Energy and NonDiscrimination
Yesterday Governor McDonnell signed two energy bills into law that he has been advocating since the campaign and after weeks of speculation, he issued a written directive as to what his policy will be on discrimination based on sexual orientation.
There’s been a federal moratorium on granting off shore drilling licenses for 25 years but Gulf Coast states have been drilling offshore and collecting royalties from oil companies for 30 years.
Governor McDonnell has been explicit with federal officials regarding his desire to get Virginia into the oil business as quickly as possible when the federal moratorium expires in 2011. He’s pushed legislators to make sure that the Commonwealth’s code is up to date to allow for offshore drilling and to designate 80 percent of any potential royalties to the state’s transportation fund. Yesterday, he signed two bills into law that would do exactly that.
Though in the last attempt to give additional states the right to collect royalties from oil companies, the measure failed to pass the U.S. Senate, with the overwhelming majority of both Democratic and Republican senators from non-coastal states voting to send these royalties to the federal government instead of individual states.
Governor McDonnell addressed these concerns at the bill signing.
Governor: I believe we’ve got good support in our delegation. There are some challenges though. More drilling off the Atlantic Coast means more competition for the Gulf Coast states, so they might not be as helpful as we might like. Secondly those people that don’t have an ocean, like Nebraska or Iowa, might want a piece of the action as well. So they have been forthcoming in saying this is certainly not going to be easy but, because they believe in this policy and they want to maximize the revenues for Virginia, I think they’re willing to help us, but its going to be a while. It’s gonna be, I think, probably a fight. But every Atlantic Coast state like Virginia that’s interested in offshore drilling is facing the same thing. So we’ll have a lot of allies on the Atlantic Coast. We’ve still got a lot of work to do. This really does Virginia’s part. Now we think we have more tools now to shift to the Federal Government to say, hey, we’re ready, we need your help.
Glenn Bessa, Director of the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, said the bills deal with dollars that aren’t there and give false hope in a deflated economy.
Bessa: In fact this legislation does not in any way ensure that any of this money is going to come to Virginia and at the same time it ignores the potential environmental impact of offshore drilling. This is not going to have any impact on the budget of this commonwealth for perhaps a decade. I think it’s misleading to give the impression that we’re going to have money coming in from offshore drilling because it’s just not going to happen.
Also yesterday the Governor issued an executive directive to clear up his position on discrimination based on sexual orientation. McDonnell issued a non-discrimination executive order last month that did not include sexual orientation because he said it would amend the Virginia Human Rights Act, which would be a separation of powers issue. Last week Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli sent a letter to state universities asking them to remove sexual orientation from their non-discrimination policies, saying the legislature has not authorized protection for gays. Many gay rights groups in the state called for Governor McDonnell to weigh in, which he did yesterday.
Governor: I felt that it was necessary to make sure that every Virginia, every state employee knows that we will not tolerate discrimination in Virginia based on any of the factors in the human rights act or any other basis, including sexual orientation, parental status, anything else.
What I can do and what I have done today was to issue a policy statement that said that discrimination in Virginia will not be tolerated on any basis other than ability and merit. If there are complaints of discrimination that are founded, I will take administrative action with the state employee that engages in any of that discrimination and it will result in anything from reprimand to termination.
Democratic Delegate Adam Ebbin of Arlington, who has fought for expansions of gay rights throughout his career, said he was pleased with the Governor’s statement.
Ebbin: I think that we should still have our nondiscrimination policies in the code so they don’t vary from governor to governor. While this is a great step forward, I would like to see sexual orientation in the executive orde. Today is a day to appreciate this; tomorrow is the day to continue the work of including GLBT civil rights in a variety of places in Virginia.
Attorney General Cuccinelli issued a statement later in the day saying he applauded the tone the Governor is setting for the Commonwealth but did not comment on the action’s legality.
Craig Carper, WCVE News, Capitol Square.