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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

 

environmental protection.

 

 

One of West Virginia's gubernatorial candidates promises that he

 

will "streamline and simplify" the environmental permitting

 

process.

 

 

"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

 

together."

 

 

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

 

Environmental Protection.

 

 

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

 

County.

 

 

Underwood bought a small part of the canyon from timber operator John

 

Crites.

 

 

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

 

  • egotiate with the owner in such a way that he will sell it. The state 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

     

    West Virginia.

     

     

    In the "Issues" section of his campaign Web site, Underwood

     

    mentions the environment only twice: An entry under the "Jobs" section

     

  • ays that the governor is, "Saving our jobs - fighting economic
  •  

    devastation of new federal air regulations." Under the "Technology"

     

  • ection, the Web site touts the Division of Environmental
  •  

    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

     

    communities.

     

     

    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

     

    mountaintop removal.

     

     

    "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

     

    corporation.

     

     

    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

     

  • ponsored a bill to weaken the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.
  •  

     

    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

     

  • ugar plantations that pollute the Everglades.
  •  

     

    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

     

    completed."

     

     

    Throughout the 1990s, Wise also supported construction of a pulp and

     

    paper mill proposed for Apple Grove in Mason County. Environmentalists

     

  • aid the mill would pollute the Ohio River and clearcut the state's
  •  

    forests.

     

     

    Underwood administration

     

     

    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

     

  • tate Division of Forestry, and did nothing to beef up regulation of the
  •  

  • tate's growing timber industry. Underwood also drew protests when he
  •  

    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

     

    two things.

     

     

    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

     

    both."

     

     

    Earlier this year, Underwood signed into law bills that reformed the

     

  • tate's quarry regulations and provided increased protections for Kanawha
  •  

    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

     

  • low to offer a detailed plan. But the state Division of Highways, funded
  •  

    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

     

  • aid at the time. Wise said that a moratorium would be "the only
  •  

    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

     

    operations.

     

     

    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

     

    other way."

     

     

    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

     

  • upport."
  •  

     

    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

     

  • upporting the so-called "mitigation bill" in 1998. This state legislation
  •  

    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

     

    Gazette.

     

     

     

     

     

    To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., use e-mail or call 348-1702.

     

     


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