Freedom to speak honestly

There’s something to be said for politicians who know the weight of worrying about getting re-elected has lifted.

House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, announced last year he does not plan to run again. Among the frustrations he expressed at the time was the degree to which outside money had gained influence while leaders in Charleston talked a lot about what really could make a difference for West Virginia, but did little.

Last week, Miley spoke to members of the West Virginia Press Association for our annual gathering at the halfway point of the legislative session. He noted it would likely be his last time addressing us. Once he did, you could have heard a pin drop among a group of folks who are normally not shy about murmuring to each other as we scratch down some notes.

He talked about West Virginians being honest with themselves, in a way that has nothing to do with reds or blues, Rs or Ds; but in a way that leads us all toward a shared vision of where we are going and inspires others look ahead, not backward.

“For far too long we have doubled down on an industry that’s been dying for a long time,” said.

I have to agree with him that our political leaders’ failure to stand up for options that will diversify our economy has done a great deal of harm. The hopelessness and despair that fueled our substance abuse crisis? How much of that was borne out of joblessness, economic struggles, isolation and the poor health that comes from breaking your body slowly over years of work keeping the lights on?

But Miley is among a group of lawmakers who want to turn that tide. A bi-partisan group of lawmakers, let me be clear.

Del. Bill Anderson, R-Wood, is lead sponsor of House Bill 4562, which more than one legislator referred to as “the solar bill” in conversation. Co-sponsors are Dels. John Kelly, R-Wood; Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan; House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay; Dels. Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia; Rodney Miller, D-Boone; Ed Evans, D-McDowell; Joshua Higginbotham, R-Putnam; Steve Westfall, R-Jackson; Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson; and Miley.

Do you see that? Rs and Ds, Eastern Panhandle and southern coalfields, young and … more experienced — all of them willing to put their names on a bill that “finds and declares that …

“Businesses that may otherwise locate or expand facilities in this state often require that a portion of the state’s electricity be generated via renewable sources;

“Creating a program for the development of certain renewable sources of electricity by electric utilities will result in increased economic development opportunities in the state, create jobs and enhance the use of the state’s electricity generation; and

“Creating a program to authorize electric utilities to provide a portion of the state’s electricity needs through a process that allows them to plan, design, construct, purchase, own and operate renewable electric generating facilities, energy storage resources, or both, pursuant to this section is in the public interest of the state.”

As Kelly explained, there are companies coming to Secretary of Commerce Ed Gaunch and asking whether West Virginia has renewable sources of energy available. It’s one of the boxes that gets checked (or not) when they are talking about where to establish or grow their businesses.

This bill, as Hanshaw put it, simply makes “the opportunity available for companies that want to purchase solar energy in our state.”

It doesn’t compete with coal, oil or natural gas — those won’t go away in West Virginia — but it would let employers know it is important to us to make renewables an option, too.

Miley seemed to feel freer to talk about the challenges the bill might face, given the degree to which some in Charleston are beholden to King Coal.

“If you’re in theory ‘against coal,’ then you run in fear,” Miley said.

We all knew that already, but hearing it laid so bare was jolting. Miley didn’t stop there.

“People don’t want to naturally move out of their comfort zones,” he said. “We have to help show them that staying in their comfort zones is going to ultimately be more painful.

“If we want to be on the list of attractive (to employers) states, we need to get that done,” he said.

It seems unbelievable that anyone who is being honest with themselves about the facts facing West Virginia would object to a bill that does nothing more than make it easier to provide an option that both diversifies our energy and economic portfolios and makes the state more attractive to new employers. But there is plenty of resistance, from all the predictable places — you know, the ones more interested in holding on to their own “power” than in empowering their constituents.

Keep an eye on this one, folks. Watch who objects to it, and why.

Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at cmyer@newsandsentinel.com


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