Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Delegate Armstrong Manipulating the Facts

As Ronald Reagan would say when Jimmy Carter would play fast and loose with the facts during a debate, “There you go again.” Except today, Minority Leader Ward Armstrong is Jimmy Carter (or Don Quixote), and “fast and loose” doesn’t begin to cover it. The Times Dispatch pointed out that Ward’s entire case against Appalachian Power is a house of cards that has been blown down.

As we pointed out in July, Ward Armstrong has been tilting at windmills running for governor on a platform of promises to lower utility rates. If he’s tied his gubernatorial aspirations to the success of his legislation, Virginia will be spared in 2013.

Not wanting to “waste a crisis.” For more than a year, Ward Armstrong has been on a quest to “do something” about rising utility rates. Never mind that the increases in recent years have everything to do with federal environmental regulations and coal prices than state laws.

So this summer Ward’s work group (we affectionately refer to it as the faux-commission) held faux-meetings and produced a faux-report, and now it turns out it was based on faux-data!

The Times Dispatch pointed out “The data was the crux of Armstrong’s effort to give the SCC a greater say in regulating Appalachian’s rates.”

Armstrong, who is exploring a 2013 run for statewide office, set up a work group that studied Virginia electric rates and released a report earlier this month that included the incorrect figure for Appalachian’s rate increase.

In a meeting of the Commission on Electric Utility Regulation (that would be the REAL commission) a senior executive of Appalachian Power very politely pointed out to Ward and the entire Commission that the numbers in the report were flawed. Ward refused to listen. Later, a week later when the Richmond Times-Dispatch contacted him and verified that APCO was right and Ward was wrong, he offered this lame explanation:

"If the utility industry stands up and says your figures are wrong, we tend to disagree with them,"

We were lucky to obtain video footage of people trying to tell Ward he was using bad data. See Below.

So Ward had been told that his numbers were flat out wrong. Instead of verifying them or double checking them, he continued to use them to mislead the public and the legislature.

Now the truth comes out. The whole thing has been a sham. The notion that rates in Ward’s district have risen over 90% is a fallacy. Ward was not using accurate rates. According to the State Corporation Commission, rates have risen only 33% - nowhere close to Ward’s scaremongering 90% statistic he has been throwing around his district to paint Appalachian Power as the boogeyman.

The truth is that while power rates have gone up – it’s not the power company that is to blame. Utility rates are made up of various components; and each can be increased separately by The State Corporation Commission. They allow for rate increases based on certain factors – and the two that have driven rate increases are environmental compliance with federal EPA mandates and the increase in the price of fuel (in this case, coal.)

Rather than take on those in his own party and Washington to curb the EPA’s war on coal, Ward has put his eggs into attacking the power company.

Meanwhile other members of our caucus have been more responsible in dealing with this issue in their districts, recognizing the primary drivers to these increases are beyond the control of the General Assembly. If Ward really wants to have an impact on utility rate increases, perhaps he should focus his ambitions 90 miles north of Richmond.

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