Category Archives: Labor & Wealth

N.C. Craft Beer Industry Needs Room to Grow

Libertarian Party supports legislation that would benefit craft breweries and economic diversity in Appalachian region of North Carolina

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By David Ulmer

RALEIGH – Most people believe if you start your own business, work hard and build it into something, you should have the right to reap the rewards. That is the American dream. However, in North Carolina some local brewers are being denied that right.

North Carolina has a prosperous and booming craft brewery industry. This economic boon was the direct result of a grassroots effort ten years ago called “Pop-the-Cap.” The reform lifted unnecessary rules and regulations on the craft brewers. It allowed the free-market to respond.

Dozens of hard working entrepreneurs started making local beer for consumers across the state. They brought in $1.2 million dollars and created more than 10,000 jobs, according to N.C. Craft Brewers Guild estimates. State community colleges even have programs to prepare young people to work in this fast growing industry.

For some politicians and special interests groups, success is a problem. Large, established distributors, with government-granted monopolies on transporting alcoholic products, lobbied for laws requiring any brewery producing more than 25,000 barrels per year to use their services. Distributors then gain total control over where craft beers may be sold.

Distributors want government to give them a cut of a business they didn’t help build.

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Now, 25,000 barrels sounds like a lot of beer, but it isn’t. Local Breweries like Olde Mecklenburg, NoDa and Red Oak are now producing near this cap. These successful local businesses have to decide whether to keep growing – and hand over 30 percent of their revenue to someone else – or remain small.

Using government to force one business to give up the fruits of their labor to another strikes most people in North Carolina as just flat wrong. Distributors do serve a role in our beer industry, but craft breweries should only rely on them voluntarily. Amazon chooses to use FedEx or UPS, but the government doesn’t tell them who should deliver their orders. Some states, notably California and Colorado, don’t have a barrel limit. It should be no surprise that the brewers who have gone national like Sierra Nevada are based in these states.

Using government to force one business to give up the fruits of their labor to another strikes most people in North Carolina as just flat wrong.”

This isn’t a complicated or socially divisive issue. There’s simply no reason the law should lock craft breweries into relationships with distributors. We can’t allow special interests and big beer industry players based in places like Belgium to keep our local North Carolina beer industry from growing. Local businesses want to expand their sales forces and distribution networks to meet the demand they are seeing for their product across the state. Why shouldn’t they?

House Bill 67 would raise the barrel limit from 25,000 to 100,000 barrels. It’s supported by Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians. This is at least an improvement.

But the beer and wine lobby stands in the way. Distributors in North Carolina cling to a business model dependent on using government and politicians to keep their businesses profitable. The opponents of HB 67 won’t get out of the way until the people of North Carolina make it clear we still believe in the American dream.

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How can you help? Go to CraftFreedom.org and sign their petition, and like their Facebook page. Let your representatives in the General Assembly know how you feel. And the next time you are in your favorite watering hole, tell the owner or manager that you support craft beer and ask them what they are doing to help.

The Libertarian Party of North Carolina supports passage of HB 67 and the efforts of CraftFreedom.org to maintain control over the businesses they built.

David Ulmer has worked in the Wake information technology sector since 2000, and is a craft beer aficionado. He was the 2016 Libertarian candidate for state House 49.

Editor’s Note: This is a guest editorial. We welcome diverse points-of-view on any manner of topics so long as they are expressed in a civil manner that is suitable for a family publication, is relevant to our audience, and does not require extensive editing. Publication does not imply endorsement. We reserve the right to refuse publication of submissions.

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Ken Hechler, an Inspirational Mountaineer

His life of service to West Virginia is an inspiration for all those seeking justice

By Janet Keating 

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Ken Hechler, front, at a rally to end mountaintop removal outside the headquarters of Massey Energy. Photo by Vivian Stockman.

SLANESVILLE, W.Va. – West Virginia and the nation has lost a true hero and people’s champion. Former Congressman Ken Hechler died at his home in Slanesville on Dec. 10. He was 102.

There are politicians, public servants and then there was Ken Hechler, a man in a class all of his own – military man, historian, educator, politician, activist and, my personal favorite, “hell raiser.” Those who knew him are familiar with his uncompromising commitment to justice and the betterment of all people in West Virginia, but especially for his advocacy of the health and safety of our nation’s coal miners. OVEC (Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition) members may know him best for his passion for democracy and our iconic mountains. As a lifetime member of OVEC, Ken was often a speaker at rallies to end mountaintop removal where he sang  “Almost Level, West Virginia” his parody of the popular John Denver song, “Almost Heaven, West Virginia.”

I came to know Ken in the late 80s during my first-ever plunge into environmental issues as a member of the Huntington Tri-State Audubon Society – working to “save” the Green Bottom wetlands, the third largest wetlands in West Virginia near Huntington, where the pre-Civil War home of General Albert Gallatin Jenkins still stands.  Ken, as a Jenkin’s historian and then Secretary of State of West Virginia, was familiar with Jenkin’s history and so joined with our coalition urging the state and federal government to consider managing the former plantation home, its wetlands and its significant Native American archaeology for a higher use beyond simply a hunting ground.  Not surprisingly, the media portrayed the issue as hunting vs non-hunting (though some folks were very concerned about birds of prey which frequented the area like Bald Eagles as well as the historic Jenkin’s home).

After several years of butting heads with both state and federal agencies, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreed to hold a public hearing where Ken and others faced off.  Despite a room full of several hundred angry, shouting hunters, Ken stood his ground and voiced his concerns. In the end, a reasonable compromise was reached where the wetlands were expanded, the Jenkin’s home underwent renovations (and was managed for a brief time by West Virginia Division of Culture and History), signs were posted to alert hunters to the presence of protected birds of prey and native species were planted to provide wildlife habitat. Undoubtedly, Ken’s involvement garnered greater media attention and raised public awareness to the issue, than we otherwise would have had, a valuable contribution.  Presently, Green Bottom Wildlife Management Area has become a well-known location for bird watching and hunting, although the Jenkin’s home, despite the millions spent on its overhaul, is boarded up and no longer open to the public. Nevertheless, every time I visit Green Bottom, I am thankful that Ken lent his time, energy and “notoriety” to this unique site.

When the issue of mountaintop removal reared its ugly head, Dr. Hechler eagerly joined with community members and environmental activists hoping to end the destructive mining technique.  He was a member of Congress during the catastrophic failure of the Buffalo Creek sludge-dam in 1972 that killed 125 West Virginians, a tragedy which eventually led to the passage of the Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act in 1977 (SMCRA).  This bill, however, continues to be a failed attempt by the state and federal government to regulate surface mining by the coal industry. Ken was greatly concerned when the final version of the bill legitimized mountaintop removal (MTR) which was supposed to be an exception rather than the rule when it came to strip-mining; MTR was only to be used when a flattened mountain provided land for authentic economic development. While coal companies by law are supposed to return the former mountains to “approximate original contour,” unfortunately, states regularly issue permits with variances to that provision. As it turns out, Ken foresaw the destruction that would follow the passage of SMCRA – hundreds of thousands of acres of denuded, flattened mountains along with more than 2,000 miles of annihilated streams and disappeared communities. A favorite phase of Ken’s, “Akin to putting lipstick on a corpse,” was how he referred to strip-mine reclamation.

A notable event in Ken’s effort to stop MTR was his participation in 1999, while WV Secretary of State, in a re-enactment of the historic Miners’ March on Blair Mountain that preceded the 1921 Mine Wars.  In 1997, the West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection had issued what would have been the largest ever mountaintop removal permit in the state.  At risk were not only the mountains and the small community of Blair, but also one of the most historic labor/history sites in the nation, where about 7,000 miners determined to organize a union were met with great resistance and after five days, halted by 3,000 armed “militiamen” organized by Logan County Sheriff Don Chaffin. This was the largest battle on U.S. soil since the Civil War where eventually the U.S. Army and U.S. Army Air Corps were called in.

A courageous Dr. Hechler, 84 at the time, joined the reenactment with a number of others (OVEC’s Laura Forman, Carol Jackson, CRMW’s Judy Bonds, Larry Gibson, Jimmy Weekly, and Cindy Rank to name a few) supported by several organizations including OVEC.  For many people, the application and issuance of a mountaintop removal permit at historic Blair Mountain, which could literally erase the dark history of mining, underscored the sheer arrogance of coal companies as well as the complicity of government agencies. While the reenactors were not met with guns and soldiers, they were, however, harassed every day by miners and others who pelted them with eggs, and much to everyone’s horror, also shoved and kicked Ken.

From a story about the confrontation during the re-enactment by reporter Rick Steelhammer, Ken stated: “I tried to think about Gandhi and Martin Luther King and how they would react. It’s important to retain your cool, but it’s difficult when people begin to wade in and rip up all your signs, throw eggs at the back of your head, grab away your West Virginia flag, and trip and kick you.”

That incident led to warrants and arrests of those who committed violence and eventually landed some people in court, though not in jail.  One of the Logan County perpetrators of the harassment eventually ended up serving in Governor Bob Wise’s administration.  I still smile when I think about Ken holding a sign at a protest that said:  “Kick me and get a job with Bob Wise.” And recently, the D.C. District court upheld the U.S. EPA’s decision to rescind the permit for mountaintop removal on Blair Mountain, another people’s victory in which Ken participated in a major way.

Ken Hechler’s legacy though far-reaching (and incalculable) was also at times very personal.  In particular, his influence on Larry Gibson, another mountain hero, was very special. Ken often traveled with Larry to colleges and universities throughout the country to talk about the impacts of mountaintop removal on land and people of Central Appalachia. Because of Ken’s encouragement, Larry went back to school to improve his reading and writing skills. Having become quite a duo, both Ken and Larry were interviewed by “60 Minute’s” Mike Wallace, who came to West Virginia to produce a segment on mountaintop removal.

Through nearly two decades, Dr. Hechler, admired by so many, continued to answer the call, showing up at events, protests and rallies – the most notable one, a rally and protest at the Marsh Fork Elementary School, in Raleigh County, where he, along with actress Daryl Hannah and NASA climate scientist, James Hansen, were arrested in a non-violent, direct action to draw attention to the great need for a new elementary school.  A massive and dangerous coal waste impoundment loomed above Marsh Fork Elementary School adjacent to a coal silo, a coal processing facility and a mountaintop removal site. Coal River Mountain Watch’s Ed Wiley began urging state officials to build a new elementary school after he picked up his ill grand-daughter who told him, “Granddaddy, this school is making us kids sick.” After 6 years of tenacious organizing and advocacy, a new school was opened where Ken Hechler had,  once again, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with those most impacted.

As someone who was deeply concerned about the state of our country’s democracy, Ken became active in campaign finance reform issues, especially when “Granny D”’s (Doris Haddock) began her epic 3,200 mile journey/walk from California to Washington, D.C. to elevate the need for supporting the federal McCain-Feingold bill. If passed, this legislation would help reduce spending on political campaigns. Ken walked more than 500 miles with Doris who turned 90 years old by the time she arrived in the nation’s Capital. When Doris arrived in Marietta, Ohio, Ken Hechler was on hand to greet and welcome her as she made her way across the Ohio River to Parkersburg, W.Va., to speak to supporters.

In 2006, Granny D and Ken spoke at a regional mountaintop removal summit dubbed “Healing Mountains,” that OVEC and Heartwood (a regional organization that works to protect public lands from abusive practices) organized. Doris and Ken reminded us that if we want to win our issues, we needed to be more inclusive and supportive of people of color.  You may recall that Ken was the only member of Congress that participated with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Civil Rights march in Selma. Union supporter, environmentalist, statesman, writer, historian, teacher, husband, father and add one more label – civil rights activist.

If you still need convincing about what an amazing man that Ken was, he had the most incredible memory of anyone I’ve ever met. My hunch is that Ken spent his remarkable life making really good memories.

Dear Ken, we know that you, of all people, have earned your eternal rest. Well done. You will be sorely missed.

This article originally was published on the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition website. It is reprinted with permission.

Janet Keating is the former Executive Director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (www.ohvec.org) who retired September 2016 after 24 years with the organization. Her latest endeavor, Green Shepherd, LLC, offers consulting and other services to environmental and social justice non-profits.

Is This Fair?

It is time to eliminate the outrageous subsidies and entitlements for the gas industry

By Tom and Becky Berlin 

WESTON, W.Va. – Here is a little something for all you land owners, farmers, small business owners, and tax payers to think about.

If you own a bit of land for a hay meadow, you will be assessed and pay property taxes on your hay meadow.

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A farm in Lewis County, W.Va. Photo by Michael M. Barrick

If you buy a tractor and some equipment so you can harvest your hay, you will be assessed and pay property taxes on your tractor and equipment.

If you build a barn in which to keep your hay and your farm equipment out of the weather, you will be assessed and pay property taxes on your barn.

If you buy a cow to eat your hay and maybe give you a calf to sell, you will be assessed and pay property taxes on your cow.

Other small businesses are in much the same situation. You pay property taxes on your business property, buildings, equipment, and inventory.

If, on the other hand, you are a huge corporation and you build a multimillion dollar piece of profitable infrastructure, like Momentum and Stonewall Gas Gathering LLC and their newly constructed pipeline, you will not be assessed and will not pay a penny of local property taxes on your pipeline. Nothing.

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The Stonewall Gas Gathering line under construction in North Central West Virginia in 2015. The company building it was cited by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection for numerous violations during construction. Photo by Michael M. Barrick

Even worse, the land under which that multimillion dollar pipeline lies has been forever rendered unproductive. Nobody will ever be able to build a house on that land, build a barn, build a farm pond, drill a water well, grow an orchard, grow timber, cut an access road to the other side of your farm, or make any improvements that might interfere with the pipeline company. For every mile of pipeline right of way that Stonewall Gas Gathering has, they have permanently destroyed the utility and value of about 10 acres of land, which will ultimately show up as decreased property value and decreased tax revenue for the county. If you do not think the property value has declined on that land, survey off an acre of that right of way, put it up for sale and see what the market value is now.

Does that seem fair to you? Speak with your elected representatives and candidates and demand that this outrageous subsidy and entitlement be eliminated.

Tom and Becky Berlin are farmers in Weston, W.Va.

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Citizens Encouraged to Request Public Hearings about MVP

West Virginia Department of Environment Protection needs to hear more voices

By John W. Cobb, Jr.

IRELAND, W.Va. – With 11 counties in West Virginia projected to be affected by the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) route should it receive approval, voices from one end of the state to the other must be heard. The West Virginia Department of Environment Protection (WVDEP) needs to hear from citizens while there is still time. The potential impacts to water supplies (aquifers), streams, wetlands and rivers is significant; therefore citizens need to write the WVDEP to request public hearings in the affected counties.

So far, such requests are working.

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Proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline route (in green). Note that it runs from near the Pennsylvania and Ohio state lines in the north to the Virginia state line in the south. Courtesy: FracCheckWV

The WVDEP Division of Water and Waste Management (DWWM) will be extending the public comment period on the State 401 Water Quality Certification for the proposed MVP project until further notice. It takes only a few minutes to send them a letter or email requesting a public hearing in your county so you can learn and get answers to your concerns.

Originally, the public comment period, which is required under state regulation 47CSR5A, would have ended next week, but because of widespread public interest in the proposed project, DWWM will be scheduling public hearings to discuss certification of the proposed project. Information about the dates and locations of those hearings will be made public as soon as plans are finalized.

The WVDEP says they will likely prioritize holding public hearings based on the counties generating the most comments. For now, those are from Greenbrier, Monroe and Summers counties. We need more folks along the MVP Route to respond now. We need to help get the word out to folks further up along the proposed route, including Wetzel, Doddridge, Harrison, Lewis, Braxton, Webster, Nicholas, and Fayette counties. Every citizen along the route needs reasonable access to public hearings. By writing the WVDEP, it will increase the chance that no citizen will be left out.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline is a $3.5 billion project, developed by EQT Corp., and it involves a 42-inch-diameter pipeline that would run 301 miles south from the Equitrans L.P. transmission system near the MarkWest Energy Mobley Complex in Wetzel County to a Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Co. compressor station in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. This project is one of multiple pipeline projects currently under review by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) one of the other projects is the Atlantic Coast Pipeline that will run somewhat parallel and north of the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

When issuing certification, DWWM’s 401 Certification Program may consider the proposed activity’s impact on water resources, fish and wildlife, recreation, critical habitats, wetlands and other natural resources. In its 401 certification application, EQT anticipates that the MVP project will have temporary impacts to approximately 49,892 linear feet of streams and 18.9 acres of wetlands and permanent impacts to approximately 3,125 linear feet of streams and 10 acres of wetlands within the Mountain State.

Comments and information relating to the certification should be emailed to DEP.comments@wv.gov, with “MVP 401 Certification” in the subject line or mailed to:

West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Water and Waste Management

401 Certification Program

601 57th Street SE

Charleston, WV  25304

Responding now with a request for a public hearing in your county will give you and your neighbors a chance to express your concerns to the West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection.

(C) John W. Cobb, Jr., 2016. Mr. Cobb writes from his home in Ireland, W.Va.

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Note: The original version of this article listed 12 counties. The correct number is 11. We regret the error.

Virginia Officials Agree to Demands from Advocacy Group about Pipeline Deliberations

Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition petitioned state official to make public information about pipeline regulatory reviews

MONTEREY, Va. – On May 5, 2016, the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition (DPMC) sent a Petition for Writ of Mandamus and Injunctive Relief to Angela Navarro, Virginia Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources, and David Paylor, Director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to compel the state to provide information about regulatory reviews of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) proposals. The Petition, prepared for filing in the Virginia Circuit Court in Richmond, describes how state officials have violated duties under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The next day, Friday, May 6th, Deputy Secretary Navarro and Director Paylor responded through their counsel, Assistant Attorney General, David Grandis, indicating that they will provide the requested documents early this week.

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Pristine streams such as Mill Creek, in Randolph County, W.Va., would be significantly impacted by construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Photo by Michael M. Barrick.

Before the state indicated it would provide the documents, Rick Webb, DPMC Coordinator, said, “We are disappointed that Virginia’s environmental officials have failed to live up to a law designed to give Virginian’s open access to their own government. Nearly three weeks ago, we asked for public records that would help us and other citizens understand what the State intends to do to protect citizens and the environment from damages the pipelines could cause.” He continued, “Officials are supposed to respond to such information requests within five business days but we received no reply for nearly three weeks. Finally yesterday (May 4) they acknowledged they’d received our letter but did not offer to provide the information we’ve requested.”

The Virginia DEQ has a duty, under the federal Clean Water Act and Virginia Water Protection laws, to review the gas pipeline proposals and ensure that no project goes forward unless all water quality standards will be met, argued Webb. However, as DPMC’s April 14 letter recounts, Virginia DEQ seems to be willing to cover both ACP and MVP under “general permits,” essentially rubber stamping the projects under blanket approvals issued in 2012 and intended only for small projects that pose little risk to waters, Webb argued. DPMC sought public records through the April request to clarify the state’s positions and to question whether the DEQ is able to justify its approach.

The Petition can be accessed here. The FOIA request was included in an April 14th letter, which can be accessed here. The letter objected to the state’s apparent intention to certify the ACP and MVP under general permits issued in 2012. The FOIA request sought information related to the following questions concerning both the ACP and MVP:

1) Has DEQ deemed the Joint Application and/or other information submitted for the projects to be complete and accurate such that DEQ is able to make a formal finding as to the projects’ eligibility for coverage under Virginia’s blanket 401 water quality certification?

2) Has the Corps of Engineers indicated to DEQ that the projects meet the Corps’ requirements for coverage under the general Nationwide Permit 12?

3) Has DEQ made a tentative or final finding that the projects comply with the conditions of the blanket 401 certification for Nationwide Permit 12?

4) Has DEQ requested and/or received additional information from the applicants, in addition to that contained in the Joint Applications, to reveal proposed construction and detailed pollution control methods and analyze possible water quality impacts?

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Meathouse Fork in Doddridge County, W.Va. with heavy sediment resulting from pipeline construction in the summer of 2015. This would be the fate of thousands of miles of watershed should the ACP be built. Photo by Michael M. Barrick.

According to DPMC, this is the second time this year that Virginia officials have violated the Freedom of Information Act after DPMC requested records on the gas pipelines. In an earlier case, Carlos Hopkins, Counsel to Governor McAuliffe, failed to provide records within the required period. On March 4, 2016, David Sligh of DPMC wrote Hopkins: “I believe the Governor’s Office is now in violation of the time requirement for response to FOIA requests, under 37 § 2.2-3704. You informed me that the check sent on behalf of DPMC was received at your office on February 15 or 16. Therefore, the records or an appropriate response should have been sent no later than Feb. 23.”  Less than two hours after receiving Sligh’s note, Mr. Hopkins provided the documents but failed to explain the failure to abide by the law.

“This legal action is about much more than an arbitrary deadline or a technicality,” Rick Webb stated: “It’s about the McAuliffe administration’s respect for the rights of citizens trying to play their proper roles and protect their communities and natural resources. The law says a failure to properly respond to a FOIA request is the same as refusing the request outright. We won’t accept a refusal of our rights.”

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A screen shot from the DPMC”s new interactive web mapping system. This is of blast radius and evacuation zones for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Courtesy DPMC.

New Layers Added to DPMC ACP map, including blast radius and evacuation zones

According to DPMC, additional map layers have been added to the ACP-Environmental Mapping System. Features include:

1) Estimated blast radius and evacuation zone for the proposed ACP.

2) Updated ACP construction corridor and access roads for the 10/30/15 and 4/15/16 submissions to FERC.

3) Direct and core forest loss associated with the proposed ACP construction corridor and access roads.

4) Virginia property parcels.

5) Stream crossings. (Information on crossing methods and environmental factors will be added).

The current version of the ACP-Environmental Mapping system can be accessed via the DPMC website, www.pipelineupdate.org. The link is in the right-hand sidebar.

© Appalachian Chronicle, 2016.

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West Virginia Catholic Diocese Challenged to Reject Coal’s ‘Dirty Money’

The Diocese often remains silent, failing to promote its own teachings on justice and the environment

By Michael J. Iafrate

WHEELING, W.Va.  – During this presidential campaign, a light is being shined on the way corporate and other wealthy donors influence the political process. We have woken up to the fact that money corrupts politics. During this month of the sixth anniversary of the Upper Big Branch disaster, it is important, too, to see the corrupting influence of coal money on our churches.

Michael J Iafrate

Michael J. Iafrate

The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and Bishop Michael Bransfield have been admirably engaged in the work of charity in the state of West Virginia. Yet, they have been, on so many occasions, disappointingly reluctant to speak truthfully about one of the major causes of poverty and ecological wreckage in the region: the coal industry.

For example, the takeaway from the Bishop’s pastoral letter on mine safety, issued after Upper Big Branch, was that the tragedy “raises concerns.” But the coal industry itself says that such accidents “raise concerns.” The death of so many human beings at the hands of a systemically negligent industry should do more than “raise concerns.”

Whether faced with the coal industry’s repeated attempts to cheat retired miners out of their pensions and health care packages or the ongoing devastating stories from communities affected by mountaintop removal mining, the Diocese often remains silent, failing to promote its own teachings on justice and the environment. Even after the release of Pope Francis’ powerful ecological encyclical Laudato Si’, Bransfield downplayed its message for West Virginia, promoting instead the myth of “clean coal.” And the Diocese has yet to make any comments about the dangers of fracking which increasingly affects people in West Virginia. Why is this?

People of faith in Appalachia often suspect that dirty money from the fossil fuel industries compromises the church’s prophetic voice. Pope Francis has spoken about the corrupting influence of “dirty money,” saying, “I think of some benefactors of the Church, who come with an offer for the Church and their offer is the fruit of the blood of people who have been exploited, enslaved with work which was under-payed. I will tell these people to please take back their cheques. The People of God don’t need their dirty money but hearts that are open to the mercy of God.”

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A mountaintop removal site Photo courtesy of Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

We must ask about the relevance of Francis’ words for the church in West Virginia, as it in fact has financial ties to the coal industry. Diocesan officials have stated publicly that the church draws money from unspecified “fossil fuel investments,” but will not disclose any further details about these investments or about its endowment in general, and one of the four lay members of Bransfield’s finance council is a former lobbyist for the National Coal Association. In 2008, according to multiple sources, Bransfield gave the green light to Sacred Heart Parish School in Williamson, W.Va. to accept charitable gifts from former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, including the funding of a brand-new gymnasium for the school, brand new sports equipment, and full scholarships for 12 students for their six-year education.

One would think that after Upper Big Branch the church might be more reluctant to accept any more dirty money from coal barons. Yet, Catholic Charities of West Virginia opened a new facility in Greenbrier County in 2013 funded by a donation from mine owner Jim Justice, whose mines have been cited for hundreds of labor, safety, and environmental violations and for failure to pay various debts and taxes.

People like Justice and Blankenship give monetary gifts to the church to improve their community standing. For precisely this reason, Blankenship’s charitable activity was cited in over one hundred letters to U.S. District Judge Irene Berger asking for more leniency in the lead-up to his sentencing.

Despite its continued economic decline, Big Coal wants a return on their investment in the church. What kind of return are they getting? A diocesan spokesperson told me that the church opposes the abuses of the fossil fuel industries, such as mountaintop removal and the abuse of workers, but that it does so “quietly” because “banging a drum” about it would “not be prudent.” But what is the value of opposition that is not made public?

Such responses suggest that the Diocese is very concerned about how the church’s social justice teachings would be received by powerful industries in West Virginia if we were to preach them strongly and in public. When church leaders consistently accept money from coal barons, the “prudent” approach muzzles any social justice teaching the church might offer in defense of workers or of Earth’s ecological integrity.

The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and Bishop Michael Bransfield have … have been, on so many occasions, disappointingly reluctant to speak truthfully about one of the major causes of poverty and ecological wreckage in the region: the coal industry.”– Michael J. Iafrate

Many West Virginia Catholics would like to see their leaders boldly choose the side of justice and to “let justice speak loudly,” as the Appalachian Catholic bishops put it in their 1975 pastoral letter “This Land is Home to Me.” We do not expect the church to call for an immediate end of the coal industry, even as we transition to more diverse, life-giving economies. But we insist that the church must do better at denouncing—without ambiguity—this industry’s abuses.

Specifically, is it too much to wish that Bransfield condemn mountaintop removal and fracking and to apologize for promoting the lie of clean coal? Shouldn’t he promote clearly the church’s teaching on workers’ rights and oppose the continued attack on those rights that we saw in West Virginia’s recent legislative session, especially in the passing of the Right to Work bill? (The brief, vague diocesan statement issued on the legislation will not do). Might we expect him to join so many others explicitly calling for tougher penalties for those who violate mining regulations?

To do any of this, however, the church must be free of the corrupting influence of the coal industry’s financial gifts. On this anniversary of Upper Big Branch, the Diocese should exercise financial transparency and make a clear commitment to refuse the financial benefits of a destructive, death-dealing industry. As Pope Francis has said, we don’t need their dirty money.

[This is a shorter, edited version of a longer piece first published at Religion Dispatches, April 14, 2016.] 

© Michael J. Iafrate, 2016. 

Michael J. Iafrate writes from Wheeling, W.Va. He is a doctoral candidate in theology at the University of St. Michael’s College (Toronto) and Chair of the Board of Directors of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia. He can be reached at michael.iafrate@gmail.com. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia.

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A Libertarian Response to Two-Party Rule in West Virginia

Candidate for W.Va. Secretary of State offers solutions to the many challenges facing The Mountain State

By John S. Buckley

Editor’s note: John S. Buckley is the Secretary of the Libertarian Party of West Virginia. To ensure that West Virginians (and our many readers outside of West Virginia) are aware of the options available to them outside of the two dominant political parties in this critical election year, we are publishing this response to the views expressed by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin in his State of the State address, as well as the overall impact of two-party rule upon the state’s citizens. Tomblin is a Democrat and the legislature is controlled by Republicans. Earlier, the Mountain Party of West Virginia offered a response, which can be read here. Mr. Buckley is also the Libertarian Party’s candidate for West Virginia Secretary of State. The views expressed are his own). 

John Buckley color

John S. Buckley

MATHIAS, W.Va. – Everyone can reel off a long litany of the woes affecting West Virginia. I think the issues facing our state fall into four, intertwined categories: economy, environment, personal liberty/individual responsibility, and taxes/spending/welfare. In his “State of the State” address, Governor Tomblin highlighted economic development, substance abuse, education, and budget & finance. Here’s a short Libertarian take on the status quo and the path forward. Not everyone is going to agree here. That’s ok, but by talking with each other, we can definitely find some common ground and start working together to solve problems.

The economy

Yes, we need more jobs, better jobs, jobs with a future to enable a hard worker to sustain a family, jobs based on merit, and jobs that reward hard work and personal responsibility. Let’s recognize this reality: the government doesn’t create jobs! It can only take from some people to reward others, that is, robbing Peter to pay Paul. When you read that the governor or the legislature or the government in general “created” jobs, you can be sure that the resources for whatever was “created” was first stolen from others. It’s phony to tout the first without acknowledging who paid the bill. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

The government should instead remove legal impediments to job creation and let the free enterprise system flourish. It’s crony capitalism, however, rather than free enterprise, for the government to pick winners and losers in business. But that’s all too often exactly what Republicans and Democrats propose when they speak of “job creation.” Specialized tax breaks and subsidies reward the insiders; across-the-board tax cuts, on the other hand, unshackle the economy for all businesses and entrepreneurs.

If West Virginia had lower personal income taxes, lower business taxes, lower excise taxes, and lower property taxes than any of our neighboring states, then businesses would stream across the border into our state like the gushing flow at Blackwater Falls. Call it the “invisible hand” of Adam Smith, if you will, but all businesses would benefit, not just the selected few. Sure, a billionaire would-be politician can tout “jobs” when his buddies reward his luxury hotel empire with state subsidies, but that’s not free enterprise, it’s cronyism at its worst. Similarly, if public works can be funded less expensively through “prevailing wage” reform, it benefits all the taxpayers of the state and frees up more funds for roads and bridges (and tax cuts). If the state government would get out of fields of endeavor that it has no business running or subsidizing, like golf courses and conference centers (e.g., Cedar Lakes Conference Center), artists’ retail shops (Tamarack), or greyhound racing, the savings from reduced public spending could enable across-the-board tax reduction. You want jobs, bring it on!

Is everything that’s “pro-business” a good thing when “jobs” are the state’s greatest need? NO. We need free enterprise, not business welfare. It’s certainly pro-business to reduce the business and occupation tax, but if the “home rule” municipality merely shifts the tax burden to the general public through an increase in the regressive sales tax, the tax break for a few increases the tax burden for the many. It would be much better to reduce business taxes in general and reduce government spending accordingly, not merely replace the revenue by upping taxes elsewhere. At the very least, the increase in sales taxes as a result of “home rule” should require a public referendum in a general election.

The environment

On the environment, Libertarians would use the mechanisms of private property law to protect a citizen’s right to the quiet enjoyment of his or her property. Government regulatory regimes invariably succumb to a syndrome called “regulatory capture.” The industry or business regulated has much more time and interest to bend the development, interpretation, or enforcement of such regulations in favor of the business and against the public’s benefit. A Libertarian enforcement of private property rights would preclude the “forced pooling” sought by the oil and gas/fracking industry to bypass pesky private ownership of subterranean mineral rights. Dust, noise, and light pollution ruining your peace of mind from a neighboring fracking site? Property rights protect you (or should). A private pipeline proposed to run across your land? Libertarians aren’t inherently against fossil fuels, but a pipeline isn’t the same as a road or bridge in the community that provides a traceable general benefit to everyone. In fact, we’re always skeptical of the use of eminent domain, and certainly when it’s employed contra to property rights for the benefit of a private company to sell its product hundreds of miles away.

Personal liberty & individual responsibility

West Virginia, like a lot of places, has a drug abuse and addiction problem. The answer is not more government. Sure, West Virginia’s U.S. senators – Joe Manchin and Shelley Capito – think more federal spending in the Mountain State (paid for, I guess, from that bounteous federal surplus?) is just the ticket for them to keep their names in the newspaper. Libertarians believe that prohibition itself creates even worse problems: a black-market that drives up crime, draws in criminal gangs from Detroit to push heroin and meth, etc., militarized police forces that sometimes overdue it with busts on the wrong homes and mistakenly shoot innocent citizens, destabilized countries in Latin America that drives immigrants (legal or not) into the U.S., loss of privacy and civil liberties as judges and prosecutors entertain novel theories of government intrusion, and, worse of all, adulterated products of unknowable potency that contribute to fatal overdoses. Every week or so there is the news of the latest drug bust, with a new record of the dollar value of the illegal drugs seized. Some victory! These headlines have been running for decades. Yes, decades! The U.S. “War on Drugs” is the longest war ever in the history of the country. Its failure is evident and its consequences are monstrous.

If you believe in “lifestyle” liberty, then, yes, some citizens are going to indulge in habits that are unhealthy or sometimes self-destructive. Let’s spend our scarce dollars on treatment and education, not criminalization. Whether it’s raw milk from a goat farm, a Big Gulp soda, medical or recreational marijuana (or worse), taking home a few “growlers” from the nearby brewpub, or a Sunday morning libation at a bed and breakfast, personal liberty has been (used to be?) the American way. Gay people in West Virginia? Yep. The government shouldn’t discriminate in any way, shape, or form. Businesses want customers. If we would: observe property rights, “co-exist,” and live-and-let-live, problem solved. Everybody can get along.

State seal_old goldTaxes, spending and welfare

The flip side of “individual liberty” is personal responsibility. But when the government seeks to protect you from the consequences of your individual choices in life, you never learn to grow up and to act more maturely. Our state motto, “Montani Semper Liberi” (“Mountaineers are Always Free”) reflects an aspiration to freedom. But self-reliance is a casualty of Big Brother/Nanny State government. When it comes to welfare – whether we’re talking business subsidies, food stamps, housing, medical care, and on and on – that kind of cradle-to-grave government security has an insidious effect. Should politicians in Charleston dole out “tourism” funds? Why not let locals keep their money and spend it according to their best interests, rather than have it given out as grants from politicians to gain political favor? Should the government pay for high-speed Internet or let free enterprise provide the service in response to market conditions? If the average citizen weren’t paying too much in taxes and fees or hidden costs to subsidize the excesses of government favoritism (higher gas prices due to ethanol mandates driven by the Iowa corn industry, for example), they’d have much more money in their own pockets to pay for Internet or prescription medications or home repairs or college costs for their kids or savings for retirement. More government programs and spending are but band-aids on the problems created by past government programs and spending. Let’s help our fellow citizens individually and voluntarily, not through income redistribution schemes.

Conclusion

Libertarians are pro-private property, pro-gun rights, pro-free enterprise, pro-lifestyle freedom, pro-small government, pro-religious liberty, pro-taxpayer, pro-people, and pro-liberty in general. That is our prescription for pro-gress in West Virginia.

© Appalachian Chronicle, 2016.

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Libertarian Party of West Virginia

Interview of John Buckley, October 2014

West Virginia Senate Bill 508 Would be a Gift to Energy Industry

So-called ‘Nuisance’ legislation filed after more than 200 state residents living in fracking fields filed nuisance suits against Antero Resources and others

By Michael M. Barrick

WEST UNION, W.Va. – Here in the heart of the Marcellus Shale fracking fields, more than 200 residents determined to protect their health, land and lifestyle, filed suit against Antero Resources and two other energy companies more than a year ago. Tired of intrusions upon their health, land and even ability to sleep at night, the citizens hope to recover compensation for damages that the gas industry has caused in this region of the state from site development and well pad activity; traffic congestion; water use and contamination; air pollution; waste disposal; public health issues; quality of life issues; and, eminent domain abuse.

More and more, it feels like the residents of this state are viewed by ‘our’ representatives in the same dismissive light as any other animals inhabiting the land; that we have no more rights than the deer or groundhogs do.” – Mary Wildfire, a resident of Roane County, W.Va.

While that litigation is currently scheduled for trial in May if the litigants do not reach an out-of-court settlement, the energy industry’s representatives in the West Virginia State Senate aren’t waiting to see what the courts have to say about the impact of the energy industry upon the state’s residents. West Virginia State Senator Ryan Ferns – along with six co-sponsors – has introduced Senate Bill 508, which would severely curtail the criteria for residents to file a nuisance suit against the energy extraction industry. The bill was sent to the Senate Judiciary committee on Feb. 4, the same day it was introduced in the senate.

As stated at the end of the bill, “The purpose of this bill is to establish the standards applicable to the common law claim for private nuisance. The bill lists elements and establishes requirements including the requirement that physical property damage or bodily injury exist before a person can seek damages for a private nuisance. The bill also prohibits private nuisance claims if the activity at issue is conducted pursuant to and in compliance with a permit, license or other approval by a state or federal agency or other entity. The bill also requires a plaintiff to have either an ownership interest or possessory interest in the property at issue to have standing to bring a private nuisance claim.”

Proponents argue that West Virginia is too litigious of a state and this bill will help create a more suitable business climate.

Residents, especially those exposed to the impacts of fracking the past several years, have a different view. They say that the bill, if passed, would severely limit their rights as landowners and provide the energy extraction industry with far too much protection from liability for the damages it causes to people and communities.

Mary Wildfire, of Roane County, argued, “It seems to me that gas companies enjoy quite enough privilege in this state. They can slap a huge well pad on the land we spent years working to earn the money to buy, and more years working to build a house and farm on. Most of us don’t own the mineral rights and have neither any say in this, nor do we derive any benefit. They can make noise and light and fumes sufficient to drive us from our homes for months; they can permanently damage the water we depend on, and we’re supposed to be satisfied with truckloads of water filling outdoor tanks; we can’t get compensation unless we can prove that our water didn’t have the contaminants before drilling, a prospect which not only costs hundreds or thousands of dollars, but is rendered virtually impossible by the fact that the companies don’t even have to tell us what to test for. If our land happens to lie on the path they’ve chosen for a pipeline, they’re entitled to take as much of it as they like for that. If there are risks due to these massive pipelines, that’s our problem.”

She asked, rhetorically, “Is the convenience and profitability of the gas companies the legislature’s only imperative here – or do we who live here matter at all?” Answering her own question, she continued, “More and more, it feels like the residents of this state are viewed by ‘our’ representatives in the same dismissive light as any other animals inhabiting the land; that we have no more rights than the deer or groundhogs do.”

Nancy Bevins, of Uphsur County, said, “It is clear some of the state legislators want to reduce the cost of extraction by transferring damage done by gas drillers and strip miners to the rural folks living in and near these sacrifice zones. I would guess most legislators can afford to live in an area unaffected by such activity. But not everyone has that option, or the desire, ability and funds to move. Can you imagine working your entire life, settling down in your home to finally retire, only to have your neighbor allow a well pad on the border of your property?  Six hundred feet from your home?”

She added, “Residents of our state deserve protection from outside multimillion dollar corporations. What SB 508 does is to revise the definition of a nuisance suit almost out of existence. This bill favors corporations over middle class and poor West Virginia citizens.”

She concluded with the plea to state lawmakers: “Please vote no on SB 508!”

Tom Bond, a farmer in Lewis County, said, “Obviously, this is an intent to take away precisely what common law nuisance was intended to cover. Under the definition in SB 508, if you don’t have grounds for an ordinary lawsuit, you can’t bring a nuisance suit.” He continued, “There would be no way to redress aesthetic values, or rights established by custom or habit. It places persons taking initiatives for short-term private gain over those with long-time established interests. It also favors those who would violate legal prohibitions against actions that might injure people in the neighborhood or downstream or downwind.  In other words, it advances a ‘cowboy’ attitude in those doing business other than the usual business in an area.”

John Cobb, also of Lewis County, offered, “Among the most basic and fundamental rights we enjoy are property ownership and the ability to be safe, secure and comfortable in our homes. For hundreds of families whose homes are near the Marcellus Shale and other shale drilling activities, compressor stations and the roads to these sites, they can no longer enjoy their homes or their land.  Rather that protect the rights of these families, proposed SB 508 strips them of those rights.”

He continued, “You have the right to do what you want on your own property, so long as it does not interfere with the rights of your neighbors and others in the community to enjoy their property. If your activities affect others, they can hold you accountable under nuisance law for violating their private property rights. Nuisance occurs when activity on one property interferes with the enjoyment and use of your property, but no physical trespass or invasion to your property occurs. ‘Nuisances’ don’t stop at the property line. The law of nuisance recognizes that real injuries exist even when the activities do not cause injury to people or property.”

Bond, who is also a retired chemist, observed that legislation designed to benefit the extraction industry ignores economic realities. He said, “Coal is a walking corpse, producing lots of money for a very few and a few jobs, is on the way down. Its waste condemns it to ‘least desirable’ position among familiar fuels, and, in spite of what little regulation the state forces on it, converts thousands of acres of West Virginia to wasteland each year. At least three major coal companies are bankrupt.”

He added, “Unconventional gas and oil drilling are wobbling like a drunken sailor. At best it is a ‘transition fuel’ to renewable sources of energy, and money has been spent, and continues to be spent, like the sailor did while becoming drunk. People in the discovery and production end of the business enjoy bright hope, but have high cost of production, transportation and liquefaction, and ignore huge supplies near the big markets, Europe and China.

Bond concluded, “It is clear some of the state legislators want to reduce cost of extraction by transferring damage done by frackers and strippers to the rural folks living in and near these sacrifice zones. They can’t conceive of any way to improve life in West Virginia other than knuckling down to coal, oil and gas interests, and this new initiative is about the only advantage they can confer, since laws and enforcement are already so favorable to those interests. “

© Michael M. Barrick, 2016

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SB 508 sponsors and contact information

Ryan Ferns, a Republican from Ohio County, is the bill’s primary sponsor. Information about Ferns and the co-sponsors are listed below.

  • Ryan Ferns, (R), Ohio County, represents Senate District 1, which includes most of the state’s northern panhandle. He is chair of the Health and Human Resources and Labor committees. Email: ryan.ferns@wvsenate.gov
  • Ron Stollings, (D), Boone County, represents Senate District 7, in the southwestern coal fields. He serves on the Health and Human Resources committee. Email: ron.stollings@wvsenate.gov
  • Art Kirkendoll, (D), Logan County, represents Senate District 7 with Stollings. He is on the Energy, Industry and Mining committee. Email: art.kirkendoll@wvsenate.gov
  • Craig Blair, (R), Berkeley County, represents Senate District 15, which includes much of the eastern panhandle. He is Vice-Chair, Energy, Industry and Mining committee. Email: craig@craigblair.com
  • Mitch Carmichael, (R), Jackson County and Majority leader, represents Senate District 4, which includes counties in shale fields of central West Virginia near the Ohio River. Email: Mitch.Carmichael@wvsenate.gov
  • Jeff Mullins, (R), Raleigh County, represents Senate District 9, which includes southern coalfield counties. He, too, sits on the Energy, Industry and Mining committee. Email: jeff.mullins@wvsenate.gov
  • Corey Palumbo, (D), Kanawha County, represents Senate District 17, which includes portions of Kanawha County, which is home to the state capital of Charleston. He is on the Health and Human Resources committee. Email: corey.palumbo@wvsenate.gov

 

Related Articles:

A Dirty Dozen Reasons to Oppose Fracking

W.Va. shale fields fertile ground for nuisance lawsuits (Energy Wire)

Citing Medical Studies, Activists Call for End to Mountaintop Removal Permits

Fracking Poses Threat to Public Health, Say Experts

 

Related Links:

West Virginia Senate Bill 508

Petition to Oppose SB 508

WV Senate Districts Map

Recent Coal Mining Deaths are Acts of Greed, Not ‘Acts of God’

Energy industry misuses the name of God for all things deadly and destructive it causes

By Michael M. Barrick

“You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain. For the Lord will not leave unpunished him who takes his name in vain” (Exodus 20:7).

LENOIR, N.C. – The deaths of three coal miners in the central Appalachian coal fields in just the first three weeks of January has led the United States Mine Safety and Health Administration (MHSA) to issue a Call to Safety to coal operators and miners. Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Joseph A. Main recently issued that call, asserting, “This recent rash of fatal accidents is a WAKE UP CALL to the nation’s miners to take notice and take care of themselves.”

He added, “ … the Mine Safety and Health Administration plans to ramp up its targeted enforcement, education and outreach efforts to respond to the troubling number of mining fatalities that have occurred so far this year. Today, MSHA widely disseminated to industry stakeholders an alert on these deaths, emphasizing the need for continued vigilance in miner safety and health.”

The three deaths have occurred in underground mines in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky.

Attributing things to God that God has nothing to do with and wants nothing to do with is misusing the name of the Lord.” – Michael Iafrate with the Catholic Committee of Appalachia

Dead miners are more than statistics

It might be easy to dismiss these deaths as mere statistics since MSHA does not list the miners’ names in the MSHA news release, but that would be a disservice to their work and the loss felt by their families, friends and communities.

In Clear Fork, W.Va., the family and friends of Peter “Pete” D. Sprouse know the pain and loss suffered by thousands before them. The 53-year-old miner died on Jan. 4 when he became entangled in a moving underground conveyer at the Lower War Eagle mine in Wyoming County, in the state’s southern coalfields. The mine is owned by Coronado Coal, LLC. According to a newspaper report of his passing, Sprouse leaves behind a wife of 33 years, two children and their spouses, four grandsons, seven siblings and other relatives and friends. He also leaves behind a zest for life that included riding motorcycles and boating.

Less than two weeks later, on Jan. 16, Jeremy R. Neice, 31, of Danville, W.Va. died in a mining accident in Greene County, Pa. He was working in the 4 West Mine owned by GenPower Holdings, LP. Neice, who is seen smiling as he leans against his truck in a photograph from his Facebook page, was the second fatality in that mine in just six months. In July 2015, John M. Kelly, 55 of Albright, W.Va. died in an accident.

Just three days after Neice died in Pennsylvania, Nathan G. Phillips, 36, of White Plains, Ky., died at Dotiki Mine in Webster County, in the western region of the state. That mine is owned by Alliance Resource Partners, LP.

How many lives have been forever changed by the passing of these men? These deaths – like all of those before them in the coalfields of Appalachia – cast shadows that can last generations. Four little boys will never again sit on their grandfather’s lap; a young man will never get to enjoy a day in the woods with his buddies, and now his buddies will only be able to toast his memory; the sunrises and sunsets of western Kentucky will now be absent a soul dear to family and friends.

The ‘Act of God’ defense

While coal operators have expressed the customary sympathy to the families, that doesn’t mean that the coal industry – and indeed the entire energy extraction industry – will quit misusing the name of God in the event of such tragedies. The claim that such deaths are “An Act of God” is as old as the industry itself, and has been an excuse offered by the likes of Don Blankenship for recent disasters such at the Upper Big Branch disaster in 2010 that killed 29 miners.

Now operators might say that, in these three cases, they have expressed condolences and are conducting safety reviews. Of course they’re doing the latter; it is required of them. As for the condolences, that is what PR departments are for. None of this changes the fundamental truth, however, that it is the attitude of energy industry officials that they exercise a sort of “divine right” dominion over Appalachia’s land and people.

Whatever industry officials might say, these recent coal mining deaths are not “Acts of God.” Rather, they are acts of greed by coal operators, desperately compromising worker safety because they’ve invested in a commodity that is outdated.

Now, it might seem unfair to hold businessmen to a biblical standard. They’re not preachers after all. Yet, it is clear these industry officials believe in God – as Blankenship has proven. He is not alone. Gas companies blame cancer deaths and other health problems in the fracking fields on God. I have read such documents addressed to families where they refer to “Acts of God” as causing death and destruction for which the industry is clearly responsible. There is no question that the industry does not hesitate to use God to justify their greed. Last year, Executive Director Corky DeMarco of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association said, “God didn’t want us to be farmers, or this place would look like Kansas. God put us here in these mountains that are 450 million years old with the best coal in the world and the most natural gas in the world. And we have a responsibility, and I think companies like Dominion and others have seized on the opportunities that these mountains have provided and will continue to do this.” (Read the full story here).

In short, from their own mouths, we hear that industry officials believe in God – when it is convenient. So, it would be beneficial for them to reflect upon Exodus 20:7, which says, “You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain. For the Lord will not leave unpunished him who takes his name in vain.” If industry leaders were honest with themselves and with us, and would accept their responsibility rather than hiding behind the “Act of God” hoax, there would be far less death and destruction in Appalachia.

Indeed, in “The Telling Takes Us Home: Taking Our Place in the Stories that Shape us,” a recently-released “People’s Pastoral” by the Catholic Committee of Appalachia, the document’s author, Michael Iafrate, alluded to stories told by coalfield residents of death and destruction, and observed, “These tragedies and others, deemed ‘acts of God’ by industry, are fresh in our mind in Appalachia.”

Asked if he thought that calling man-made tragedies “Acts of God” was a misuse of Scripture, Iafrate answered, “Yes.” He continued, “It is a more direct violation than when we think of swearing for example. Attributing things to God that God has nothing to do with and wants nothing to do with is misusing the name of the Lord.”

In the “Call to Safety,” MSHA Director Main concluded, “In light of current market conditions, we all need to be mindful that safety and health protections necessary to protect our nation’s miners need to be in place every day at every coal mine in the country. All miners deserve to work their shifts and return home at the end of the day, safe and healthy.”

Theological arguments aside, it would seem that everyone could agree with his statement. However, based on the first three weeks of January, it seems pretty clear that coal operators will dismiss it. As these tragedies continue, Blankenship and his ilk will continue to blame God. It’s worked for them for a century, so why stop now?

© Michael M. Barrick, 2016

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Catholic Committee of Appalachia

Mountain Party of West Virginia Offers Response to Governor’s ‘State of the State’ Address

Community protection, transition from old failing economy and supporting renewable energy among the aims of Mountain Party

By Elise Keaton

Editor’s note: Elise Keaton is the State Executive Chair for the Mountain Party of West Virginia. To ensure that West Virginians are aware of the options available to them outside of the two dominant political parties in this critical election year, we are publishing this response to the State of the State address by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat. The Libertarian Party has also been invited to submit a response.

SALEM, W.Va. – We know our history and we understand our present struggles in this state.  Our miners continue to give their lives so that others can consume “cheap electricity.” We’ve literally given billions of gallons of our valuable clean water so that the oil and gas industry can force fossil fuels from the ground. We’ve lost our lands, our communities and our peace of mind for the sake of “profit” which escapes our state in railroad cars and in pipelines. And when the global markets decrease consumption of our precious resources, our men and women lose their jobs and their livelihoods.

In spite of this loss, we’ve never lost understanding of our worth. We know that there is a more prosperous future for our communities, our economy and our state, if we so choose.

 … we value much more than the minerals that lie beneath these ancient hills and the businesses here to extract them … the Mountain Party of West Virginia continues to fight to protect the true bounty of our state: our mountain people.”

We must begin by recognizing that out of state interests have disproportionate amounts of control over our state policies. Organizations like ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) are influencing policies in our state with complete disregard for the impact on our local communities. At the same time, gas corporations are lobbying to take our private property through forced pooling legislation; lobbying to take what our mineral owners refuse to give.

In his last State of the State address we heard Governor Tomblin claim to “put West Virginia first” with 250 companies coming into our state, but fail to address why our workers’ wages remain stagnant. So who is benefiting from this “growth” in economic activity?  Our state population continues to decline as counties with increased oil and gas production lose the most. Current policies have created a strong “business climate” but what about our natural environment? The last “overhaul” of horizontal gas well drilling regulations was in 2011 and since then we’ve seen our friends and neighbors literally fall ill as a result of gas production in their communities. Overall, our cancer rates and mortality rates are the highest in the country.

Supporting our miners as global consumption of coal decreases means expanding opportunities beyond fossil fuels. The solar industry added more jobs than any other sector in 2015, yet our state leaders continue to stand in the way of expanding this growth into our state. Along with broadening renewable industry in the state, our workforce deserves a prevailing wage for their labor. It is impossible to stimulate the economy when our working families are struggling just to make ends meet. We must also address the influx of out of state workers brought in by the oil and gas industry while our local workers struggle with unemployment. And if West Virginia already has the “best business tax climate Index in the region,” why is so called “Right to Work” legislation necessary?  Governor Tomblin failed to mention that particular piece of pending legislation as hundreds of opponents of the bill watched him speak.

Citing “a lack of flat land” for industrial development, Governor Tomblin continues to ignore the value of our geography which, when protected, creates trillions of gallon of clean water every year. Few can deny that our next wars will be over water, yet we continue to compromise our valuable water resources in West Virginia. Instead of using mountaintop removal landscapes as an economic caveat, we should be asking and providing answers as to why these sites weren’t developed years ago, as promised during the permitting process?

We heard Governor Tomblin advocate for the removal of severance taxes from coal and gas while raising taxes on telecommunications use which would once again aim to balance the state budget on the backs of working West Virginians. Asking the oil and gas industry to simply pay a fraction of a cent for each gallon of water they pull from our streams and rivers would create hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for counties and the state. Currently they pay nothing for the water they take. And the second anniversary of the largest contamination of a public water source – the Elk River chemical leak which left 300,000 West Virginians without drinking water for weeks in 2014 – was not mentioned.

The most direct and immediate way West Virginia can address our prescription pill problems is by following the lead of other states which have used medical marijuana to cut prescription pill overdoses by up to 25 percent. These same states have also brought in hundreds of millions in revenue and have seen crime rates dramatically decrease.

In his address, Governor Tomblin advocated for hundreds of miles of expanded oil and gas export pipelines. Instead of promoting these devastating projects which are largely opposed by local communities, we should protect and expand our local water production and tourism industries in the counties in the southeastern part of the state which are growing in population and thriving.

As the Mountain Party and as mountain people we value much more than the minerals that lie beneath these ancient hills and the businesses here to extract them. West Virginia has been called the crown gem of Appalachia and the Mountain Party of West Virginia continues to fight to protect the true bounty of our state: our mountain people.

© Mountain Party of West Virginia, 2016.  

Related Links

Mountain Party of West Virginia

Governor Tomblin State of State Address

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