And the first step for political leaders is to break the culture of dominance by Big Business. The governor's invitation to business "stakeholders" is but a symptom of an attitude that is rampant throughout the Legislature as well. Business lobbyists are their friends and campaign contributors, and most political leaders are comfortable in that cozy rut.
How many senators who helped draft SB 373 look to the same "stakeholders" as if they know the answers? How many delegates will jump at the chance to add an industry amendment, but turn a deaf ear to the pleas of citizens?
Alternatively, how many seek input on a bill to protect water from advocacy groups with experience in protecting water, groups such as the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, West Virginia Environmental Council, or even, gasp, the West Virginia Sierra Club? Is it any wonder that these political leaders are not trusted? Is their priority to re-establish trust in the quality of our water, or to protect the interests of Big Business, and primarily out-of-state Big Business at that?
At Monday's hearing, over 50 citizens spoke to demand that SB 373 be strengthened, that loopholes be closed, that provisions for citizen enforcement be included because they do not trust DEP. Only one representative from Big Business spoke, and he said almost nothing, except that he looked forward to helping to "craft" a bill.
Will our delegates listen to the one voice from industry, or the 50-plus citizens? How many delegates think that trust can be restored if they continue to ignore the 50 while they bow down to the one?
If the governor wants to restore "trust," nothing would go further than to start by meeting with the citizens who are the real stakeholders, while State Police troopers bar the door to the lobbyists from the Coal Association and the chemical industry.
Kotcon is a longtime leader of the West Virginia Sierra Club.