If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now
It’s just a spring clean for the May Queen
— “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin
The classic song demands some investigation. Just what is the May Queen throwing out? And why is it in the hedgerow? Is she doing this work herself or has she hired a cleaning service? And is that hedgerow in compliance with the property convenents anyway?
Inquiring minds want to know. Alas, we won’t get to the bottom of that today but I will use this opening day of May to clear out a few things from my own hedgerow.
Biden’s energy secretary backs the Mountain Valley Pipeline
One of the most curious political developments recently was the decision by U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm to write a letter to federal regulators in favor of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, the natural gas pipeline from northwestern West Virginia to Chatham whose construction is held up by lots of legal complications.
On the one hand, Politico reports that “the whole Biden coalition is built around this commitment” on climate change. Yet here is the administration backing a project that critics consider “dirty energy.” What gives?
First, Biden has never been a purist on energy. When he was running in 2020, he was always mindful that he needed to carry Pennsylvania, where natural gas production is big.
As president, he has angered some on his left recently when he approved exports of liquefied natural gas from an Alaskan project. “Joe Biden’s climate presidency is flying off the rails,” claimed a spokesman for Friends of the Earth. Of course, Biden is also trying to play a complicated game of three-dimensional chess – and one level of that game is trying to increase American LNG exports to elbow out Russian exports and make it easier for countries to stop buying Russian gas while that country is making war on Ukraine.
The politics of Granholm’s support for MVP is probably much simpler than geopolitics. It’s about a more domestic brand of politics – helping out U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia. The most unreliable Democratic senator surprised many by voting for the so-called Inflation Reduction Act – also called the “climate bill” – last year. What he wanted in return was approval for the MVP and so far he hasn’t gotten it. He’s also wavering on, well, lots of things. Biden needs Manchin’s vote. He also needs Manchin, as problematic as he may be for Democrats, to get re-elected next year – and Manchin will face a strong challenge from West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice. Democrats may think Manchin isn’t much of a Democrat, but they’d sure rather have him as a senator from West Virginia than they would a Republican.
So Granholm’s letter can be read on two levels. One, the administration is trying to do a favor for Manchin. Two, it may be that the administration really does believe that the Mountain Valley Pipeline “will enhance the nation’s critical infrastructure for energy and national security.” That would not be out of line with Biden’s actions elsewhere. Politico has a good analysis of all this: “Why is Biden backing Manchin’s pet pipeline?”
It should also be noted that Granholm’s letter is mostly symbolic. Federal regulators have already approved the pipeline; it’s the courts that have held up the project. Granholm’s letter doesn’t do anything, but if sending this to regulators helps mollify Manchin for awhile, I’m sure the White House will think it’s worth it.
Speaking of Manchin, he cast the decisive vote in favor of that Inflation Reduction Act. Here’s how that’s worked out:
What kind of incentives would we have to pay for a big employer at the Southern Virginia Mega Site?
A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the Canadian province of Ontario had won out over Oklahoma for a Volkwagen electric vehicle battery plant. Oklahoma wasn’t very happy about that. While Virginia wasn’t in the running (at least that we know of), I pointed out that the lessons from that Ontario vs. Oklahoma competition that might apply here as we try to land a big employer for the Southern Virginia Mega Site in Pittsylvania. For instance, Volkswagen said one of the reason it picked the Canadian site was because Ontario has so much de-carbonized energy. VW also cited something that American conservatives have come to loathe – “high ESG standards,” the ESG standing for “environmental, social and corporate governance.” Some might say that Volkwagen picked Ontario for 2,500 manufacturing jobs because Canada is “woke.”
At the time, we didn’t know what kind of incentives Ontario had offered but I wrote that they weren’t likely the decisive factor. And they may not have been – although we now know that they were higher than Oklahoma. Oklahoma offered about $700 million in incentives. Ontario put up about $883 million (that was $1.2 billion in Canadian dollars), with most of that coming from the national government, not the provincial government. Virginia knows form its Amazon courtship that incentives aren’t the only thing that matters – other states offered far more than Virginia’s $750 million, but look who won.
That’s not the whole story, though. Canada has also announced that it’s paying $13.2 billion – that’s billion with a b – in subsidies to VW. That’s $13.2 billion in Canadian money, so a mere $9.71 million in our dough.
Canadian officials said they were forced to do this because of the so-called Inflation Reduction Act, aka “the climate bill,” that the U.S. Congress passed last year. That bill included $369 billion (in our money) of incentives for electric vehicles and other clean energy technologies. Reuters reports that the Canadian deal for VW “showcases how the U.S. green package . . . is putting pressure on other governments to ramp up financial incentives to lure investments.” Neither Europe nor Canada likes that bill for the same reason that American Democrats (and the bill passed on party-line votes) liked it: The law includes strong financial incentives for companies to locate in the United States. Prime Minister Trudeau referenced this in his announcement about the size of the Canadian subsidies: “Other parts of the world, including our neighbors to the south, were willing to put up an awful lot of money to get this project.”
Oklahoma’s governor lamented that his state had to compete with a whole country, but Canada lamented that it had to compete with a whole country, too – and a much bigger one. The lesson for us – other than to marvel at how U.S. law is forcing Canadian taxpayers to dig deeper – is about how intense the competition for electric vehicle battery plants is. As I’ve pointed out before, there are only so many of these plants that will be built. Set aside Canada’s subsidies to match the Inflation Reduction Act; just looking at the direct grants – Canada’s $883 million to Oklahoma’s $700 million – and we get new market information as to what the going rate is. For what it’s worth, these incentives for 3,500 jobs were lower than what Georgia offered in incentives for the 8,100-job Hyundai plant that passed over Pittsylvania County last year. Georgia put up $1.8 billion for that. Meanwhile that Ford battery plant that Gov. Glenn Youngkin nixed because of its partnership with a Chinese company? Michigan approved $630 million in incentives for that project. Wonder what Virginia would pay for a big employer at the Southern Virginia Mega Site?
Roanoke’s unique hockey culture
Everything is connected, even in a spring cleaning. We started with what Politico called “Manchin’s pet pipeline,” then looked at the a situation that involved how the climate bill he voted for was playing out in Canada, and now we’ll end with a local tie-in to the quintessential Canadian sport – hockey.
Tonight, Roanoke’s minor league hockey team, the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs, plays its first home game in a best three-of-five series for the championship of the Southern Professional Hockey League. (The series with the Birmingham Bulls is tied at one game apiece). I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that this team has been successful both on and off the ice – something previous minor league hockey teams in Roanoke haven’t been.
The Roanoke team had the third highest average attendance of any team in the 10-team league this year – averaging 4,449 fans per game.
I won’t dare offer a sports prediction for Roanoke’s series with Birmingham but I will point out that Roanoke has a bigger hockey fan base than the Bulls do, even though Birmingham’s metro area has four times as many people. Birmingham’s been averaging just 2,886 fans per game. It’s probably wrong to compare sports – apples and oranges, that sort of thing, but I will offer this comparison anyway. The Roanoke Valley’s minor league hockey team draws more fans than its minor league baseball team does (the Salem Red Sox last year averaged 2,719 fans per game).
The Roanoke Valley has had hockey off and on since the late 1960s – the Salem Rebels took the ice in 1967 – although there was a decade-long time-out before this current team arrived in 2016. It’s been by far the most stable hockey franchise the Roanoke Valley has seen. The persistence of hockey in the Roanoke Valley is one of those things that often mystifies – and fascinates – those who don’t know the region. Sometimes we in this part of the state moan about all the things we don’t have that the rest of Virginia does. Here’s an example of something we have that, say, Richmond doesn’t. So, yes, tonight much of Roanoke will celebrate the first days of May by watching a sport on ice.