Virginia Won't Say Whether its Official Spoke at Gas Industry Panel on Curbing Pipeline Protesters

Anti-pipeline sign

A high-ranking Virginia state official was listed as participating in a gas industry-sponsored panel that discussed strategies for confronting public opposition to new infrastructure projects, including the Atlantic Coast pipeline. Yet Governor Terry McAuliffe’s administration has refused to provide any explanation or even confirm the official’s appearance on the panel.

The panel took place during the American Gas Association’s (AGA) State Affairs Meeting, held in early October this year in Scottsdale, Arizona. Also presenting on the panel was a Dominion Energy executive, Bruce McKay, who shared his company’s experience in countering protests and engaging in what he called a political “campaign to elect a pipeline.”

McKay, Dominion Energy’s policy director, provided tips on “siting fossil fuel infrastructure in the age of ‘keep it in the ground.’” The panel on which he spoke, titled “‘Heard it Through the Pipeline:’ Proactive Strategies for Securing Infrastructure,” was first reported by the Washington Post.  

DeSmog now reports that another speaker listed on the same panel was none other than Virginia’s Deputy Secretary of Commerce and Trade, Hayes Framme. In recent years, Virginia has become a flashpoint for gas pipeline opposition, with activists and residents mobilizing against the Dominion-led plans for the Atlantic Coast pipeline. Documents from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) indicate that Framme was involved in agency discussions concerning the Atlantic Coast pipeline in the early stages of the project.

American Gas Association panel 'Heard it Through the Pipeline' listing Hayes Framme and Bruce McKay as presenters
From the AGA’s meeting agenda, describing the panel including Virginia’s Deputy Secretary of Commerce Framme and Dominion’s McKay.

According to Framme’s LinkedIn profile, just a few days ago he moved from public service to the private industry, taking a position as government relations and communications manager for Orsted, a Danish renewable energy company that recently sold all its investments in fossil fuels.  

Governor Terry McAuliffe first appointed Framme to public office in 2014, then serving as an advisor for infrastructure and development. Last year he was promoted to the role of the state’s Deputy Secretary of Commerce and Trade. He previously worked as a lobbyist for the Richmond-based firm Capital Results. In recent years, the firm represented several energy and utility companies, including Alpha Natural Resources, EQT Corp, and Appalachian Power. It has also worked for a number of renewable energy companies.

We Are All in This Together’

The AGA meeting took place at the Hilton Scottsdale Resort and Villas, between October 8 and 11. According to the agenda, a copy of which DeSmog has obtained, the meeting’s goals were to “share strategies on how legislators, regulators, utilities and industry can cooperate on utility initiatives” and “review how companies are strategizing on key issues.”

According to the agenda, the panel which included Framme was focused on ways the gas industry can deal with anti-pipeline protests and how it should interact with government regulators to promote such projects. The description for the panel reads as follows:

Anti-fossil fuel sentiment continues to gain momentum and garner support across the country. In some instances, this has led to the delay or termination of natural gas infrastructure projects in certain jurisdictions. This panel will provide insight relative to how companies are addressing this challenge and pursing infrastructure development in various parts of the country. As well, we will hear from public officials who will provide their perspectives on pipeline expansion and how companies should think about interfacing with states and localities as they pursue these types of projects.”

Dominion’s McKay accompanied his talk with several PowerPoint slides. He began with “Opening Thoughts” such as “we are all in this together,” and “the problem is more serious that [sic] anyone in this room realizes.” After providing the audience with a brief overview of the Atlantic Coast pipeline, McKay proceeded to describe the “Permitting Landscape.”

According to him, “this historically non-political process is now political,” with the “Keystone XL, DAPL [Dakota Access pipeline], and NY state providing inspiration, tactics.” He continued that “social media is a game changer – cheap, fast, no fact checking,” and that “banks [are] increasingly targeted.”

McKay next spoke on “Opposition Tactics.” These, he said, are “constantly evolving,” warning his listeners that a “permit delayed can mean permit denied.” He argued that after Trump’s election opposition has been “more aggressive,” with “events staged for media consumption” and “outrage and intimidation now common tools.” McKay added that opponents aim to “delegitimize the process” by presenting “companies [as] immoral, regulators [as] corrupt, processes [as] rigged.”

We Have the Truth and Resources’

McKay then spoke of the specific strategies employed by Dominion, under the headline “Lessons Learned.” Pipeline companies cannot “remain below the radar” but instead “must create and maintain a political environment which allows permitting agencies to do their work.” He continued that pipeline “opponents have intensity – we have the truth and resources,” adding that “if you want fair media coverage you need to pay for it.”

He ended by describing Dominion’s various strategies to gain political support for the Atlantic Coast pipeline – what he called “the campaign to elect a pipeline” – through fundraising, messaging (“define early – or be defined”), earned media, polling, advertising, social media, third party endorsements, and “get out the vote.”

He ended his presentation with what he called “McKay’s Adage,” in which he said “there are no friends in politics, only the temporary alignments of interests.”       

In addition to McKay and Deputy Secretary Framme, the other presenter on this panel was Pete Sheffield, Vice President of Energy Policy and U.S. Governmental Affairs at Enbridge.

The state of Virginia is keeping a tight lip about the conference and whether Framme actually participated. DeSmog asked Hayes Framme to comment on this story. Specifically, he was asked about his participation on the panel and whether the AGA had funded his expenses to attend the meeting. He declined to comment.

Meghan Welch, spokesperson for Virginia’s Secretary of Commerce and Trade, also declined to comment despite several requests.

Brian Coy, spokesperson for Governor McAuliffe, did not provide comment either, despite a number of requests.     

A request for comment from the AGA went unanswered.   

Main image: Anti-pipeline sign posted opposing the Atlantic Coast pipeline. Credit: cool revolutionCC BY-NC-ND 2.0