THE RACE FOR GOVERNOR
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
environmental issues 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
When he ran for governor in 1996, Underwood staunchly backed those
projects as well. That year, environmental groups supported his
Democratic opponent, Charlotte Pritt.
Since he took office in early 1997, Underwood has been in an almost
constant battle with environmental groups.
The governor has repeatedly criticized citizens who went to court
because of their concerns that Corridor H wasn't needed and would cause
great environmental damage.
"I regret that a small minority of people continues to try to
circumvent the clear wishes of an overwhelming majority of citizens in the
region and all of their elected leaders," he said in 1997.
Underwood has led a coalition of regional governors who challenged the
EPA's proposal to reduce power plant emissions.
The governor appointed another timber company official to head the
proposed to cut down dozens of trees at the state Capitol to make way for
a new parking garage and bus turn-around.
When Underwood talks about the environment, it's usually to do one of
First, the governor depicts federal agencies as outsiders bent on
destroying West Virginia's already struggling economy.
"Forces beyond our state borders threaten our growth and our future,"
Underwood declared in his 1999 State of the State address.
"Federal bureaucrats use oppressive, unreasonable regulations and
international treaties to impose air quality standards that jeopardize
thousands of West Virginia jobs."
Second, Underwood repeats the common mantra that economic growth
doesn't mean a dirty environment.
"We can protect the environment without turning out the lights and
costing jobs," the governor said recently. "We believe we have to do
Earlier this year, Underwood signed into law bills that reformed the
State Forest outside Charleston. But the governor was not considered a
force behind either measure.
During his State of the State address in January, Underwood called for
the state to create a program to educate public school students about
environmental issues. The state Department of Education
already had such a program.
In that same speech, the governor unveiled a proposal for the state to
clean up old tires that litter the countryside. The administration was
with a tax on motor vehicle title transfers, has since made the program
into a success.
Dealing with King Coal
In late 1998, Wise wrote a letter to the U.S. Office of Surface Mining
to call for a moratorium on new mountaintop removal permits.
Wise cited Charleston Gazette reports that dozens of permits issued by
the DEP did not comply with federal and state mining rules.
"The apparent lack of oversight and ambiguity of our state law have led
to questions and controversy with regard to mountaintop removal," Wise
responsible thing to do."
Since then, Wise has changed his tune.
Federal agencies have cracked down on DEP. Permit applications receive
more scrutiny, and take longer to be approved. Haden issued a ruling that,
if upheld, could substantially reduce the size of mountaintop removal
Along with the rest of the state's political leadership, Wise has
chastised federal agencies for slowing down permits. He called for higher
courts or Congress to overturn Haden's ruling.
"As a result of environmental legislation ... surface mining
will never be the same again in the state of West Virginia," Wise said in
a House floor speech.
"So great progress has been made. The question is whether balance will
be preserved," he said. "And the court's decision takes it too far the
Underwood has been even more pro-coal.
The governor called the date of Haden's ruling, "the bleakest day in
the recent history of West Virginia.
"A federal court decision has placed the future of thousands of West
Virginia families at risk."
Underwood has vowed repeatedly to always stand up for the coal industry
and its workers.
"Coal remains our most abundant resource, though one with an uncertain
future," the governor said earlier this year. "We must not turn our back
on coal miners, their families and the many small businesses they
Occasionally, Wise has tried to distance himself from Underwood on
issues related to coal.
In August, the governor suggested that he didn't believe scientific
evidence that the burning of fossil fuels is changing global climate.
"You talk about global warming," Underwood said. "Your weather people
can't predict the weather outside tomorrow morning, yet you want to
predict it 100 years from now."
Wise responded that he believes in global warming, and thinks it is a
problem that needs to be addressed.
The congressman's answer, though, is to push for more federal funding
for clean coal technology.
Repeated House votes for that funding have earned Wise low marks from
the League of Conservation Voters. The group points out that clean coal
programs focus on removing other pollutants from power plant emissions.
Scientists can't do anything about the coal burning's creation of carbon
dioxide, the major greenhouse gas.
Since Labor Day, Wise has criticized Underwood several times for
made it cheaper and easier for coal operators to bury bigger streams under
larger valley fills.
Wise attacked the governor because the bill focused the attention of
federal regulators on mountaintop removal. Wise said that he would have
opposed the bill because this attention slowed down permit approvals - not
because it was harmful to the environment.
Wise has also chided the governor for appointing three successive coal
operators to run the DEP.
But last week, former DEP Director David Callaghan started speaking out
in favor of Wise's campaign. Callaghan was DEP director during most of
Gov. Gaston Caperton's second term, when mountaintop removal was
accelerating across Southern West Virginia.
Wise has declined to promise to appoint someone from the
environmental community to be the agency's director. But he pledges
changes at DEP.
"I will not have someone from the coal industry running DEP," he said.
"It's going to be a different DEP.
"We aren't the same," Wise said of the two major candidates'
environmental stances. "We're totally different."
Future installments of "Issues 2000: The Race for Governor" will
appear in the coming weeks in the Sunday Gazette-Mail and The Charleston
To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., use e-mail or call 348-1702.