Tomblin bashes EPA, but praises pollution-control jobs
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- While Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin repeated his tough talk about opposing the Obama administration's "war on coal," the governor also touted a new West Virginia business that exists to help power plants meet tougher new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pollution standards.
Tomblin criticized EPA for "back-door" government and praised West Virginia for its "reasonable, open environmental regulations" on natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale.
But the governor didn't mention his administration's private talks with industry lobbyists to craft new drilling rules, or note that one major constituency -- surface landowners -- got next to nothing in the bill to help them deal with the Marcellus boom.
In his first State of the State address since winning statewide election, Tomblin offered a mixed bag on energy and environmental issues: Promising to protect coal from tougher new regulations, pledging to "take full advantage" of the drive to tap into the Marcellus, but often downplaying any continued controversy over the impacts of those industries and not mentioning alternative energies like wind, solar or geothermal.
Several times, Tomblin singled out EPA in trying to compare West Virginia government favorably to Washington, where he said government agencies "engage in back-door policy making that threatens the very livelihoods of so many of our fellow citizens."
Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, gave Tomblin high marks for the governor's promise to continue pushing a state lawsuit over EPA's efforts to toughen water pollution restrictions on mountaintop removal mining.
"I thought it was a great speech," Raney said. "He threw the gauntlet down as much as he could."
But the governor also noted that numerous major coal companies -- he listed Arch Coal, Alpha Natural Resources, Alliance, United Coal and Patriot -- "continue to invest in West Virginia, maintaining and creating jobs," despite the EPA crackdown.
And among a long list of new businesses opening in the state, Tomblin noted that the Australian company Carbonxt Inc. is building a $30 million plant in Kanawha County that will employ 40 workers to make products specifically aimed at helping coal-fired power plants meet new EPA air-quality limits.
The irony of Tomblin bashing EPA, but praising a pollution-control products facility locating in West Virginia was not lost on Don Garvin, lead lobbyist for the West Virginia Environmental Council.
"Sooner or later, the benefits of cleaning up our environment -- of clean air and clean water -- are going to be appreciated by our political leaders," Garvin said Wednesday night. "And they will be appreciated in the terms they understand most: Money. Cleaning up the environment will save lives and save money in the long run."
Tomblin also made several references to passage during last month's special session of the new state law aimed at improving regulation of natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale. The governor said he would propose changes in the state's economic development incentives to help try to lure a natural gas "cracker" plant to the state.
"And let me be clear about my intentions -- I will do everything in my power to make sure that West Virginia is positioned to take full advantage of this opportunity," Tomblin said. "I will not limit our efforts to just one project or even two. We will compete for every project -- every dollar of investment and every new job that relies on the natural resources with which we have been so blessed."
But the governor indicated no plans to revisit the Marcellus legislation to try to address continued concerns from West Virginians who own the surface of their property, but not the mineral rights beneath their homes.
"It was the industry's bill," said Dave McMahon, a lawyer and lobbyist for the West Virginia Surface Owners Rights Organization. "It had almost nothing for surface owners.
"For four years we've tried to get some incentives in the statute for the drillers to recognize the rights we already have under the common law," McMahon said. "The DEP permit process cares about how the well is drilled, not where it's drilled, and how the access road is built, not where it's built.
"We are going to try to get some small improvements from the Legislature, but we expect we'll get more recognition and fairness to surface owners from the courts than we'll be able to get from the Legislature."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1702.