Former Obama EPA Official Now Lobbying for Atlantic Coast Pipeline

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Gas pipeline being laid into the ground

This is a guest post by  and originally appeared on LittleSis.org.

A new disclosure by Dominion shows that a long-time employee for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is now lobbying for the controversial Atlantic Coast pipeline (ACP).

Laura Vaught is Dominion’s Federal Affairs Policy Advisor, a position she began in March 2017.

According to a Dominion lobbying report filed on April 20, 2017, she lobbied the Senate, House, and key regulatory agencies on issues that included “Permit for Atlantic Coast Pipeline” and “project development and advocacy” for the ACP. Importantly, Vaught lobbied the National Park Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service — all federal agencies that must approve the ACP for it to proceed.

However, immediately prior to joining Dominion, Vaught served for nearly six years in the EPA during the Obama administration in a number of positions that involved close contact with elected officials and regulatory agencies. These positions included Senior Advisor, Deputy Associate Administrator for Congressional Affairs, and Associate Administrator for the Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Relations. Her last EPA position was as Associate Administrator in the Office of Policy — a position she left in January 2017, just weeks before she joined Dominion as a lobbyist.

Vaught also served as Chief of Staff to Representative Rick Boucher, the longtime Democratic Congressman from Virginia's 9th District. Vaught worked for Boucher from 1996 to 2011. Virginia is a crucial battleground state for the ACP.

The revelation that Vaught, a former Obama EPA employee and congressional chief of staff, is lobbying for Dominion’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a stark example of the revolving door between environmental regulators and the fossil fuel companies that they oversee. Vaught is now working to smooth the path to regulatory approval for a pipeline that has generated enormous controversy and opposition, and is also in the middle of moving through a crucial stage of regulatory approval, with an eye on beginning construction in the fall of 2017.

Vaught’s positions with the EPA involved developing and sustaining relationships at the intersection of environmental policy and elected political office. For example, a 2015 story reports that Vaught “helped handle EPA's dealings with Congress and the White House and assisted with launching the agency's major regulations,” and former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy lauded Vaught’s “familiarity with EPA policy across all program offices, a broad and deep network within the White House and other federal agencies, and her negotiation skills …”

She is now using the ties she cultivated in over 20 years of EPA and congressional service to push for Dominion and the ACP. For example, Vaught lobbied the U.S. Forest Service, which, as President and CEO of Dominion Energy Diane Leopold pointed out on April 27, still has to make a final decision on Dominion’s permit application later this year.

In addition to Vaught, Dominion has another revolving door in-house lobbyist, Ann Loomis, who was part of the same lobbying team as Vaught. Loomis has been Dominion’s Senior Advisor of Federal and Environmental Policy since 2007. Prior to that, she served as Virginia Senator John Warner’s Chief of Staff from 2005 to 2007, and, before that, as his Legislative Director from 1986 to 2004.

Loomis has consistently lobbied for Dominion’s pipeline interests. For example, a 2016 quarterly filing shows that she was part of a lobbying team that lobbied the Senate, House, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Army Corps of Engineers, and other entities on, among other issues, “project development and advocacy” for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

The proposed 600 mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline will carry fracked gas through West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina. The two main corporations behind the ACP, with a combined 95% ownership stake, are Duke Energy and Dominion Resources. Estimated construction costs for the pipeline are around $5 billion.

Dominion Resources is arguably Virginia's most powerful corporation and holds a monopoly on the provision of electric utilities in the state. It took in $5.33 billion dollars in profits from 2014 to 2016, and the company’s total assets in 2016 were $71.6 billion. Forbes ranks Dominion as the 334th most profitable global company. It is one of Virginia's biggest political donors.

Dominion CEO Tom Farrell is a major power player in Virginia. He is one the state’s biggest individual political donors and he sits on numerous powerful boards. His son serves in the Virginia House of Delegates, while his brother in law is a former attorney general for Virginia and partner of the powerful McGuireWoods lobbying firm.

The ACP has generated large opposition across the political spectrum from the landowners and communities that stand to be impacted by it.

PAI will provide updates as new findings on this story come in. In the next few weeks we will release a more detailed report on the power behind the Atlantic Coast pipeline.

Main image:  Gas pipeline construction. Credit: NPCA OnlineCC BY 2.0

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