

The oral arguments came just months after the court’s 6-3 conservative majority limited executive authority to address climate change in a case involving federal regulation of greenhouse gases.

The clean water case, brought by an Idaho couple seeking to build a house on a plot of land they bought near Priest Lake in the state’s panhandle, provides an opportunity for the court to rein in what types of waters are subject to a provision of the Clean Water Act known as “Waters of the United States.”


The property of Michael and Chantell Sackett is across a road from wetlands that eventually drain into Priest Lake. The Environmental Protection Agency has required the couple to obtain federal permits before they build, but the couple has argued that because their property doesn’t contain any water itself, it shouldn’t be subject to Clean Water Act requirements.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh noted that the case was about much more than one couple’s building permits.

“Let’s put aside the facts of this case because this case is going to be important for wetlands throughout the country,” he told the Sacketts’ attorney, Damien Schiff of the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation.

The law doesn’t define what is considered a water of the United States subject to federal regulation, and land that is situated near and drains into a covered waterway can also be subject to regulation, which is what the EPA has argued in the Sacketts’ case.

The case is about how broad that definition can be. Monday’s arguments indicated the status quo may be too broad for the court’s conservative majority to accept.

Justice Neil Gorsuch pushed U.S. Justice Department attorney Brian Fletcher to define the distance from a waterway that land would be subject to regulation. Fletcher could not offer a distinct answer, prompting Gorsuch to wonder how property owners or potential property owners could be expected to determine what their responsibilities are under the law.

“If the federal government doesn’t know, how is the person subject to criminal time in federal prison supposed to know?” he said.

Taking part in her first oral argument as a member of the court, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson asked what the process was for determining if a particular property was covered.

Fletcher said that property owners can receive, at no cost, an analysis from federal agencies about whether they need to seek permits.

Further, property rights are not restricted by federal permitting requirements.

“The fact that they’re covered by the act does not mean that development is prohibited, it just means that development has to be permitted,” he said.

Meaning of ‘adjacent’

 

Another piece of the Sacketts’ argument was that their land was not in fact adjacent to a covered water because a road separated their property from the water.

Several justices, both liberal and conservative, appeared skeptical of that argument.

Jackson responded to Schiff’s argument that Congress differentiated between land abutting covered waters and land nearby by noting that the Clean Water Act’s purpose was to preserve water quality.

“Why would Congress draw the coverage line between abutting wetlands and neighboring wetlands when the objective of the statute is to ensure the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the nation’s water?” she said. “Are you saying that neighboring wetlands can’t impact the quality of navigable waters?”

The EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers have long accepted that nearby land can affect waters that are covered by the Clean Water Act. That’s still true if there’s a human-made construction like a berm or a road, Fletcher said.

“For 45 years, the EPA and the Army Corps has recognized that the presence of such a barrier does not categorically strip a wetland of the act’s protections,” he said.

Even some of the court’s conservative justices seemed skeptical of the Sacketts’ argument that their land was not adjacent to covered water.

Chief Justice John Roberts made an analogy with train stations and tracks. A station does not physically touch the tracks but is considered to be adjacent to them.

Executive agencies, under presidents of both parties, have long held that neighboring — not only abutting — lands were covered, Kavanaugh told Schiff.

“Why did seven straight administrations not agree with you?” he asked.

Significant nexus

But even if a majority of justices are unpersuaded by the Sacketts’ adjacency argument, the conservatives might not miss an opportunity to narrow the regulatory authority of the Clean Water Act.

“The composition of this court is likely to go in a narrower way,” Melissa Reynolds, an attorney with Holland & Hart’s water law office, said in a Monday interview. “It’s not expanding jurisdiction and hindering private property owners moving forward — it’s kind of the opposite direction.”

In June, in one of the final decisions of its previous term, the court held that the EPA could not use the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions on an industry-wide scale, dealing a blow to federal efforts to address climate change.

Under the past three presidential administrations, the working definitions of waters of the United States have shifted.

But in general, the federal government has been working under a “significant nexus” standard, holding that anything with a meaningful intersection with covered waters is subject to Clean Water Act regulation.

The court’s conservatives indicated they may like to narrow that standard.

“I imagine that most of the water flow and rainfall and snowfall in quite a large geographic area drains into the lake eventually,” Gorsuch said. “How does any reasonable person know — within maybe 100 square miles in a watershed that drains into a body of water that is a water of the United States — whether their land is adjacent?”

The Biden administration is working on a new rule to further define waters of the United States. That rule is being reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget, Fletcher said. That step is usually one of the last before a rule becomes final.

Fletcher said a final rule is likely before the end of the year, which would likely be before a decision from the court.

 

by Jacob Fischler, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Governor Glenn Youngkin releases Virginia’s Energy Plan

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On October 3, 2022, Governor Glenn Youngkin unveiled the 2022 Virginia Energy Plan in Lynchburg, Virginia. The plan focuses on an all-of-the-above approach that harnesses nuclear, natural gas, renewables, and new energy sources to satisfy the increasing energy needs of the Commonwealth. The Plan also outlines an increase in nuclear energy and an objective to make Virginia the world’s leading nuclear innovation hub.

“A growing Virginia must have reliable, affordable, and clean energy for Virginia’s families and businesses. We need to shift to realistic and dynamic plans. The 2022 Energy Plan will meet the power demands of a growing economy and ensures Virginia has that reliable, affordable, clean, and growing supply of power by embracing an all-of-the-above energy plan that includes natural gas, nuclear, renewables, and the exploration of emerging sources to satisfy the growing needs of Commonwealth residents and businesses,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin.

“Energy is a key driver of economic productivity and growth. Existing businesses are reliant on the grid to deliver energy on-demand every second of every day. Businesses considering Virginia as a state to open or relocate their businesses expect energy-ready sites and a choice of energy generation sources. All Virginians and businesses deserve access to reliable, affordable, clean energy. As we explore various pathways to managing the energy transition underway, we look forward to supporting innovative thinking across the Commonwealth to support the Governor’s goal of making Virginia the best place to live, work and raise a family,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Caren Merrick.

“I am thrilled that the 2022 Virginia Energy Plan recognizes Virginia’s unique nuclear advantage. Two of the nation’s largest nuclear manufacturing companies are located here in Lynchburg. They offer exciting opportunities to research and develop cutting-edge nuclear generation technologies that will create new, high-paying jobs in the Commonwealth while delivering reliable energy to Virginians. I am also glad Governor Youngkin’s plan includes actions to protect our natural resources, including farmland, rivers, and streams,” said House Commerce and Energy Chair, Delegate Kathy Byron.


“The Plan’s strong support for an all-the-above energy approach is a meaningful step to ensure that Virginia has a reliable energy grid into the future. Virginians deserve an energy portfolio that prioritizes affordability and innovation and makes real investments in nuclear power generation,” said Republican Leader Pro Tempore, Senator Steve Newman.

“The Virginia Energy team is excited to have the opportunity to work with the Governor and his Administration on pursuing an energy plan for Virginia that explores all of the many options and challenges in transitioning existing energy supply resources to clean energy resources. Existing assets represent significant consumer investment and are a critical component of a clean energy transition in order to maintain reliability and affordability. Acknowledging all of the emerging clean energy technologies as compliments to wind, solar, and storage offers flexibility and the opportunity to advance those that align with the Virginia advantage. Stakeholder outreach has been extensive and offered various forums to facilitate feedback in developing the 2022 Virginia Energy Plan. Our team understands the hard work will begin after the Plan is released and looks forward to the next phase of planning and implementation,” said Virginia Department of Energy Director John Warren.

Read the 2022 Virginia Energy Plan here.

 

Virginians across the Commonwealth have come out supporting the Governor’s new Virginia Energy Plan.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY LEADERS

“Our existing energy plan, brought about by environmental extremism, might well leave people freezing in the dark. That is the definition of failure. Governor Youngkin’s plan to emphasize clean, safe, nuclear power is a key step forward on the road to a reliable energy future for Virginia,” said Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Todd Gilbert.

“I want to thank Governor Youngkin for the release of his 2022 Virginia Energy Plan, which outlines a reliable, affordable energy future and includes several exciting opportunities for Southwest Virginia. His endorsement of small modular nuclear reactors supports a technology that can innovate and revitalize abandoned coal mines and diversify Southwest Virginia’s economy,” said House Majority Leader Terry Kilgore.

“At a time when Virginia families are facing dramatically higher energy costs, Governor Youngkin’s plan is what we need now. By adopting an ‘all of the above’ approach, and including nuclear, the Governor has crafted a plan that will fulfill Virginia’s future energy requirements for generations to come,” said Senate Republican Leader Senator Tommy Norment.

“Creating a reliable, innovative, and affordable all of the above approach energy economy is vital to create an environment for businesses to thrive. Without a strong and reliable grid and keeping costs low for industrial users of energy Virginia cannot stay competitive at the national level,” said House Appropriations Chair, Delegate Barry Knight.

“In 2020 I urged my colleagues to see that the Virginia Clean Economy Act was a bad deal for Virginians, especially those who call Southwest Virginia home. Today, I am encouraged to see the Governor’s plan emphasize the need for a diversified energy economy to benefit all regions of the Commonwealth and bring nuclear innovation to Southwest Virginia,” said Deputy Majority Leader Israel O’Quinn.

“The Governor’s Energy Plan released today prioritizes Virginians. The diversification of Virginia’s energy portfolio will strengthen the state’s economic development position while creating more affordable rates for Virginia’s families and businesses,” said Senate Republican Caucus Chair Senator Ryan McDougle.

“When the VCEA was passed, Democrats put Virginia on the same ruinous path as California, where the state pleads with customers to delay their energy needs to avoid blackouts. Governor Youngkin’s Energy Plan prioritizes an all-of-the-above energy approach that will ensure Virginia’s grid continues to meet our energy demands when and where energy is needed,” said Senate Republican Caucus Co-Chair, Senator Mark Obenshain.

“Governor Youngkin’s plan restores meaningful ratepayer protections and addresses the previous eight years of Democratic administration excesses raising costs on working families. I am excited to see a Governor addressing the dramatic rise in the cost of living for working Virginians while maintaining reliable energy and pursuing new environmentally friendly opportunities,” said Senator David Suetterlein.

“In 2020 under the previous General Assembly, Virginians lost. The path set by the Virginia Clean Economy Act places all burdens on Virginia ratepayers and no responsibility on the energy producers for the expansion of renewables. Governor Youngkin’s plan aims to right-size renewable energy policy in Virginia and turn Virginia’s energy plan into one with achievable, commonsense objectives,” said Senator Jen Kiggans.

“After the General Assembly in 2020 planned to retire many of Southwest Virginia’s power plants, I am glad to see that Governor Youngkin’s energy plan is an all-of-the-above approach that harnesses all of Virginia’s power generation resources – wind, nuclear, natural gas, and biomass. Virginia’s energy policy should be focused on securing affordable and reliable electricity for our families and businesses, and the Governor’s plan does just that,” said House Transportation Committee Chair, Delegate Terry Austin.

“The VCEA put mandates and deadlines on our energy industry without any protections for Virginians from massive increases in their electric bills and California style rolling-blackouts. It also limited the use of other 21st century energy innovation that may be on the horizon. Governor Youngkin’s ‘all of the above’ policy initiative makes a bold statement that Virginia is ready and willing to lead on 21st century energy policy. It includes a roadmap utilizing innovation to modernize our grid and infrastructure to ensure affordable, reliable, and environmentally conscious energy for the Virginians of today and for generations to come,” said House Education Committee Chair, Delegate Glenn Davis.

“Governor Youngkin just announced his new Energy Plan, and there’s a lot for everyone to like in it…,” said Delegate Sally Hudson

“I have always been a staunch advocate for the advancement of renewable energy such as solar in the General Assembly. As these developments bring much needed investment to Southside Virginia. Today’s energy plan announcement by Governor Youngkin will diversify Virginia’s energy grid and ensure that the Commonwealth continues to be good stewards of the environment without breaking the bank for taxpayers,” said House Agriculture Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee Vice Chair, Delegate Danny Marshall.

“In 2020, Democrats’ Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and Virginia Clean Economy Act hastily placed an irrational and unrealistic timeline for the decommissioning of Virginia’s reliable energy sources. Those polices placed all of the burden on Virginia ratepayers and put Virginia’s economy and energy grid at risk. Governor Youngkin’s plan puts Virginia back on the path of reliable and affordable energy that meets the needs of all Virginians,” said House Republican Caucus Chair, Delegate Amanda Batten.

“This Plan encourages Virginia to adopt innovative energy technologies such as small modular nuclear reactors to ensure a stable and reliable power grid. It is vital for Virginia to move away from the required retirement of reliable forms of power generation and focus on carbon neutral efforts which provide benefits to the environment while maintaining a dependable energy grid,” said Delegate Michael Webert.

 

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Va. regulators to rule on whether offshore wind performance requirement should stay

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Dominion Energy is not backing down from its request to remove a performance standard imposed by the State Corporation Commission on its Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind Project, citing “untenable” costs.

On Thursday, the state’s largest publicly regulated electric utility filed a 35-page response to filings from the Office of the Attorney General, several environmental groups, and Walmart that argued to keep the performance guarantee to protect ratepayers.

The performance standard, a condition of the SCC’s August approval of the $9.8 billion project, requires Dominion rather than ratepayers to pay the costs of replacement energy if the wind farm doesn’t produce a certain amount of energy over time.

Regulators tied the performance guarantee to a 42% capacity factor, a measurement of the amount of energy a facility actually produces compared to how much it’s capable of producing. The factor would be measured on a rolling three-year basis.


Residential customers can expect an average monthly bill increase of $4.72 over the course of the 35-year project, with a peak at $14.22 in 2027.

Dominion must be carbon neutral by 2045 under the Virginia Clean Economy Act. That legislation also declared Dominion’s development of 2,500 and 3,000 megawatts of offshore wind in the public interest. CVOW is expected to produce 2,600 megawatts.

But the performance standard has “unintended consequences,” Dominion CEO Bob Blue told investors in a July investment call, ahead of a late August request from the company for the SCC to reconsider the performance standard.

In that request, Dominion says that if the standard remains in place, “it will prevent the project from moving forward, and the company will be forced to terminate all development and construction activities.” In the latest filing, Dominion states that $839 million in investments in the project “are at risk of becoming stranded.”

Dominion says the SCC doesn’t have the authority to require the performance standard because the law says the utility is allowed to recover costs if they are “reasonable” and “prudently” incurred. It also argues the standard holds the company accountable for factors out of its control, including “acts of war or terror, catastrophic weather events or changes in weather patterns.”

But the attorney general’s office and environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, argue nothing in the law prevents the SCC from enforcing the performance standard.

Despite previous recommendations that a performance standard be imposed, “not once did Dominion state that it would cancel the project if required by the commission to assume any risk of project underperformance,” the attorney general’s office wrote.

The performance standard “is the most significant consumer protection adopted by the Commission,” attorney William Reisinger wrote on behalf of Clean Virginia. “Holding customers harmless for lower-than-projected performance would mitigate some of the risks faced by customers.”

Southern Environmental Law Center attorney Will Cleveland, representing nonprofit Appalachian Voices, said that if regulators decided to adjust the performance guarantee, the group “defers to the Commission’s reasoned judgment and expertise about specific metrics.”

Walmart suggested lowering the standard to 40% and increasing the period over which it is calculated to five years.

Dominion Energy stated it would be willing to report annually for the first 10 years of the project any reason for a capacity factor that falls below 37%, at which point the commission could determine a remedy if it resulted from unreasonable or imprudent actions.

 

by Charlie Paullin, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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Spanberger calls for new U.S. House leadership and more Va. headlines

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The state Capitol. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

 

• Parts of coastal Virginia were preparing Sunday for serious flooding caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ian.—Associated Press, Virginian-Pilot

• Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger called for new leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives over the lack of action on her proposal to ban stock trading by members of Congress. Speaker Nancy Pelosi dismissed the criticism.—Washington Post

• COVID-19 cases in Virginia are at the lowest level in five months.—Richmond Times-Dispatch


• Norfolk officials are facing growing concerns about racial bias amid a crackdown on nightclubs that primarily serve Black and Latino customers. The city, which is trying to reduce shootings, denies it’s targeting businesses based on race.—Virginian-Pilot

• “Since July 8, Virginia’s first casino has been doing big business in a former abandoned shopping mall near the Tennessee line.”—Washington Post

• Virginia hospitals are in tough financial shape after $1.8 billion in losses during the pandemic and the end of federal aid dollars. “At this point, it’s a simple math problem.”—Cardinal News

• Twenty years after the D.C. sniper shootings, people are sharing memories of what it was like to live through the killing spree that terrorized the region.—Washington Post

• Residents of a tiny Southwest Virginia community convinced the state its Bent Mountain highway signs don’t reflect where Bent Mountain actually is.—Roanoke Times

 

by Staff Report, Virginia Mercury


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Virginia tried to crack down on unlicensed poker. It’s still happening in the open.

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When a Hampton Roads-area kitten rescue lost its lawsuit challenging a new state law cracking down on unlicensed charitable poker, it seemed like the end for the handful of poker rooms that recently opened in Virginia.

But a poker room in Virginia Beach is back up and running, advertising on Facebook despite the new law that threatens civil fines of up to $50,000. The Facebook page for the Beach Poker Room went quiet when the law took effect in July, but the facility now says it’s opening daily and running tournaments three days a week with buy-ins ranging from $120 to $160.

Whatever’s happening at the Beach Poker Room could be against the law, according to legislators who pushed to shut down poker rooms until the state can get a better handle on overseeing them.

If it’s charity poker, said Del. Paul Krizek, D-Fairfax, it’s the same type of unlicensed activity the General Assembly wanted to stop by creating civil fines of $25,000 to $50,000 per violation. If the Beach Poker Room avoids charitable poker rules by dropping the charity aspect altogether, Krizek said, it’s no longer the type of poker Virginia legalized.


“If it’s poker, it’s illegal,” Krizek said.

Several people who could potentially explain the situation at the Beach Poker Room, which operates out of a bingo hall called Bingo Palace that’s connected to a member of the state’s Charitable Gaming Board, either didn’t respond to inquiries from the Virginia Mercury or refused to comment for this story.

The Beach Poker Room didn’t respond to multiple phone calls and emails over several days. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), which regulates charitable bingo and poker, refused to comment. Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, an attorney who was working with managers at the Beach Poker Room earlier this year to try to fight the poker room shutdown, also refused to comment.

Others involved in the charitable gaming industry argued it’s the General Assembly’s fault no one seems to know what’s happening with poker in Virginia.

A Virginia Charitable Bingo Association spokesperson said the legislature’s “totally flawed” handling of the industry’s attempted expansion into poker is to blame for unlicensed games continuing, possibly with no benefit to charities.

“I think Virginians should be asking their legislators if what they intended with this legislation was to put operators in a position to have to say, ‘Rather than incur these absurd fines and risk jail time, we will simply remove the charitable aspect of these games,’” said Liam Gray, whose bingo organization helped fight the General Assembly’s attempts to rein in charitable poker.

Amy Solares, a partner in the business entity behind Bingo Palace and vice chair of the Charitable Gaming Board, didn’t respond directly to phone calls and emails. In a statement given to the Mercury by Gray, she said she doesn’t own the facility itself and isn’t involved with poker.

“If no one is certain in what manner or even whether or not Beach Poker Room or any other poker operator can play poker, that strongly suggests these laws are too ambiguous and problematic to be of use to anyone,” Solares said.

Solares worked closely with charitable gaming regulators due to her position on the state board. She’s also currently running for the Virginia Beach School Board as a Republican and has received donations from Sen. Bill DeSteph, Del. Glenn Davis, and Del. Tim Anderson.

The group behind the Beach Poker Room applied for a poker license last year under the corporate name 2 G’s Business Inc. State records show the corporation’s status as “pending inactive” because of an overdue annual report.

‘We just need the existing legislation enforced’

Virginia has significantly relaxed its formerly strict stance on gambling over the last four years, and some feel there’s no harm in people getting together to play cards with money on the line. But there’s widespread agreement the state needs coherent gambling laws and someone making sure they’re followed, and many see the latest poker room twist as another sign of failure on that front.

“I don’t think we need new legislation; we just need the existing legislation enforced,” said Sen. John Bell, D-Loudoun, who sponsored this year’s bill that shut down all poker rooms temporarily. “I will be working with a bipartisan group of legislators who will ask the governor, attorney general, and commonwealth’s attorneys to ensure the current laws are enforced.”

The casinos that will offer poker games in Virginia are governed by a lengthy set of regulations and a licensing process overseen by the Virginia Lottery. The state has no regulations in effect for standalone charity poker rooms, but VDACS is working on creating them.

Some would-be poker operators in Virginia have tried to exploit the legal gray area between games of chance and games of skill, where the player’s talent and aptitude determines the outcome. A 2013 legal challenge attempting to exempt poker from the state’s illegal gambling law, which bans certain unsanctioned games of chance, failed after the Portsmouth Circuit Court ruled the law was not unconstitutionally vague. The Supreme Court of Virginia upheld that ruling without resolving the skill versus chance question. If authorities were to crack down on the Beach Poker Room, it could create a new opening to try to legalize poker through the courts.

Past prosecutions

In the past, it seemed clear anyone trying to make money from underground poker games was breaking the law.

Fairfax County police made headlines in 2015 when heavily armed officers raided a high-stakes poker game happening in the basement of a private home in Great Falls. A 2011 poker raid in Virginia Beach led to criminal charges against the man accused of running the games out of a house across the street from the seafood buffet he owned. He faced up to 30 years in prison but agreed to a plea deal that came with a two-year suspended sentence, a $5,000 fine, and the forfeiture of nearly $275,000 in cash and gambling equipment, according to the Virginian-Pilot.

“It has been this office’s position that poker is a game of chance, and we have prosecuted illegal gambling cases in the past,” said Macie Allen, a spokesperson for Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney Colin Stolle. “If the Virginia Beach Police Department brings us evidence of illegal gambling, we will evaluate it and take appropriate action.”

When asked about the Beach Poker Room, a Virginia Beach police spokesperson said the department was “looking into the matter.” Last year, the Richmond Free Press reported that Richmond police officers were doing off-duty security work at a similar bingo hall/poker room in South Richmond. The Virginia Beach police spokesperson didn’t immediately answer when asked if officers are doing similar work at the Bingo Palace/Beach Poker Room.

The fight over charitable poker rules

Virginia legalized charity Texas Hold ’em poker tournaments in 2020 as a way to boost a declining charitable gaming industry best known for bingo halls. Charitable gaming operators were also looking to expand into new areas and to protect their turf in anticipation of several casinos opening in the state that will offer poker and other table games.

The rollout of state-sanctioned poker, long considered a form of illegal gambling, quickly turned into a contentious dispute between the Charitable Gaming Board, run largely by industry insiders who stood to profit from poker, and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which regulates charitable gaming.

Agency officials felt the board was overstepping by writing poker regulations to maximize the industry’s revenue and minimize state oversight. A major concern was the lack of clear separation among charities, for-profit poker operators, and landlords who charge them rent, a setup state officials have said is susceptible to financial conflicts of interest and corruption.

Charitable Gaming Board Chairman Chuck Lessin, who opened an unlicensed poker room at his South Richmond bingo hall last year but closed it this summer to comply with the new law, accused VDACS of undermining the board’s authority and working to block the board-approved regulations from taking effect. Lessin has argued the General Assembly is taking a harsher line on small-scale charitable gaming operators to clear out competition for the big out-of-state companies opening casinos in Virginia.

The General Assembly largely sided with VDACS in 2021 by passing legislation to freeze charitable poker altogether. Several poker rooms opened anyway, despite none of them being officially licensed or regulated by VDACS.

This year, legislators took a harder stance, passing a new bill threatening poker operators with crippling fines, a move meant to stop all unlicensed games until VDACS could craft a new set of regulations and start issuing licenses.

The lawsuit this summer was an attempt to block that law from going into effect, with Petersen arguing the state was hurting charities like Virginia Beach’s Billy the Kidden cat rescue by legalizing charitable poker but refusing to give out licenses for it.

Krizek, who led a General Assembly committee that scrutinized the charitable gaming industry last year, said he’s hoping the situation improves soon, with the Virginia State Police expected to fill a gaming enforcement coordinator position the legislature created this year. But he said he’s worried “the clock is ticking.”

“When more and more of these illegal gambling dens pop up, the harder it’s going to be,” Krizek said. “It’s going to be like whack-a-mole trying to get rid of them all.”

by Graham Moomaw, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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