This is the first in an occasional series analyzing the
issues, records and platforms of the candidates seeking the
governorship in the upcoming election. This installment focuses on
One of West Virginia's gubernatorial candidates promises that he
will "streamline and simplify" the environmental permitting
"We need regulations to protect people," says the candidate's economic
development plan, posted on his campaign Internet site.
"But sometimes we go too far and create regulations that do not work as
intended and end up restricting the development of new business."
The candidate? Incumbent Republican Gov. Cecil Underwood?
Wrong. It's Democratic nominee Bob Wise.
In May, Wise announced that he would give up the U.S. House seat he has
held since 1983. He said he wanted to challenge Underwood for governor.
Wise mentioned the environment briefly in his announcement.
"We can't fall into the trap of pitting our economy against the
environment," Wise said. "That's a false choice.
"We can protect and preserve our environment and have a healthy and
growing economy," he said. "I believe they can work hand in hand
Since then, Wise has said little about protecting mountains and trees
or cleaning up the state's water and air.
Over the last four years, Underwood has put a cadre of former industry
lawyers, lobbyists and executives in charge of the state Division of
The administration has opposed stronger air quality rules, fought
federal government efforts to clean up polluted state streams and backed
mountaintop removal coal mining.
Wise quietly promises to do better. He says that he won't let industry
run roughshod over regulators at DEP.
But to date, Wise has not made a campaign issue of Underwood's
pro-industry slant. Like the governor, Wise says his main campaign issue
is economic development.
In his economic plan, Wise says he will review state regulations to
make sure they are not too much of a burden on business. He promises to
hire an ombudsman in the Governor's Office, "to assist in dispute
resolution and negotiations between companies and state regulatory
agencies regarding permitting and licensing."
A review of their records shows that, on most major
environmentalissues that face West Virginia, it's hard to
tell the Democratic challenger from the incumbent Republican governor:
- The most contentious environmental debate in the state today
is mountaintop removal.
Underwood wants to overturn Chief U.S. District Judge Charles H. Haden
II's ruling to limit the size of valley fills. So does Wise.
- The federal government is trying to crack down on coal-fired power
plant emissions that cause smog and create health hazards.
Underwood wants to block the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency from implementing its pollution-limiting plan. So does Wise.
Wise and Underwood differ significantly on only one major
environmental issue, preservation of Blackwater Canyon in Tucker
Underwood bought a small part of the canyon from timber operator John
But the deal gives Crites a much-inflated price, and the governor says
his respect for private property rights makes him hesitate to push Crites
to sell more of the canyon.
"The West Virginia businessman who owns the land has been under no
obligation to negotiate with the state over the private property that he
rightfully owns," Underwood has said.
In Congress, Wise has supported a federal study of making Blackwater
Canyon a national park. He said recently that he believes the area should
be public property, and promised to turn up the heat on Crites to sell.
"I think it ought to be preserved," Wise said. "I think you can
clearly show some determination."
Ignoring the issue
So far in the campaign neither of the major candidates has
highlighted any proposals to improve environmental protection in
In the "Issues" section of his campaign Web site, Underwood
mentions the environment only twice: An entry under the "Jobs" section
devastation of new federal air regulations." Under the "Technology"
Protection's new computer.
On his campaign Web site, Wise proudly notes that he authored chemical
industry public right-to-know laws after the 1984 Bhopal disaster. Because
of those laws, citizens can find out how much pollution their local
chemical plant emits, and learn where toxic substances are stored in their
Since then Wise has voted to limit the amount of information available
to the public about environmental dangers in their communities.
Last year, for example, Wise voted to eliminate fines for small
businesses that violate pollution record-keeping rules.
Novelist Denise Giardina is the gubernatorial candidate who has been
most outspoken in her support for strong environmental protections.
Giardina decided to run after she got involved in the fight against
"Agencies which supposedly exist to protect the environment are in fact
run by industry hacks who think their mission is to grease the wheels for
polluters and ward off citizen complaints," Giardina said.
"In a Denise Giardina administration, the [Division] of
Environmental Protection will be just that," she said. "The
protection of our air, water and other resources will be the priority. And
where regulations need tightening, as in the timber industry, I will push
for those regulations."
Bob Myers, the Libertarian candidate for governor, says that he would
turn state environmental protection duties over to a nonprofit
A Wise record
Over the years, Wise has had a mixed record on the environment in
Congress, according to the League of Conservation Voters, a national group
that monitors legislative actions the affect the environment.
In 1995, he voted with the League 100 percent of the time. That year,
the Republicans took over the House. They pushed to dismantle many federal
environmental protections. Every time, Wise voted with the
Democratic majority to fend off the GOP onslaught.
But a year earlier, when the Democrats controlled the House, Wise
co-sponsored legislation to weaken federal regulations on the use of
pesticides and to limit pesticide residues on food. Also in 1994, Wise
Since 1995, Wise has received annual ratings of 54 percent, 63 percent,
69 percent and 50 percent from the League.
Wise received poor marks from the League for his repeated votes in
favor of government subsidies for logging roads in national forests and
Closer to home, Wise has angered environmental groups with his
outspoken support for construction of Corridor H, the four-lane highway
through the Potomac Highlands.
"I realize this is not going to make everyone happy," Wise said in a
1996 House floor speech. "[But] it has been too long in contention, and at
least in the West Virginia section it is important that this highway be
Throughout the 1990s, Wise also supported construction of a pulp and
paper mill proposed for Apple Grove in Mason County. Environmentalists