Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
The Exponent Telegram of Clarksburg on Gov. Justice's road plan:
It's a problem that has been studied, discussed and debated for far too long. And it's one that plays directly into the state's current — and future — budget difficulties.
We're, of course, talking about the state's crumbling highways and bridges.
For at least 10 years, if not longer, the state's funding of highways tracked the path of the economy — both falling on hard times.
But the realization has to be that without proper highways and bridges, as well as other forms of infrastructure, the state lacks the inducements to land new companies or convince current ones to expand.
It's a circular effect, and a vicious one at that, as the state's lack of money leads to poor roads, which leads to the state's economy remaining in the tank.
So in that regard, we welcomed Gov. Jim Justice and his bold, business-building ideas.
And while much of his State of the State address left us wondering what happened to his campaign talk of finding ways to cut the budget, his plans to raise revenue to pay for road bonds makes good sense.
West Virginia, and for that matter, few states, can afford the massive amount of funding it takes to build new highways and bridges. And with federal funding available for just a few projects, finding enough money even in good budget years is never easy.
So Justice's idea of increasing Department of Motor Vehicle fees, raising the gasoline tax and increasing the tolls on the W.Va. Turnpike are all good business decisions. The state would then use that money as a way to pay off road bonds, which are a form of financing for government projects.
This would allow the state to move more quickly in addressing many stretches of highway that are in need of repair or replacement. There's talk of spending $1 billion, leading to the creation of 25,000 jobs.
Such an undertaking would go a long way toward reversing the state's fortunes. It would provide jobs immediately, while also putting in place better selling tools for Justice and Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher to use to lure more businesses here.
And the improved infrastructure would benefit current residents — with better, safer roadways.
Of course, all of this has a cost. But is often the case, we're seeing it as a "you can pay me now or pay me later" type scenario.
Our roads and bridges are in bad shape. Many are safety hazards. And they are definite deterrents to economic development.
While some of his budget doesn't make much sense, Gov. Justice's road plan deserves legislative support.
The Parkersburg News and Sentinel on Gov. Justice's recent comments about the Department of Environmental Protection:
During his State of the State speech last week, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice bemoaned the appearance of Department of Environmental Protection inspectors, complaining "they show up with a T-shirt on and an old pair of jeans and they maybe haven't shaved in forever. And they got a badge in their pocket." But more than simply a comment on fashion, Justice's remark was designed to undercut an agency he says serves as nothing but an obstacle to business.
"So many times our regulatory agencies absolutely, no matter what on earth we try to do, they're there to tell you 'no,'" he said. "They're not there to tell us 'no.'"
Federal regulators timed the release of results from a three-year investigation, almost as a reaction to that remark. It appears the federal government does not believe the DEP says "no" often enough.
Department of Interior's Office of Surface Mining Reclamation Enforcement investigators determined the DEP has exhibited a lack of proper water quality monitoring, poor oversight of reclamation standards and inconsistent efforts to ensure mountaintop removal does not cause localized flooding, among other concerns.
Mine inspectors are allegedly not collecting water pollution samples, even at mines that have been repeat violators.
After Justice's jab, Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association and Charlie Burd, president of the West Virginia Independent Oil and Gas Association joined other industry leaders in distancing themselves from the remarks. Most of them described cooperative, professional relationships with a DEP that, to use Burd's words, "implemented fairly the rules that apply to our agency."
But most of them are not in the position Justice was in last year, when his Southern Coal Corp. was dinged for $900,000 in fines and $5 million for environmental improvement measures from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; after the DEP had also taken state-level enforcement action against the company.
Justice may regret telling a group of inspectors and an agency that has clearly tried to be more flexible than their federal counterparts that he wants them whipped into shape.
Enforcement of laws that keep our environment and our workers as safe as possible is as necessary as DEP's responsibility to be a partner, rather than an obstacle. Certainly, Justice's words gave them little incentive to, as he is hoping, stand aside and say "we're going to try with all in us to do what you want to do."
The Charleston Gazette-Mail on gas drilling in the state:
As promised, Gov. Jim Justice is saying yes to business, at least certain kinds of businesses. In this case, the oil and gas industry.
Justice's Department of Environmental Protection deleted language from permits intended to protect people from excessive noise and bright lights from compressor stations and other facilities associated with natural gas drilling.
"We feel completely ambushed," Julie Archer, project manager for the West Virginia Surface Owners' Rights Organization, said. "Eliminating these provisions is a huge disservice to those living near these facilities, and it's shameful that we are going to allow their lives, health and property to be ruined simply because the industry doesn't want to put adequate protections in place."
Under Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, the DEP had successfully defended an industry legal challenge. Gas drillers complained that the DEP couldn't tell them how much noise and light pollution was allowed, and it is too hard to comply.
The way former DEP Secretary Randy Huffman characterized these kinds of questions is instructive. Sure, there is a certain amount of subjectivity in gauging how one affects the neighbors. "I tell my folks there's an easy standard here," Huffman said before leaving the job last month. "The easiest one is to say if you lived in that house, how would you do it? Use your mother, if your mother lived in that house."
That's a pretty good standard. Very Golden Rule.
Justice and his DEP secretary, Austin Caperton, by contrast, don't seem to know what the agency is for. They think they still work for the industry. They have not figured out that they are regulators, that they have been elevated by the public to protect the public's interest. The light and noise pollution protection included in those permits was a small, but very welcome, acknowledgment of some of the problems homeowners face in the gas drilling regions.
Even that tiny measure of relief was apparently too much for this secretive administration. First, the DEP replaced its environmental advocate — a legislatively created position to give individual residents a way to communicate and interact with their environmental protectors. Now this.
West Virginians have co-existed, often painfully, with the fossil fuel industry for a long time. Experience teaches that there must be protections enforced. Residents and other business owners cannot trust the corporations to be good neighbors.
In a time when climate change becomes constantly more evident and the predictions more dire, natural gas is considered by some as a "bridge fuel" — a way to get the nation over to renewable energy sources. It will need to be a short bridge if the United States is ever going to get serious about battling climate change. But, in the meantime, the gas is flowing. Why not require the work to be done in a responsible manner that respects the people who live and work nearby?
Why not require those benefiting from the latest extraction boom to do it in a way that leaves something for others, and for the future, in clean air and water, certainly, but also in property value and quality of life?
Why shouldn't West Virginians have something left when the boom is over and the drillers have packed up and moved on? Does Gov. Justice believe that West Virginians living in these regions don't deserve such consideration?