Manchin, Baber discuss mountaintop mining, redistricting after Raese walkout
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin and Mountain Party candidate Bob Henry Baber told Gazette editors Friday that they support expanding West Virginia's renewable energy portfolio, but they also said the state can't abandon coal.
Senate Republican candidate John Raese showed up at the start of Friday's meeting, but abruptly left after learning that Baber would attend.
Manchin said the United States burns one of every eight tons of coal in the world. Coal is West Virginia's largest export.
"There's a demand for our coal," Manchin said. "You don't leave your base. I'm all for technology as far as renewables, but you can't force the market to go the direction you want it to go."
Baber called coal a "throwback to the 19th century," and the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster "an absolute crime to humanity."
"But nobody is going to pull the plug on coal," he said. "We are dependent on coal."
Manchin said the U.S. must continue to pursue "clean coal" technology and other measures to reduce emissions at coal-fired power plants.
"We should be finding the technology that's affordable," he said. "At the proper time, we will transition to another fuel."
Baber said his campaign was about "the transition from coal to green energy," though he opposes wind energy projects.
He sharply criticized mountaintop removal, a surface mining process that uses explosives to blast off hilltops and deposit leftover rock and dirt in nearby valleys and streams.
"The mountains are being lopped off, and the people are being poisoned," Baber said. "I don't want us to become the mountaintop removal state."
Baber suggested that former mountaintop removal sites be used for solar energy projects. About 90 percent of former mountaintop removal sites are vacant land, the candidates said.
Manchin said such sites could be used for agriculture -- to grow soybeans or other feedstocks for biofuel facilities.
"Put in an agricultural base with a root system," he said. "It would be a tremendous opportunity for a whole new industry."
Both candidates also criticized Washington politics.
Manchin said the U.S. Senate frequently gets bogged down by procedural votes -- even for decisions such as judges' appointments. Manchin said he supports reforming Senate filibuster rules.
"The Senate is not working the way our founders wanted it to work," he said.
The candidates also criticized that the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, which gave the green light for corporations and unions to spend unlimited sums on ads and other materials, calling for the election or defeat of political candidates.
"Our government is up for sale to the highest bidder," Baber said.
Manchin cited federal redistricting as another major problem. He said federal lawmakers take part in decisions to redraw district lines.
"It should be computer-driven," Manchin said. "There shouldn't be a politician driving redistricting."
Both candidates also called for the return of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Iraq.
"We cannot be the policemen of the world anymore," Baber said. "We're literally acting like Roman emperors. It's time to bring that money home and rebuild here."
Manchin said American troops should have exited Afghanistan immediately after U.S. Special Forces killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011.
"That would have been the perfect time to get out," Manchin said.
Manchin also criticized Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who's running television ads attacking Manchin and other senators who voted against legislation that would have cut off foreign aide to Egypt, Pakistan and Libya.
Manchin said Paul's bill went too far, creating the potential to stop aid to "our strongest allies," including Israel.
The bill, which was voted down, prohibited U.S. assistance to any country that housed a U.S. diplomatic facility that was attacked. Critics said the bill gave an incentive for terrorists to attack facilities in countries allied with the U.S.
"Rand Paul is a demagogue playing games," Manchin said. "Everything that's wrong with Washington is what you saw Rand Paul do."
Manchin brought a packet of memos and letters about Paul's legislation to Friday's meeting with Gazette editors, speculating that Raese would bring up the bill.
"I was going to tell him to deal with the facts," Manchin said.
Before the meeting started, Baber crossed paths with Raese in the Charleston Newspapers' parking garage, Baber said.
"I went to shake his hand. He would not shake my hand," Baber said.
At an Oct. 2 debate in Shepherdstown, Baber repeatedly came to Manchin's defense, after Raese tried to link Manchin to President Obama. At the end of the debate, Baber used an expletive to describe Raese's tactics.
Baber and Manchin said Friday they were surprised Raese left the meeting with Gazette editors before it started.
"How can you elect a man who's incapable of coming to a forum?" Baber asked. "We need people who sit down and talk to each other."
Raese told a Gazette editor that he would not stay in a room with Baber because Baber insulted him at the Shepherdstown debate. Raese said he did not have a problem with Manchin being at Friday's meeting.
"I guess he thinks because Bob and I agree on some things there's some collusion going on," Manchin said.
The Gazette contacted Raese's campaign for additional comment after Friday's meeting, but Raese did not return phone calls.
Reach Eric Eyre at email@example.com or 304-348-4869.