Energy balance: Why did W.Va. Sen. Joe Manchin hold a one-sided ‘stakeholders’ meeting?

July 18, 2014 by Ken Ward Jr.

Rally For Coal

Perhaps you didn’t catch one of the latest press released from the office of Sen. Joe Manchin.  I thought it was pretty interesting. The headline said, “Manchin hosts energy roundtable with WV stakeholders in Charleston.”  The release explained:

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) today hosted an energy roundtable with West Virginia state leaders in the coal, gas and utility sectors, as well as state government officials and education representatives. Senator Manchin met with representatives from nearly twenty industry officials and organizations to discuss the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new proposed greenhouse gas rule for existing power plants, update participants on his ongoing efforts to find a balance between economic and environmental concerns, and hear from energy leaders across West Virginia.

That’s right … “find a balance between economic and environmental concerns.”  We all know that Sen. Manchin is never, ever happier than when he’s finding a balance of some sort — bringing together people of different views and, through his own power of personality, getting them to work together. Right? Sure … just look at what he says in that press release:

We need the EPA to develop commonsense solutions that strike a balance between a prosperous economy and a cleaner environment.

Well, if that’s the case, then surely Sen. Manchin’s “stakeholders” meeting included representatives of a wide variety of groups, right? There must have been some environmental groups there, or folks from citizen organizations who are concerned about coal’s impacts on our global climate and our local environment and public health …

If you thought that, you’d be wrong.

I asked Manchin’s office about this, and spokesman Jonathan Kott told he would check into the attendance list, but added:

… This was an energy discussion and only energy groups were in attendance.

After he checked into it, Jonathan told me:

There were no environmental groups invited to the meeting. Senator Manchin wanted to speak directly with coal, gas and utility leaders to hear their views and concerns about the proposed greenhouse gas rule.

Jonathan noted that Sen. Manchin has encouraged West Virginians to submit public comments to EPA about the federal agency’s rule to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. He said the senator “has also recently met with environmental leaders on a variety of topics including the water situation and he will continue to have meetings will all groups.” I asked for some examples of those recent meetings, but I never heard back from Manchin’s office.

So it turns out that Sen. Manchin’s idea of a “stakeholder” meeting is really little different from the sort of meeting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and his staff had in mind when they were crafting their version of a chemical storage tank bill following the Freedom Industries spill: Get together the usual suspects from your industry lobbyist friends. No need to listen to a broad range of views or try to hear from those you might disagree with, or who might challenge your own thinking.

In some ways, Sen. Manchin’s move here is kind of surprising. As noted in the comments section of this Coal Tattoo post (about Gov. Tomblin avoiding meetings with citizen groups), Sen. Manchin would often meet with environmental groups when he was governor, even coming out to talk to protesters who turned up in his office at the Capitol. In the end, though, it’s hard to imagine how Sen. Manchin can ever find the “balance” he claims to seek if he only hears from one side of the argument.

2 Responses to “Energy balance: Why did W.Va. Sen. Joe Manchin hold a one-sided ‘stakeholders’ meeting?”

  1. Bo Webb says:

    Let me explain how a non industry stakeholders meeting goes with Joe Manchin. After a year of requesting a meeting with Senator Manchin to discuss the human health disaster linked to mountaintop removal I was finally granted a meeting with him last September. I traveled to Washington DC feeling a bit hopeful, as I was finally going to have the opportunity to sit down with the Senator to talk about peer reviewed health science linking mountaintop removal to elevated rates of cancer, escalating birth defects and other health disparities specific to mountaintop removal communities. I arrived 5 minutes before our scheduled meeting. One of his aides came out to greet me and took me into a conference room where we would have our meeting. Another staffer joined and we chatted while waiting for the Senator. I had asked for a private meeting with the Senator and assumed these two staffers would leave the room once the Senator arrived, and that should be at any moment, or so I thought. Ten minutes went by. There wasn’t much left for small talk and I waited patiently as they apologized for the Senator’s tardiness. Another five to ten minutes of chit chat with the aides and finally the Senator walked into the room. He did apologize for being late, but of course anyone would. He sat down directly across from me and said, (paraphrasing) so how do you people feel about the King Coal Highway? You people? He said you people? I politely answered that I wasn’t there to discuss the King Coal Highway, I was there to discuss mountaintop removal and its ill health effects on our citizens in MTR communities. Blank stare from Manchin. I began to tell him about the latest health research from the scientists at Unites States Geological Survey. Within 30 seconds of me saying USGS the door opened and someone said, Senator Manchin, you have an urgent telephone call, and my Senator left the room. I waited, and waited, and waited………and waited, but he never returned. Finally, a staffer informed us he would not be returning. His aides told me they would schedule another meeting for me and apologized for the Senator. That was September 2013. I still have not heard back from his staff. Shortly after that very short meeting the scientists at the United States Geological Survey had all funding cut off from them to conduct health science in MTR communities, including any human toxicology research.

  2. rgriffith says:

    Bo Webb said it all. Manchin talks balancing economic interests with environmental health, but when you get right down to it, he’s all about the coal industry and the environment be damned. Unfortunately all our leading politicians are the same way. Coal, coal, coal, nuthin’ but coal. They can’t even bring themselves to talk about what might be done if Appalachian coal keeps falling. At least Kentucky is trying.

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