CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The nation's health-care overhaul was imperfect, and "cap and trade" legislation is not the solution to climate change, say the three Democrats and one Mountain Party candidate running in West Virginia's U.S. Senate race -- but they disagree on the reasons why.
In a meeting with Gazette editors Tuesday, the Democrats -- former state delegate Sheirl Fletcher, former congressman Ken Hechler and Gov. Joe Manchin -- and the Mountain Party's Jesse Johnson discussed their views on global warming, health care, the federal deficit and other issues.
They are running in the Aug. 28 special primary to replace the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd. Ten Republicans are also seeking the seat.
Fletcher said she is "100 percent against" federal legislation in which caps are set on greenhouse emissions and companies that exceed the limit can trade credits with those that emit less.
"Cap and trade, in my opinion, is nothing more than a tax on the energy sector," said the 53-year-old Fletcher, who is president of the Morgantown consulting firm Fletcher Environmental Services.
The former Republican, who switched parties after two terms in the Legislature, said she would work tirelessly to fund research on clean coal technologies.
She said she does not believe that global warming is the result of human activity, despite scientific consensus on the matter.
"I've always believed that the cooling and warming cycle is a natural cycle," said Fletcher, who challenged U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller in the 2008 Democratic primary. "I'm not convinced with the science."
Hechler, the 95-year-old former congressman and secretary of state, said he believes there are more direct ways of reducing emissions. Cap and trade, he said, is "the product of compromise."
Johnson, 51, believes the trading system would be too susceptible to abuse.
"We're talking about basically a casino for big industry," Johnson said, adding that the nation's leaders lack the political will to develop clean forms of energy such as wind and solar power.
Manchin, 62, has previously spoken out about cap-and-trade legislation. On Tuesday, he called it "a grand trading scheme" and said he would work to advance research on carbon capture and sequestration.
"I just believe there's not enough efforts being put towards the technology," he said.
Hechler's candidacy in West Virginia's special election has helped put environmental issues in the spotlight. His campaign focuses almost solely on his opposition to mountaintop removal, the practice in which mine operators blast off hilltops, dumping rock and dirt into valleys and burying streams.
On Tuesday, Hechler mentioned how Manchin often says he is seeking a balance between the environment and the economy.
"But the balance always goes in favor of the coal industry, even though he's listened openly to the environmentalists on a personal basis," Hechler said.
Johnson also opposes the practice of mountaintop removal. Fletcher and Manchin do not.
The candidates all agreed that parts of federal health-care reform package were flawed.