This is the first in an occasional series analyzing the issues
, records and platforms of the candidates
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
"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.