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Seeing what’s at stake

Last week, during the nomination hearing for Brenda Mallory as chair of the Council on Environmental Quality and Janet McCabe as deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Sen. Shelley Capito, R-W.Va., reached back a few years to ask some pointed questions.

To McCabe: “You might recall, Ms. McCabe, that you testified before the committee in 2015 when you were at EPA, and I asked you then why–with such a far reaching agenda as the Clean Power Plan–why you were not holding a public hearing in my state of West Virginia which is deeply impacted by this. And you said at the time ‘We wanted to have those meetings in locations where people were comfortable coming.'”

To Mallory: “you gave an example from your private federal service in a webinar in 2019. And the quote you have was, ‘The question was whether I should be sent to a meeting in West Virginia because you know how the boys are in West Virginia.’ And then you talked about a perception among higher levels of government leadership that the people in West Virginia were ‘rough and tumble.’ You stated, ‘This was coming from two levels above me and my direct supervisor was like ‘I’m not comfortable with those people.”‘ You can image how that hits you being a native West Virginian myself, and also these policies that you all are going to be putting forward and coordinating are going to have deep impacts on the 1.8 million people living in my state.”

Let’s pause to be fair to McCabe and Mallory, as many West Virginians are just as guilty of making generalized, disparaging assumptions about, say, New York or California, that would prevent them from enjoying a visit to those states. The difference is most do so in private; and with the exception of some of our own elected officials who wield the word “California” like a weapon, their conversation does not affect energy policy.

Surely Mallory and McCabe understand why many Mountain State residents have been given the impression federal environmental officials don’t deserve a warm welcome. In the real world, when faced with that kind of challenge, those who truly believe their mission is what is best for everyone also carry the burden of understanding how to work with those who believe they will be cast aside if that mission is successful.

Apparently, in Washington, D.C., folks have been led to believe their mission gives them the right to ignore/avoid the humans living in the environment they say they want to save.

To their credit, both Mallory and McCabe said they would visit West Virginia. I hope they do.

I hope they have learned something in the years since those comments were made. If they visit with genuinely open minds, they will meet not a rough and tumble people, but people struggling between tradition and transition. West Virginians know our economy must diversify. We are surrounded by mountains, woods and rivers so dear they define us … and poverty so profound it leaves those in its clutches no room to worry about more than whether they will get that next paycheck.

Those in federal positions such as Mallory’s and McCabe’s SHOULD visit. They should see what is at stake for those who don’t see hope for a financial future without the industries that have sustained them for generations. And they should come armed with resources and ideas to assure there is a true transition to a diversified economy and healthier environment.

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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