Air Board Approves Carbon Caps for Electric Utilities

The Virginia Air Pollution Board unanimously approved today regulations to reduce carbon from electric utilities by 30% between 2020 and 2030. The rule also will link Virginia to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which will allow Virginia utilities to swap carbon allowances with power companies in other states.

The vote “will make this Commonwealth a leader in the global fight to cut carbon and promote clean energy technologies,” said Governor Terry McAuliffe in a prepared statement. “This will allow us to achieve carbon reductions in the most innovative and cost-effective way possible with minimal impact on customer bills.”

Virginia is uniquely vulnerable to the threat of climate change and many of our residents are already experiencing its impacts. We do not have the luxury of waiting for Washington to wake up to this threat – we must act now. I am proud that Virginia is joining states around the nation that are filling the void of leadership that President Trump has left on transforming the energy sector and protecting our environment. With these regulations, we will significantly cut carbon emissions, continue our state’s explosive growth in the clean energy sector, and set an example for leadership in Washington, other states, and the entire world.

The public comment period and on-going enactment process is expected to be lengthy, especially if lawsuits are filed challenging the legality of the regulations. McAuliffe’s statement was short on details on how the regional greenhouse initiative will work.

Here follow responses from various parties as they come in.

House of Delegates Republicans: “This is a clear attempt by Governor McAuliffe’s Administration to circumvent the appropriate legislative process to impose wide-ranging regulations that, simply put, will necessitate higher electricity prices and discourage businesses from investing in the Commonwealth,” said House Speaker-designee Kirk Cox.

“Democrats purport to be champions of the poor and working class, but this policy will lead to higher electric bills for families, small businesses, seniors, and the working poor,” said Majority Leader-designee Todd Gilbert. “It will directly hurt people already anxious about making ends meet and getting through a cold winter, but it sure will please Governor-elect Northam’s California billionaire donors.”

“The Air Pollution Control Board does not have the authority to promulgate regulations at the state level that exceed those at the federal level,” said Commerce & Labor Committee Chairman Terry Kilgore. “Today’s action is clearly inconsistent with Virginia law and a gross example of bureaucratic overreach.”

Dominion Energy Virginia. “We already are a low-carbon producer of energy, and have continued to work to lower emissions both in anticipation of future state or federal regulation and because it’s the right thing to do,” said Dominion spokesman David Botkins. “We have plans to build more than 5,200 megawatts of solar arrays in Virginia, extend the lifespan of our nuclear plants and have closed or converted coal-fired generation. While we haven’t yet had a chance to fully study the state’s draft proposal, we expect to fully meet whatever regulatory requirements that result. We’ll review today’s vote and participate in the public comment period in due course.”

Appalachian Power: “Appalachian Power is reviewing the proposed regulations. Given uncertainties in the ultimate Virginia carbon budget, allocations, and allowance pricing, we are unable to estimate the impact of the proposal on our customers at this time” said Apco spokesman John Shepelwich. “But the company will participate in the public notice and comment process to ensure any final rule, if/when/promulgated, will have the least impact possible on our customers.”

APCo has already reduced CO2 generation emissions in Virginia by 96% since the year 2005, he added.

Update: I normally get a slew of press releases from environmental groups, but nothing has arrived in my inbox on this. But in its story the Richmond Times-Dispatch quotes the Virginia Conservation Network as calling the draft regulation “a critical first step in addressing the threat of climate change and spurring investments in clean energy in Virginia.”

Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time, especially when it comes to its devastating impacts on Virginia’s most vulnerable communities. It is imperative that every level of government steps up to be a part of the solution.

How to Inconvenience Drivers and Punish Businesses for No Discernible Reason

Pulse construction on Broad Street — at a location where construction is actually occurring. (Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch)

One of these days, when Richmond’s Pulse service is running buses up and down the Broad Street corridor, and investors are redeveloping properties around the transit stops, Richmonders will be really glad they have a bus rapid transit system. But until then, residents of the entire metropolitan area can be forgiven for roundly cursing the project.

Construction, which began in August 2016, is still ongoing. The contractor hopes to complete work by the end of the year. In the meantime, the city has closed off two lanes (one lane each way) from automobile traffic, significantly adding to the hassle factor of driving on the transportation artery.

This has been a pet peeve of mine from the very beginning. Miles of Broad Street are afflicted with traffic cones. That would be fine if construction work were actually occurring the full length of the corridor. But it’s not. Work appears to be occur, in a most desultory manner, only at a few locations at a time.

Now, I don’t expect anyone to lose any sleep over Henrico resident Jim Bacon incurring an additional five or ten minutes driving time. But the businesses lining the corridor do warrant consideration, and many of them have suffered a marked decline in business. Richmond City Councilwoman Kimberly Gray has proposed compensating those businesses from a $3.2 million pot of money set aside to reward the contractor, Lane Construction, as an incentive for early completion of the project. The prospects of early completion are fading rapidly, so the idea, it seems to me, does have merit.

Putting up with street construction is an inevitable hazard of living in the city — someone always seems to be patching asphalt, accessing water lines, laying cable — and businesses have to grin and bear it. But cordoning off two lanes along miles of Broad Street for nearly a year and a half seems mind-numbingly unnecessary. I can think of no reason why Lane Construction couldn’t close only those street segments it’s working on when it’s doing the work.

Virginia Department of Transportation contractors put down traffic cones when they’re doing work and pick them up when they’re not. Presumably in adherence to VDOT guidelines, they keep lanes open as much as they can. Why can’t Richmond do the same thing?

Gray could do the public a service by tracking down who in the city public works department approved a construction plan that so unnecessarily inconvenienced drivers and hurt local businesses.

Business As Usual in the Old Dominion: Gridlock, Greed and Confusion

After LaHood report, more squabbling over Metro’s future. In the wake of recommendations by former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., are edging toward compromises that would reform the ailing mass transit system’s governance system and shore up its financing. LaHood’s proposal to shrink the Metro board from six seats to five is drawing some bipartisan support, and legislation in Congress is being drafted, reports the Washington Post. But suburban jurisdictions in Virginia and Maryland, worried about losing their voice on the board, are unhappy with the plan. Also, while LaHood affirmed the need for an additional $500 million a year to work down a massive maintenance backlog, he did not propose how that massive sum might be funded — mainly because there is no consensus for a regional sales tax, the main proposal on the table. Also unaddressed is the not-insignificant matter that Metro really needs an additional $1.5 billion a year, not $500 million, to fix its problems.

Good business if you can get it. (Alternative headline: First, kill all the lawyers.) Richmond has emerged as the preferred venue for bankruptcy trials, reports the New York Times. Toys “R” Us, Gymboree, a West Virginia coal company, and a Pennsylvania fracking company all have filed in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court there. The federal district court’s so-called rocket docket resolves cases swiftly. Also, precedents in the court’s legal record make it easier for companies to walk away from union contracts. But perhaps the biggest draw is the ability of bankruptcy lawyers to charge outrageous fees — as much as $1,745 per hour. Lawyers advising troubled companies, writes the newspaper, tend to gravitate toward courts that approve higher fees.

Dazed and confused — but mostly confused. A state review of the police response to the chaotic white nationalist protest in Charlottesville in August describes a confused command structure, a breakdown in communication, and uncertainty among officers about the “rules of engagement” with protesters, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The review, led by James W. Baker, a consultant with the International Association of Chiefs of Police, did not address whether or not police were ordered to “stand down” in the face of escalating violence between white supremacists and leftists. Nor did it assign responsibility for the confusion to anyone in the Charlottesville city administration.

Virginia Could Get Its Own Clean Power Plan

Would the Chesterfield Power Station get the axe under new state carbon emission rules? (Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Terry McAuliffe’s days as governor of Virginia are rapidly drawing to a close, but proposed carbon-dioxide regulations working through the administrative process could prove to be his most lasting legacy. If adopted, the rule would cap carbon emissions at large power plants in 2020 and then require 3% reductions annually for 10 years, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

After convening a working group more than a year ago to develop recommendations on cutting power plant emissions, McAuliffe signed an executive order in May directing the Department of Environmental Quality to prepare the regulations. The State Air Pollution Control Board is expected to vote on the measure Thursday.

The regulations will be tied to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cooperative including nine other states in the Mid-Atlantic and New England. The regional initiative will allow power companies to purchase carbon allowances from one another. The regional approach allows utilities in one state to purchase offsets from utilities in other states that might be able to reduce carbon output more cheaply.

DEQ models indicate that Virginia’s rule could increase the wholesale cost of electricity by about 7% by 2030, although the actual impact on consumers should be lower, say backers of the rule. In other states, expanded energy efficiency programs have offset the higher electricity rates with lower consumption with the result that electric bills are no higher.

While Attorney General Mark Herring has rendered the opinion that the state air board has the power to regulate carbon under its existing authority, others disagree. Air board regulations prevent it from enacting regulations more stringent than federal requirements, Jay Holloway, a partner with Williams Mullen, told the Times-Dispatch.

Republicans also have problems with the rule, arguing that it will weaken the Virginia economy. John Whitbeck, Republican Party chairman, accused McAuliffe of catering to liberal votes in Iowa and New Hampshire for his presidential bid.

Dominion Energy has remain notably silent as the carbon-cap proposal has wended its way through the system. “We already are a low-carbon producer of energy, and have continued to work to lower emissions both in anticipation of future state or federal regulation and because it’s the right thing to do,” said Dominion spokesman David Botkins.

The carbon-cap initiative ties back to the debate over the electricity rate freeze. Critics have lambasted Dominion for the freeze, which arose from fears of the impact of the Obama administration’s proposed Clean Power Plan. Dominion agreed to keep its base rates fixed, which has locked in excess profits for the first couple of years, in exchange for taking the risk of asset write-downs if the federal carbon regulations forced the utility to close one or more of its coal-fired power plants. The Trump administration is rolling back the Clean Power Plan, so Dominion critics say the freeze is no longer justified. But Dominion countered that the McAuliffe initiative still could compel a reduction in carbon emissions, and that the company still is at financial risk.

Bacon’s bottom line: The point that intrigues me is the argument that a 7% increase in electricity rates would not harm Virginia consumers because, by adopting energy efficiency measures, they would offset the higher rates with lower consumption. Voila! With this new alchemy, we can impose regulations that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to comply with, and miraculously, everybody wins and nobody loses! 

Pardon my skepticism. The carbon-reduction rule may be justified (if you buy into the more alarmist predictions of the global warming movement) but let’s not pretend there is no cost to consumers. Yes, it’s true, business and homeowner investments in energy efficiency can counter the higher rates. But someone has to pay for those investments!

Will a Conservative Backlash Hit Higher-Ed in the Pocketbook?

Left-wing protest at the University of California-Berkeley.

Two weeks ago, University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato urged Virginia colleges and universities to be friendlier to Republican legislators. His motives were pragmatic. If higher-ed wants more money from state taxpayers, it might behoove colleges and universities to not treat members of the majority party like lepers when they set foot on college campuses.

Sabato identified a big problem for higher-ed — a problem that came into sharp focus with an important op-ed piece in today’s Wall Street Journal. In that essay, John M. Ellis, a professor emeritus of German literature at the University of California-Santa Cruz, argues that higher-ed “is close to the end of a half-century process by which the campuses have been emptied of centrist and right-of-center voices. … More than half of the spectrum of political and social ideas has been banished from the classrooms.”

Whereas in 1969, there were overall about twice as many left-of-center as right-of-center faculty, today, the ratio is more like 10 to one. And in the humanities and social science departments — history, English, and political science — the share of left-of-center faculty already approaches 100%.

Ellis laments the impact of increasing philosophical-political conformity in academia on the quality of thought.

Well-balanced opposing views act as a corrective for each other: The weaker arguments of one side are pounced on and picked off by the other. Both remain consequently healthier and more intellectually viable. But intellectual dominance promotes stupidity. As one side becomes numerically stronger, its discipline weakens. The greater the imbalance between the two sides, the more incoherent and irrational the majority will become.

What we are now seeing on the campuses illustrates this general principle perfectly. The nearly complete exclusion of one side has led to complete irrationality on the other. … Campus radicals have lost the ability to engage with arguments and resort instead to the lazy alternative of name-calling: Opponents are all “fascists,” “racists” or “white supremacists.”

Extremism and demagoguery win out. Physical violence is the endpoint of this intellectual decay — the stage at which academic thought and indeed higher education have ceased to exist.

Beyond lamenting the decay in thought, Ellis makes the connection to parents and taxpayers. “The public pays huge sums, both through tuition and taxation, to educate young people, and except in STEM subjects, most of that money is being wasted. Those who pay the bills have the power to stop this abuse of higher education if they organize themselves effectively. (My emphasis.)

Bacon’s bottom line: Millions of Americans regard higher education in the United States as hostile to their values and political views. Millions of Americans send their children off to college, fearing that they will be inculcated with those antithetical values, and they do so only because they perceive that getting a “college education” is the only pathway for their children into the middle class. Increasingly, they resent paying sky-high tuition, and they resent subsidizing the their childrens’ brainwashers with taxpayer dollars. Given the circumstances, how can anyone be surprised if public colleges and universities find eroding popular support for taxpayer subsidies? Only someone warmly encased in an ideological cocoon — like an institution of higher education — could fail to see the obvious.

In today’s hyper-polarized political and cultural environment, Republicans and conservatives increasingly view higher-ed as the enemy — which, in fact, it often is — many in higher-ed see Republicans and conservatives as the enemy! Thus, we see in Congress a Republican move to tax the income of the biggest private college/university endowments, which is seen as a subsidy for liberal-progressive institutions. Meanwhile, in statehouses across the country, legislators have been slashing state support for public higher ed.

Here in Virginia, we must bear in mind that John Ellis is part of the California system of higher education which arguably has the most leftist orientation of any system in the country. The shut-down of conservative voices that occurs in California campuses does not occur in Virginia — not yet. (Unless you count the drowning out of ACLU lawyer Claire Gastanaga at the College of William & Mary, in which case the phenomena has reached Virginia.) The political orientation of Virginia faculty and administrators is assuredly far to the left of the population generally. What we, as members of the public, do not know is the degree to which that is so. Are Virginia institutions as intolerant as California institutions, just more quietly so? My sense, based on anecdotal data, is that a somewhat broader spectrum of views prevails. But I have no hard evidence to back that up.

Ellis suggests that those who pay the bills might “get organized” in protest. So far, I have seen no sign of a broad-based movement emerging here in Virginia. Boards of trustees rubber stamp administrative initiatives. Supine alumni think little beyond the next tailgate party. No one questions the conventional pieties. But university leaders had better beware. But if the general population ever becomes as hostile to higher education as denizens of higher education are hostile to the general population, political support for state funding could deteriorate faster than you can say, “safe space.”

More Money for What?

by John Butcher

The tug-of-war between the School Board and City Council over school funding enters a new era of speculation: Will the recent election results produce more funds for Richmond schools?

That overlooks the more fundamental question: What is the School Board doing with all the money it now is spending?

The most recent data from VDOE are from 2015-16. Here, from that year, are the per-student disbursements by division for Richmond, three peer divisions, and the state average for school divisions. I’ve left out the sums for facilities, debt service, and contingency reserve.

The largest single cost for schools is salaries, so it’s no surprise that Richmond’s excess of $3,051 per student mostly went to the instruction category.

Expressing the Richmond data as differences from the state number, we get:

Or, multiplying those differences by the Richmond enrollment of 21,826:

Multiplying the $3,051 Richmond total excess by the 21,826 enrollment gives the excess Richmond expenditure total: $66.6 million.

We can account for some of that.

The 2016 average salary in Richmond was $51,263 vs. the state average of 56,320. That is, Richmond saved $11.3 million vs. the state average by underpaying its teachers.

At the same time, Richmond has a lot more teachers than average:

At the average salary of $51,263, that comes to an extra cost of $18.5 million.

Combining those data leaves Richmond with an excess cost v. the division average of $59.4 million.

This overlooks the question of what those extra teachers are doing for the RPS students.  To judge from the SOL scores, it’s more a question of what they are doing to the students. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Film Flam, State Workers, Fun & Games with Chicago Debt

Yummmm. So tasty.

Film incentives a money loser for state. Incentives for producing films in Virginia doubled under the McAuliffe administration, reaching $14.3 million in 2015-2016 and totaling $43 million over five fiscal years. But Virginia’s film industry has returned about 20 cents for every dollar it received in tax credits and 30 cents for every dollar in grants over the five-year study period, according to testimony yesterday before the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC). Legislative auditors concluded that 95% of the productions would not have been filmed in the state were it not for the credits, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

State employment compensation needs reform. Compensation for the state’s 105,000 employees is “nearly equivalent in value” to that of private-sector employees in Virginia. Although salaries lag the private sector by about 10%, the state makes up the difference with generous health insurance policies. The compensation package does have challenges, however, hiring employees in the fields of health care, health and safety inspection, public safety, and information technology, finds a new JLARC report. “State employee salaries could be more strategically managed if they were … prioritized for jobs that exhibit the most pressing workforce challenges.”

Boomergeddon watch: Chicago. Despite $36 billion in public pension debt, a prospect of $550 million in budget deficits over the next three years, and a reliance upon the state of Illinois, the budget of which also is in a shambles, Chicago just issued a AAA-rated bond. How is this possible? Chalk it up to creative financial engineering. The city is selling off its right to receive sales-tax revenue from Illinois to a separate public corporation, which will issue new bonds backed by those funds. This securitization insulates bondholders from the city’s finances. Chicago is using the proceeds to pay off old, higher-coupon paper, so it will ease its interest burden for a while. However, writes financial blogger John Rubino, “since [the city] runs a chronic deficit, it will soon be back in the market to borrow more, at which point it will have to pay up – since those AAA bonds are siphoning off so much money. Then the downward spiral will resume, with no more tricks available to delay the inevitable.”

Dominion Announces Intention to Renew North Anna Nukes

Dominion Energy Virginia has informed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) of its intention to file for licenses to operate two nuclear units at its North Anna Power Station in Louisa County for another 20 years.

North Anna One began commercial service in 1978, North Anna Two in 1980.  Originally licensed to operate for 40 years, both had their licenses renewed for an additional 20 years. The pair provides 1,892 net megawatts of electricity, enough electricity to power 473,000 homes. As base-load plants, they operate around the clock, except when they are taken off-line for periodic maintenance.

“Renewing North Anna Power Station’s licenses for a second 20-year period is the right thing to do for our customers, the regional economy and the environment,” said Daniel G. Stoddard, chief nuclear officer for Dominion’s nuclear generation division. “The planned relicensing of North Anna and Surry ensures that the benefits of these clean energy sources will continue to provide affordable, reliable, carbon-free electricity to our customers through the middle of the century. Our nuclear power stations have proven to be among the most-efficient and most-reliable sources of electricity in our fleet.”

North Anna directly support more than 2,000 high-paying jobs in Virginia and pays millions of dollars yearly in state and local taxes, Stoddard said. Continued operation of the units will help Dominion meet state goals for lowering carbon dioxide emissions from its fleet of power plants.

Despite nuclear’s zero-carbon attribute, many environmental groups oppose the technology on the grounds that the disposal of nuclear fuel creates its own set of environmental hazards. If the company were thwarted in its effort to re-license the nukes, it would have to acquire base-load capacity from another source. Coal, which emits more CO2 than any other power source, is out. Natural gas is much cleaner than coal, but still emits CO2, and environmentalists say that it is no better than coal once the full “life cycle,” including gas drilling and collector pipelines, is taken into account. The problem is that the environmentalists’ preferred power sources, wind and solar, are intermittent, which means they often do not produce electricity when it is needed. Battery storage is seen as solution to the intermittentcy issue, but batteries add a big new layer of cost.

Dominion argues that re-licensing its existing nuclear units, which have operated efficiently for five to six decades, (a) is not coal and does not emit CO2, (b) provides a stable source of electricity, and (c) keeps economic activity, jobs, and taxes in Virginia.

The company, which says that it foresees “no significant barriers” to renewal of the North Anna nuclear units, estimates that re-licensing and refurbishing the North Anna and Surry power stations will cost a total of $4 billion. That is roughly comparable to the cost of building four state-of-the-art gas-fired power units that provide roughly the same amount of electricity. The difference is that the cost of nuclear fuel is cheaper and less volatile than the cost of natural gas.

And That’s How You End Up with Donald Trump: Turnstile Jumping Edition

Turnstile jumper. (Image credit: Boston globe.)

The Metropolitan Washington Area Transit Authority (MWATA) has a big revenue problem. Not only is ridership declining, but it appears that an increasing number of riders aren’t paying their fares. To recapture riders, Metro is asking billions of dollars from member states and localities to patch up everything from rail lines to escalators. And to plug its revenue losses from fare jumpers, the authority is cracking down on fare evasion.

Metro Transit Police Chief Ronald A. Pavlik Jr. estimated that the agency loses up to $25 million a year in unpaid fares, reports the Washington Post. From January to June of this year, the number of fare-evasion citations issued more than doubled from the year before to about 6,000 tickets. About 65 percent of those tickets were issued to rail users; 8 percent of the tickets resulted in an arrest. Metro doesn’t collect any money from the fines, but it will benefit if tougher enforcement reduces turnstile jumping.

Many people applaud the crackdown on cheaters. WMATA desperately needs the money to maintain the rail service, which has been plagued with safety issues and delays. Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedenfield has said that people feel a sense of injustice that some riders flout the rules and ride for free while others dig deep to pay their fares. “I think it’s right that everybody pay their fare.”

But not everyone agrees.

Washington City Council is considering legislation that would decriminalize fare evasion, eliminate jail time, and lower the maximum possible fine from $300 to $100. The move, says the Washington Post, “mirrors a trend in cities across the country based on a growing awareness among lawmakers of how issues such as legacy policing practices, unconscious bias and systemic racism, can unfairly target communities based on race or age — even in the seemingly mundane case of fare jumping.”

Some legislators are questioning whether fare evasion should be a crime at all, arguing that targeted enforcement campaigns are bound to ensnare poor and low-income people who don’t have the money to pay their fares — let alone fines.

“Absolutely there’s been a raised consciousness on this that did not exist 20 or 30 years ago,” said Nassim Moshiree, policy director at the American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia. “Activism like the Movement for Black Lives has had a positive impact on raising awareness that policing — and the explicit and implicit bias in policing — means that certain communities are impacted in unfair ways. Even when it comes to something like fare evasion.”

Bacon’s bottom line: The MWATA board already keeps fares artificially low out of concern for the impact on low-income riders, with the difference to be made up by state and local governments. These low fares, incidentally, are a big reason why the system is desperate financial straits today. But apparently, that’s not enough. Now, invoking vague charges of systemic racism — no one has made the case that Metro is systemically racist, just that systemic racism exists — they want to end the crackdown on fare jumping.

It is thinking like this that puts the ACLU, Black Lives Matter, and allied movements in such ill repute. The mere fact that “systemic racism” exists somewhere in the country becomes grounds for engaging in what might be called “systemic reverse racism” in which one group, Metro fare jumpers who are predominantly African-American, get off easy while shifting the cost to taxpayers, a group dominated by whites. (Actually, MWATA does not track the racial identity of fare jumpers. I am simply following the lead of the ACLU’s Mr. Moshiree, whose statements would make no sense if he did not believe that fare jumpers were mainly African-American.)

This is identity politics run amok, and it is becoming all-pervasive in our society. And the most evil, insidious part of it is this: The more that blacks embrace identity politics, the more many whites will as well — particularly lower-income whites whose lives belie the notion that they benefit from “white privilege.” And that’s how you end up with Donald Trump.

Martin Luther King had a dream that one day people would be judged by the content of their character, not the color of that skin. Tragically, that dream seems to be dying.

In Defense of Kelly’s Defense of Robert E. Lee

by Bill O’Keefe

When General John F. Kelly recently said that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man and that the Civil War resulted from a failure to compromise, critics denounced him as a “Lost Cause” apologist who was ignorant of history and insensitive to racism and bigotry. His background, education, and accomplishments in the Marine Corps suggest, however, that such character assassination is a classic case of identity politics.

Anyone who has studied the Civil War objectively sees it as one of our greatest tragedies. In 1861 the United States was a fragile union only weakly held together by a Constitution that had only been ratified 73 years earlier. Today we hold that slavery was evil. But, outside of abolitionists here and in Europe, that was not the prevailing view then. It should not be surprising that a system that had existed since 1800 B.C., and still does in some places in the world, would be slow to change, and that the process of change would create deep and difficult tensions.

Critics who point to compromises affecting black slaves — starting with the Constitution — make a legitimate point that patience and slow progress benefited slave owners at the expense of blacks. We cannot know for sure what would have happened if South Carolina, Mississippi and other intransigent slave states had found common ground with the Union through further compromise. We do know that 620,000 deaths would have been avoided. And, we can be fairly confident that evolving economics and culture would have made slavery less viable. Whether those changes would have shortened the bigotry and racism that continued during the post-war period — and which exists to a lesser degree today — is unknowable.

In the attacks on General Kelly, the word “compromise” has been used pejoratively. Writers ignore the fact that our system of government is built on compromise to avoid the tyranny of the minority by the majority. Henry Clay once observed that politics is about governing and that if you can’t compromise, you can’t govern. That fact is very much in evidence today.

 In an attempt to show General Kelly as a “Lost Cause” apologist, critics have created a false narrative about Robert E. Lee. One writer in The New Yorker went so far as to say that Lee attempted to overthrow the United States government. Others have claimed that he was defending slavery.

As the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan once observed, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

Historical facts more than demonstrate that Robert E. Lee was more than honorable; he was a man of conviction, integrity, deep spirituality, and humility. He did not support secession and believed that slavery was evil.  He was also spiritually naïve in believing that God would emancipate blacks on His schedule. He was respected by Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant.

And Dwight Eisenhower (who had his portrait in the Oval Office) said that Lee was, “in my estimation, one of the supremely gifted men produced by our Nation. . . . selfless almost to a fault . . . noble as a leader and as a man, and unsullied as I read the pages of our history. From deep conviction I simply say this:  a nation of men of Lee’s caliber would be unconquerable in spirit and soul. Indeed, to the degree that present-day American youth will strive to emulate his rare qualities.” Americans, he said, could continue to learn something from the Confederate general because a nation of men of Lee’s caliber would be “unconquerable in spirit and soul.”

General Lee’s reputation will withstand the current attempts at revisionist history because, in the end, facts do matter.  And, General Kelly is learning that as Winston Churchill said, “Politics is almost as exciting as war, and quite as dangerous. In war you can only be killed once, but in politics many times.”

Bill O’Keefe, a resident of New Kent County, is president of Solutions Consulting.