Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine set a new standard for politician mealy-mouthedness with a letter to his Virginia Air Board (tip of the hat to Raising Kaine for digging this one up). Although he asserts that his letter isn’t about any particular decision, everyone outside the governor’s office knows that the letter is about one thing: The proposed massive coal-fired power plant being planned for Wise County, Virginia. His bureaucratic opacity (PDF) is sure to be taught in government schools around the world regarding how to say nothing through the written word:

My intent in issuing this directive is not to influence the substance of any decision you may make but to assure consistency, certainty, and predictability in the process of issuing decisions. The directive is one of general application and not specific to any particular matter.

Tim Kaine

Gov. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) offers sympathy to victims of extreme weather.

The rest of the letter doesn’t clear matters up any more — but the situation is clear to most Virginia watchers: Kaine is terrified of Big Coal, personified (or rather, corporatified) here by Chicago-based Dominion Power (and financed by Citibank). So much so that even though the plant’s incredibly high costs are actually projected to drive up electricity bills (PDF) (along with, of course, producing 5.3 million ton of carbon dioxide, more air pollution deaths (PDF), and the destruction of many of Southwest Virginia’s remaining mountains), he’s unwilling to take a clear stand against it (or, for that matter, for it) — even though he is on record in favor of federal action on the climate crisis (for which he doesn’t have any responsibility).

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What’s a bit odd about this is that Kaine ran his campaign in great measure on the idea that he was someone who stands up for his beliefs even when they’re unpopular. That’s how Kaine explained his opposition to the death penalty — as something defined by his Catholic faith. Since then, even though the Pope has declared pollution a sin and the Vatican has become the first carbon-neutral state in the world, Kaine apparently doesn’t believe that it applies to the single greatest decision affecting God’s creation that he’s likely to make.

Of course, Kaine may be trying (as is Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.)) to placate Appalachian voters, who are seen as pro-coal, and to attract the support of the big money interests at Dominion. But I think he may be diminishing his chances for higher office. Although he’s apparently made Barack Obama’s short list for veep nominees, it may be hard for Obama to explain to Democratic conventioneers and the general public why he’s choosing a nominee who is afraid to take a stand against a polluter pushing higher energy prices and more pollution at the same time. This could be particularly hard because Virginians are already furious about a planned 18 percent increase in Dominion’s electricity prices.

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The public will have its voice heard, however. The Virginia Air Board is having a hearing next Tuesday, right in Wise County, and the Chesapeake Climate Action Coalition is sponsoring a “Weekend” in Wise (actually Monday and Tuesday, June 23 and 24 in Wise), full of hiking, camping, cabin-ing, folk music, and testimony; check it out here. (I’ll be there too; let’s hang out!).