Virginia Legislators Promoting Atlantic Coast Pipeline Have Personal Investments

Virginia State Senator Bill DeSteph is a staunch advocate for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. He hasn’t just endorsed the project – he’s actively campaigned for it. DeSteph is listed on the pipeline’s website as a supporter. He co-chairs a caucus that in March 2016 sent Virginia’s two U.S. Senators a letter backing the pipeline. In September 2016, he even co-authored an op-ed in the pages of the Virginian-Pilot that promoted the project.

But DeSteph has another important tie to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline: he owns more than $250,000 worth of Dominion Energy stock. Dominion is the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s top owner. It is building the pipeline and will operate it.

DeSteph’s decision to use his public platform to advance a controversial pipeline project that he stands to personally profit from reflects a larger trend in Virginia. According to financial disclosures filed with Virginia’s Ethics Council, several other members of the Virginia General Assembly who have strongly advocated for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline also own significant amounts of company stock in the pipeline’s owners.

These State Senators and Delegates have written op-eds in support of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, signed letters backing the pipeline that were sent to U.S. Senators or federal regulators, or are officially listed on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s website as endorsers – all this, even as they individually own thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in Dominion stock. Dominion is also a top donor to many of these elected officials.

That state legislators, some quite prominent, are invested in the pipeline’s main owners, even as they use their elected offices to advocate for the pipeline, raises serious concerns over conflicts of interests. The legislators are using their platform, given to them by voters, to advance a contentious project that they stand to personally profit from.

The proposed 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline will deliver Marcellus Shale fracked gas through West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina. The pipeline has been extremely controversial in Virginia and has run into multiple delays. Dominion Energy, which wields major power within Virginia, is the driving force behind the pipeline, and is a 48% owner. Duke Energy, based in North Carolina, is a 47% owner.

Below is a table of Virginia’s General Assembly members who all officially support the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and stand to profit from it because of their personal investments in the companies that own the pipeline. The table also contains donations they’ve received from Dominion and its CEO Tom Farrell as well as some pro-pipeline actions they’ve taken. It includes Frank Wagner, a State Senator who has been a top advocate for the pipeline who just very recently retired.

Name
(Party-District)
Investments tied to ACP Donations from Dominion Pro-ACP actions
Sen. Bill DeSteph (R-8) Owns more that $250,000 of Dominion stock $8,800 from Dominion since 2013 Endorsed ACP
Co-authored 2016 op-ed defending the ACP
Co-chairs caucus that sent pro-ACP letter to U.S. Senators Warner and Kaine
Sen. Tommy Norment (R-3) Owns between $50,001 and $250,000 of Dominion stock $137,240 from Dominion since 1996
$10,200 from Farrell
Endorsed ACP
Signed pro-ACP letter to U.S. Senators Warner and Kaine
Sent pro-ACP letter to FERC
Sen. Frank Wagner (R-7) Owns between $5,001 and $50,000 of Duke stock (2x)
Has owned between $50,001 and $250,000 of Dominion stock
$113,235 from Dominion since 2000
$9,500 from Farrell
Endorsed ACP
Signed pro-ACP letter to U.S. Senators Warner and Kaine
Co-authored 2016 op-ed defending the ACP
Authored 2019 op-ed defending the ACP
Del. Keith Hodges (R-98) Owns between $5,001 and $50,000 of Dominion stock $5,000 from Dominion since December 2011 Endorsed ACP
Signed pro-ACP letter to U.S. Senators Warner and Kaine
Del. S. Chris Jones (R-76) Owns between $50,001 and $250,000 of Dominion stock $41,432 from Dominion since 1998 Endorsed ACP
Signed pro-ACP letter to U.S. Senators Warner and Kaine
Del. Jay Leftwich (R-78) Owns between $5,001 and $50,000 of Dominion stock $4,500 from Dominion since 2013 Endorsed ACP
Signed pro-ACP letter to U.S. Senators Warner and Kaine

Of the 31 elected officials from the Virginia General Assembly that are listed on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s website as endorsers, at least 6 of them, included in our table, are personally invested in the pipeline’s owners. This means that nearly 20% of the pipeline’s main advocates who serve as elected state legislators, as listed on the pipeline’s own website, personally stand to profit from the pipeline.

Taken together, these six members owns shares of Dominion stock that are worth at least $360,004 and potentially much more.

Elected officials and their ownership stakes in Dominion and Duke can be seen in the LittleSis map below:

Map available at LittleSis.org.

Dominion is a top donor to many of these elected officials. For example, it has given $113,235 to former Senator Frank Wagner and has been his fifth biggest donor since 2000, and it has given $137,240 to Senator Tommy Norment since 1996, his sixth biggest donor in that time.

Norment is one of the most powerful elected officials in Virginia. He’s served as Majority Leader of the Virginia Senate since 2014, a position he’s held twice. Norment was one of five Virginia state officials who sent a letter in 2017 to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in support of the pipeline.

Dominion has made some particularly big donations to pipeline supporters right after they took pro-pipeline actions. Bill DeSteph’s biggest donation from Dominion – $2,000, double more than any other donation from Dominion – came on April 27, 2016, a little over a month after the caucus that DeSteph co-chairs sent a letter to Virginia’s U.S. Senators in support of the pipeline.

Dominion gave Tommy Norment a $7,500 donation on April 13, 2017, just over a week after Norment signed a pro-pipeline letter to FERC.

Dominion CEO Tom Farrell has also personally donated to some of these legislators. Farrell has given at least $9,500 to Wagner and $10,200 to Norment.

Frank Wagner, the longtime State Senator from Virginia’s 7th District, announced in March that he was retiring. (In May, Wagner was appointed Deputy Director of the Virginia Lottery by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam.)

Wagner has been a major advocate for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. He wrote a January 2019 Roanoke Times op-ed in which he strongly defended the project on a number of grounds and praised the climate record of Dominion Energy. On September 11, 2016, Wagner co-authored an op-ed – mentioned above – with fellow State Senator Bill DeSteph in the Virginian-Pilot that defended the pipeline. A Dominion-backed pro-pipeline coalition, EnergySure, reposted the op-ed on its website. In 2015, Wagner also sponsored a controversial bill to allow Dominion to skip financial oversight for five years.

Wagner’s most recent disclosure on January 31, 2019 lists two separate holdings of Duke Energy stock worth between $5,001 and $50,000 for each holding. Wagner has also bought and sold significant shares of Dominion since 2017. For example, in his January 30, 2018 disclosure, Wagner reported owning between $50,001 and $250,000 of Dominion Midstream stock (his most recent disclosure on January 31, 2019 no longer lists Dominion stock)

Another elected official, Delegate Barry Knight, owned between $50,001 and $250,000 of Dominion stock in 2018, though his most recent disclosure reports no Dominion stock. Knight is also listed on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s website as an endorser, and he also signed the Hampton Roads caucus’s pro-ACP March 2016 letter to U.S. Senators Warner and Kaine.

Josh Stanfield previously reported on Virginia state politicians’ investments in Dominion in February 2018 for the website Blue Virginia. Journalist Itai Vardi has also reported that state officials involved in regulating Dominion are invested in the company’s stock. Last year, the organization Food & Water Watch published a lengthy report that profiled the extensive power and influence of Dominion.