Virginia governor Tim Kaine (D) held a Northern Virginia town hall meeting in Prince William County in the Washington, D.C. exurbs as part of his campaign for Barack Obama. The subtext of the town hall (one of a series) is that Kaine is trying to prove his value to Obama so he can get the nod as vice president.

During the meeting, Kaine called on me to ask a question, and I questioned his ability to serve as an effective vice presidential nominee because of his backing for a new, illegal, and very expensive coal-fired power plant that will spew massive amounts of greenhouse gases into the air, pollute the air, and raise electricity costs for Virginians.

I’ve included an excerpt of his (very lengthy) response below:

I think the senator and I have the same position on energy, including coal. But first let me talk about energy policy because this is what I believe and what I believe the senator believes too. If you look at energy on a pie chart, there’s nuclear, natural gas, renewables. Every state has a different mix. In Viriginia we are right about the national average on coal. We’re about 47, 48 percent coal. Coal is the biggest native source of energy that we have right now. There are some who disagree with me about this and I respect their right to disagree but I’ve spent a lot of time really weighing this. We do not have a no-coal future in this country any time soon. What we need to do is take the coal portion — that 47 percent in Virginia and nationally — and we need to make it smaller and cleaner. The way to do that is by investing in new cleaner coal technology and by shuttering plants that are older and dirtier and making them retrofit up to newer standards …

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Kaine’s response was inaccurate in its fundamental point: Obama’s campaign has said he won’t back new coal plants like the Dominion plant under debate in Virginia because it doesn’t have the technology necessary to capture coal’s carbon dioxide releases (technology that seems to increase the amounts of other nasties anyway).

It was also inaccurate in terms of its commitment to clean energy. It’s kind of amazing: while Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas is standing up to Big Coal and stopping a pollution-spewing plant, and California is using its energy dollars to invest in the biggest solar plants in the world, Tim Kaine is leading Virginia and America into the future with … coal.

It’s hard to justify his action with facts, which is why Kaine is inventing them. How do you tell a town hall meeting that you’re just plain afraid of standing up to the coal lobby … even when it means a massive increase in pollution and big electricity rate hikes that will cause Virginia businesses to lay-off [PDF] almost 1,500 workers as they pay money that would go toward Dominion power salaries to pay the higher rates it’s charging for its new plant. That’s the amazing thing about the mere veep consideration for Tim Kaine: at a time when Americans really are anxious about energy costs, Obama is said to be contemplating a governor who has directly caused a big rate hike in order to support his state’s powerful lobbies.

In 2008, that’s a very dangerous place for a candidate to be.

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