Some suggestions for state government
I have previously written about how those elected to our highest offices (governor and United States senators) can have a profound effect on the integrity and effectiveness of environmental management in West Virginia. I worked in cabinet level positions for three of those governors -- Hulett Smith, Jay Rockefeller, and Gaston Caperton. After they left office, their work and progressive accomplishments were promptly trashed and degraded by their successors, notably Arch Moore, Cecil Underwood and Joe Manchin. All of the successors appointed coal company lackeys and anti-regulatory operatives to the most key positions in government. Arch Moore, who went to prison for taking kickbacks from a coal operator, appointed as chief regulator a coal operator with no environmental regulatory experience or motivation. Cecil Underwood did the same. Joe Manchin followed in their footsteps and Earl Ray Tomblin continues. The results are becoming painfully apparent.
Don't get me wrong here. Coal and chemical jobs are an important part of our economy. But the companies must follow the law and be held accountable. The only rational counterpoint to investor greed and corner-cutting is honest and diligent state government enforcement of regulations already in place. Everyone is now talking about new legislation. There were plenty of laws in place to prevent the current debacle.
Gov. Tomblin is a lifelong politician with good intentions. To his credit, he has vast knowledge of government operations and is a good manager of public money. But, he also comes from an area of West Virginia that has shown little or no regard for environmental issues. He suffers from a disease that I call "Manchinitis." He is carrying on the Manchin "war on coal" tirade, which in reality is his war on West Virginia's long term environmental and public health.
I would like to think that the governor just does not know any better than to pursue his present course of action. I believe that, as a longtime legislator, his motives and aspirations have been unduly (almost exclusively) influenced and dictated by lobbyists representing special interest groups who have always been ubiquitous in the legislative halls. He needs to understand that he will not be remembered for conducting a war on the EPA, but for overseeing the systematic destruction of our precious renewable natural resources: air, water, forests, wildlife and scenic beauty.
It is truly troubling that he has taken the lobbyists' position on a litany of important issues such as meth lab eradication, mine safety, and the entire spectrum of environmental management. governor, my suggestion to you is to get some regulatory religion. Look at the big picture -- an industry which comprises 4 percent of the state's workforce should not be allowed to pursue their goals at the expense of the general population. Promptly implement the recommended action of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board with respect to hazardous release prevention. Ask your Secretary of Environmental Protection the following questions:
1. Who are the other distributors of MCHM and where are they located?
2. Find out which coal preparation plants have been receiving this material and which streams it is being discharged into.
3. Is it being treated before discharge into the waters of the state?
4. Is it covered in their NPDES permit?
A suggestion for the citizenry
A front-page article in The New York Times on Jan. 19 revealed that our U.S. senator (the one who works for the coal industry) has been paid by his coal brokerage firm, about $1.5 million each year for the years 2011 and 2012. Amounts for years prior to that time were hidden in a "blind trust." The senator stated recently that he was establishing a new "federal blind trust." Coal brokerage fees are generally paid by the coal producer. I wonder if the senator would care to reveal which coal operators made these payments and what service he, as a full-time public servant, provided in return for that compensation.
The citizenry could establish an "honest politician fund," using the proceeds of a "head tax" of say $20. With 1.8 million citizens, the fund would produce about $3.6 million annually to be used to fund honest politicians and pay them to be on our side. It might be the first time in West Virginia history that we could compete with the special interests. It might be the best expenditure of tax money we could make.
Callaghan was director of the state Division of Environmental Protection from 1991 to 1995 under Gov. Gaston Caperton and director of the Division of Natural Resources under Gov. Jay Rockefeller.