Gazette editorial: Gas drillers favored at expense of WV residents

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?

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