Sustained Outrage

Gazette photo by Chip Ellis

Today’s Gazette story about Sen. Joe Manchin refusing to give up his efforts for fairly modest improvements in our nation’s background check system for firearms purchases reminded me to check back again with the West Virginia Democrat’s office about something the senator said in the floor speech the day the Senate rejected his legislation.

In that speech, Sen. Manchin said the following:

That is what we have been talking about: that 90 percent of Americans–83 percent of West Virginians–support a criminal background check or a mental background check. They do not support infringing on an individual’s right. If you are out in parts of my State–my beautiful State of West Virginia–where you know everybody, you know who is responsible or not, you know a family member you want to give a gun to. We know that. We did not infringe on that.

Personally, I had not seen any West Virginia-specific polling — though to hear what some folks up at the statehouse say, West Virginians are opposed to any kind of gun safety laws at all.

Well, it turns out that Sen. Manchin got his figures a little wrong. But the result is really the same. Sen. Manchin was citing a survey by Orion Strategies which, according to this press release, found:

63 percent of West Virginia households currently have a firearm (compared to the national average of 41 percent).

75 percent of all respondents believe that “that universal background criminal and mental checks should be mandatory in order to purchase firearms from any location.” 17 percent oppose and the remainder is undecided.

Now, this was not a huge sample size, and the poll has a relatively high percentage of error, and the press release does not include any other details about the questions asked. But the result is supported by other surveys that show most gun owners and NRA members support better background checks.

Still, this West Virginia data got relatively little attention from the media (there were some stories here and here) when the survey was announced about a month before the Senate vote. And the poll results certainly weren’t made a central part of the discussion about what political risks Sen. Manchin may or may not be taking by showing leadership on gun safety.

You can watch Sen. Manchin’s floor speech here (fast forward to about the 12-minute mark for the polling numbers):

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., right, accompanied by Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., announce that they have reached a bipartisan deal on expanding background checks to more gun buyers, Wednesday, April 10, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin has certainly come a long way … Not so long ago, he was running campaign ads that suggested picking up your gun was a good way to resolve political differences. In the last four months, Sen. Manchin has gone from being a gun-toting red state Democrat pushed by the massacre at Sandy Hook into a reversal on gun control, to an apparent reversal of that reversal, and now is the apparent architect of what could end up being a key compromise on important gun safety legislation.

And in announcing the proposal he worked out with Pennsylvania Republican Patrick Toomey, Sen. Manchin not surprisingly came up with a great soundbite:

Back where I come from we have common sense, we have nonsense and now we have gun sense.

The move brought something that seemed almost impossible — praise for Sen. Manchin from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence:

While we continue to review the draft bill, we believe a majority of the components are a good step forward to reducing gun violence. It continues the work that began more than 20 years ago when the Brady background check system was first created. Since that time, two million prohibited purchasers have been prevented from buying a gun, so we know that background checks work. This is not about gun control, it is about saving lives and more than nine out of ten Americans agree, criminals should not be allowed to easily purchase guns.

From Sen. Manchin’s friends at the National Rifle Association … well, not so much:

Expanding background checks at gun shows will not prevent the next shooting, will not solve violent crime and will not keep our kids safe in schools. While the overwhelming rejection of President Obama and Mayor Bloomberg’s “universal” background check agenda is a positive development, we have a broken mental health system that is not going to be fixed with more background checks at gun shows. The sad truth is that no background check would have prevented the tragedy in Newtown, Aurora or Tucson. We need a serious and meaningful solution that addresses crime in cities like Chicago, addresses mental health deficiencies, while at the same time protecting the rights of those of us who are not a danger to anyone. President Obama should be as committed to dealing with the gang problem that is tormenting honest people in his hometown as he is to blaming law-abiding gun owners for the acts of psychopathic murderers.

And the West Virginia Republican Party? Here’s what they had to say:

It’s another sad day for West Virginians when our own Senator uses his position to attack the rights of law-abiding sportsmen and gun owners, to try to curry favor with liberal Democrats who seek to make this Constitution and nation weak.

Instead of taking on criminals who break laws, Senator Manchin tries to make laws to hinder freedom. Regardless the details, this attempt to in any way infringe on our Second Amendment rights just reinforces Manchin as someone with no absolute values.

No matter the topic, every issue is subject to negotiation or sale to the highest liberal bidders. Its just another example of how Manchin was willing to say one thing in order to fool West Virginia voters, but is just another Obama supporter when he crosses to Potomac.

And if that’s not enough, there was this, from the website of the National Review:

Conrad Lucas, chairman of the Republican party of West Virginia, who describes Manchin as a “pretty irrelevant United States senator,” suggests two possible explanations. “Either he is showing his true colors” by speaking out on gun control, or else he is “simply trying to suck up and gain favor with the powers that be in the Democratic party,” Lucas says. “And when you’re sucking up to Harry Reid and Barack Obama, you are spitting in the face of West Virginians.”

It’s not clear how trying to do more to keep guns out of the hands of criminal and the mentally ill (perhaps saving the life of someone like the late Mingo County Sheriff).

Even if West Virginia Republican leaders don’t care about the details of the Manchin proposal, perhaps more thoughtful people do … so here are five key things to keep in mind, based on the fact sheet distributed by Sen. Manchin’s office:

1.  We don’t know how many additional gun sales would be subject to background checks — The proposal aims to expand the current federal background check to also include purchases at gun shows and to intrastate internet purchases. But the frequently cited figure for how many gun sales nationwide aren’t covered by existing background checks — 40 percent — is pretty old, perhaps outdated and certainly controversial.  One study I read last night suggested the number of sales at gun shows is pretty small— perhaps between 4 and 9 percent. Many gun safety advocates say a more effective approach would be to subject all private-party gun sales to screenings that currently apply only to licensed dealers. Six states already do that, and nine others regulate all sales of handguns.

Yesterday, I asked Manchin communications director Jonathan Kott what estimates they have for how many additional gun sales would be subject to background checks under the Manchin-Toomey plan, and he said, “There is really no way to get an exact percentage.” Not for nothing, but one problem here might be that Sen. Manchin’s friends at the NRA have pretty much ended federal government research on gun safety issues. And certainly, Sen. Manchin makes clear that his proposal is not a requirement for “universal” background checks:

As under current law, transfers between family, friends and neighbors do not require background checks. You can give or sell a gun to your brother, your neighbor, your coworker without background check. You can post a gun for sale on the cork bulletin board at your church or your job without a background check.

2. The compromise would reduce significantly the amount of time the FBI has to complete background checks — As The New York Times pointed out in a story today, “when the FBI cannot immediately determine whether would-be buyers have criminal or psychological records that would bar them from owning guns, it is given 72 hours to clear it up.” If the FBI can’t meet that deadline, then the sale is allowed to go through. Last year alone, the FBI estimates that roughly 3,000 firearms wee sold to prohibited buyers through this loophole. But, as the Center to Stop Gun Violence explained regarding the Manchin-Toomey proposal:

… The bill would actually decrease the amount of time the FBI has to process background checks on firearm purchasers at gun shows, despite the fact that experience demonstrates not all background checks can be fully processed within 24-48 hours. We believe it is important to err on the side of public safety in instances where more time is needed to conduct a background check.

 3. States would still not be required to submit important records that the FBI needs to conduct complete background checks — The group Mayors Against Illegal Guns explained in a recent report that, “millions  of records identifying seriously mentally ill people and drug abusers as prohibited purchasers are missing from the federal background check database because of lax reporting by state agencies.”  The Manchin-Toomey bill “encourages states to provide all of their available records” to the system and would “reduce federal funds to states that do not comply,” but it does not mandate reporting by the states.

4. The compromise appears to weaken certain longstanding provisions enacted to curb illegal gun trafficking — Under the guise of fixing “problems in current law that unfair limit the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens, the Manchin bill would allow “dealer-to-dealer sales at gun shows taking place in a state in which they are not a resident.” Here’s what the Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence said about that:

Under this bill, for the first time, Americans would be permitted to buy handguns from licensed dealers outside their home state. This would make it difficult, if not impossible, to enforce licensing and/or registration laws for handgun purchasers in states like New York, California, Maryland, New Jersey and Connecticut.

5.  Background checks would be waived for gun buyers who, within the last five years obtained state concealed carry permits — It’s not clear how this affects would-be buyers who have been convinced of a crime or judge mentally ill during the five years since they obtained their state concealed weapons license.

The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence said:

Finally, it is becoming increasingly unclear why a “compromise” is even necessary on background checks. National polling shows that 91% of Americans support universal background checks without exemptions or loopholes. That support extends to even more politically conservative states … There is no need to water down this legislation and riddle it with loopholes and exemptions.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., left, meets in his office with families of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., including Nelba Marquez-Greene, mother of victim Ana Marquez-Greene and Mark Barden, father of victim Daniel Barden, on the day he announced that he reached a bipartisan deal on expanding background checks to more gun buyers, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, April 10, 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Tomblin recycles proposal to hike pipeline safety fines

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, delivers his annual State of the State speech on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, in Charleston, W.Va. (AP Photo/Randy Snyder)

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s proposal last night to increase West Virginia’s civil penalties for pipeline safety violations seems like a no-brainer, given that the state’s current fines are a maximum of just $1,000 per violation per day — far less than the federal government’s fines of up to $200,000 per day.

In his State of the State address, Gov. Tomblin portrayed this proposal as a response to last December’s huge natural gas explosion and fire on a NiSource transmission line out in Sissonville:

Just a few months ago, many of us watched in shock when flames ripped through a community near Sissonville leaving houses leveled and a part of our highway charred when a major pipeline exploded. It was a true blessing no one was injured or killed. We have learned from that explosion and the investigation that followed, that West Virginia’s pipeline safety statutes are outdated-with weak penalties and enforcement measures. In fact, West Virginia is currently out of compliance with federal guidelines.

Tonight, I am proposing legislation to bring our State into federal compliance. I propose a maximum penalty of up to $200,000 per violation, per day. It is my hope by increasing penalties, we will meet federal standards and ensure overall public safety.

But what’s strange here is that, as we reported in today’s Gazette, this problem isn’t new, and neither is the proposal for solving it. Just last year, Sen. Art Kirkendoll, D-Logan, proposed a bill aimed at increasing the state Public Service Commission’s penalties for pipeline safety violations. And that legislation made it clear:

The purpose of this bill is to raise the civil penalties that the Public Service Commission can impose for violations of Gas Pipeline Safety Act from the existing $1,000 for each violation to $100,000 for each day of violation to a maximum of $1 million for any related series of violations. This change would mirror the federal regulations.

Interestingly, though, Sen. Kirkendoll’s bill — as it was originally proposed on Jan. 25, 2012 — would not have mirrored federal regulations. The original bill proposed to increase West Virginia’s maximum per-day, per-violation fine to $100,000. But as of Jan. 3, 2012, when President Obama signed the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty and Job Creation Act of 2011, the federal fines increased to a maximum of $200,000.

The bill was amended to mirror that new law. It passed the state Senate, but died in the House of Delegates.

In fact, though, efforts to increase West Virginia’s civil penalties for pipeline violations date back to at least 2005, when this bill was introduced.

When is reform not really reform?

West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tombin, a Democrat, laughs as he delivers his inauguration speech on Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, in Charleston, W.Va. This is Tomblin’s second term in office. AP Photo/Randy Snyder)

Over on the Gazette’s Coal Tattoo blog, we’ve done several pieces about the lack of follow-up actions by the Tomblin administration to enforce West Virginia’s new mine safety law (see here and here).

We also had a story the other day about how the state Department of Environmental Protection is behind schedule in completing studies required of it under West Virginia’s new natural gas drilling law.

What these stories have in common is they involve West Virginia lawmakers passing “reform” legislation aimed at protecting the public, and then agencies charged with implementing those laws not following up to the letter (and sometimes the spirit) of the law. There seems to be a trend here …

Sen. Rockefeller blasts OMB regulatory review

Yesterday’s U.S. Senate Committee hearing on pipeline safety got a ton of attention from Charleston-area media. Our story is here, reporting:

Despite legislation signed last year, lawmakers and regulators need to further step up their actions to improve the safety of the nation’s more than 2.5 million miles of natural gas and hazardous materials pipelines, a U.S. Senate committee was told Monday during a field hearing in Charleston.

Commerce Committee Chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., called the hearing for an update on pipeline safety issues in the wake of last month’s explosion and fire at a NiSource natural gas transmission line in Sissonville.

Rick Kessler, president of a citizen group called the Pipeline Safety Trust, told the committee that Monday’s hearing was just the latest in a long line of such events following previous pipeline accidents.

“With continuing major failures of pipelines, such as the one in Sissonville, West Virginia, that brings us here today, we question whether our message is being heard,” said Kessler, whose group was formed following a fatal pipeline 1999 explosion in Bellingham, Wash. “It is our sincere desire not to be back in front of this committee again in the future saying the same things after yet another tragedy.”

There was also coverage from West Virginia Public Broadcasting, the State Journal, and, among others. Over at the Daily Mail, reporter Ry Rivard picked up an important piece of information that came out yesterday:

The natural gas pipeline that exploded last month near Sissonville was spared heightened safety scrutiny because of its size, the nation’s top pipeline regulator said Monday.

The 20-inch diameter transmission line that exploded was not in what federal regulators considered a “high consequence area,” even though two pipelines owned by the same company and within a stone’s throw of the exploded line were.

When the line exploded on Dec. 11, it destroyed three homes, damaged several others and scorched Interstate 77 — miraculously killing no one.

Because it was not “high consequence,” the exploded line did not have to be checked for corrosion using one important pipeline safety tool. The tool — known as a “smart pig” — travels through a pipeline to check the pipe for irregularities, including cracks and corrosion. The tool could perhaps have found that the exploded line had corroded in places to about a third of the thickness it ought to have been.

But one of the more telling moments yesterday came not during the formal committee hearing, but in a brief press conference held beforehand by Sen. Rockefeller and NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman. Sen. Rockefeller was talking about the importance of administrative agencies following up on safety mandates from lawmakers, and the key matter of members of Congress holding agencies’ to such mandates.  But, Sen. Rockefeller worried aloud, it appears that all too often the White House Office of Management and Budget is blocking agency efforts, holding up, delaying or trying to scuttle important rules

Rockefeller noted that many political leaders — especially in West Virginia — love to complain about the regulatory efforts of agencies like EPA.  What often gets lost, the senator said, is that regulations are important for protecting not only the environment, but worker health and public safety:

There’s a real worry on my part that the Office of Management and Budget, totally unknown to the American people. Totally unspeakable about by federal folks, because they can’t, is slowing all this process down, maybe anti-rules and regulations in some cases that could affect things like this from not happening again.

Of course, this isn’t a new idea … the folks at the Pump Handle blog frequently have written about OMB holding up vital worker protection regulations. And the Center for Progressive Reform has urged President Obama to reform the agency’s practices when he names a new regulatory director at OMB:

For the President, this could be a little-noticed appointment. But it may be one of the most important ones he makes, because the person he selects will hold enormous sway over the entire regulatory agenda of the President’s second term, cutting a wide swath across all the regulatory agencies of the federal government. Given the gridlock in Congress, the reality is that, in many areas, the best chance the President has to implement his vision of a government that protects Americans from environmental hazards, unsafe products and dangerous working conditions, is not to legislate, but to regulate aggressively in these areas. That means that the person he appoints to this job could have an enormous effect on the President’s legacy. He should choose carefully, therefore, thinking about the public interest, not the reaction of the business community over the short term.

Tomblin mention of Utica Shale a bit puzzling

It wasn’t surprising to hear Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin promote natural gas drilling as a big part of West Virginia’s economic future. But one part of this line from the governor’s inaugural address was a little odd:

And we continue to focus on making the most of the tremendous opportunities presented by both the Marcellus and Utica Shale. The Shale development and the potential economic growth and jobs that will come with the revitalization of the manufacturing sector are astounding; and West Virginia is right in the center of it all.

The Utica Shale? Perhaps I’ve missed it, but I haven’t heard many West Virginia political or business leaders touting that. Instead, they tend to focus on the Marcellus Shale, which is the formation where gas drilling in West Virginia is booming. Most of the Utica Shale action is in Ohio.

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West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tombin, a Democrat, laughs as he delivers his inauguration speech on Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, in Charleston, W.Va. This is Tomblin’s second term in office. AP Photo/Randy Snyder)

Over on our Coal Tattoo blog, we discussed the mentions of coal policy in yesterday’s inauguration address from West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.  But it’s worth considering some of the things that the governor forgot to mention when he discussed other issues in his speech. Here are four key things he left out:

1.  Early in the speech, the governor asked for a moment of silence to reflect on the massacre of 20 schoolchildren and 6 adults last month in Connecticut:

Last month, the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School reminded us all of how precious our families, friends and communities are—and the joy they bring into our lives. Such loss is heartbreaking—it’s unspeakable. Still today, Joanne and I continue to pray for the families and friends of the children and adults who left this world far too soon.

But the governor took no position regarding the ongoing debate in Washington, D.C., about whether to strengthen the nation’s gun laws, and while the governor did mention the murder last year of two State Police troopers, he did not discuss the broader problem of gun violence in West Virginia — which so often is family violence involving men killing their wives or girlfriends — and offered no proposals for trying to reduce the local death toll.

2. Gov. Tomblin talked several times about drug abuse, saying at one point:

And while we must work on our education system, I also will continue to fight our substance abuse issues in our communities.

Not mentioned was the governor’s decision to reject the recommendations of his own substance abuse task force, which called for increasing taxes on alcohol and tobacco to raise funds to expand and improve substance abuse treatment programs around the state.

3. While making much of the state government’s strong financial condition, Gov. Tomblin praised steps taken to pay off West Virginia’s old workers compensation debt:

We had a broken system with widespread fraud, poor care for workers, and premiums that were way too high. We stabilized, and then privatized our workers compensation system. The albatross around our economic neck is all but gone, and we now have one of the best programs in the country.

The governor didn’t mention that the “widespread fraud” in workers compensation included a huge effort by coal operators and contractors to evade paying their workers compensation premiums.

4. The governor mentioned the extreme weather events West Virginia experienced last year — noting  “the spring tornado and floods, the derecho, Hurricane Sandy … ” and praising the state’s “strength of their character” and how  “West Virginians joined together to support each other”.

But Gov. Tomblin didn’t mention climate change, which a new federal scientific report again makes clear is the engine behind these extreme weather events.  That new report, the National Climate Assessment, warned us:

Climate change is already affecting the American people. Certain types of weather events have become more frequent and/or intense, including heat waves, heavy downpours, and, in some  regions, floods and droughts. Sea level is rising, oceans are becoming more acidic, and glaciers  and arctic sea ice are melting. These changes are part of the pattern of global climate change,  which is primarily driven by human activity.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin is certainly getting a lot of media attention for what has been depicted as close to an about-face on gun safety laws, announced in the wake of the slaughter of 20 6- and 7-year-old kids at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Sen. Manchin’s statement that the nation needs to revisit limits on firearms was all over the news (see here, here and here, just for example).

In an editorial this morning, the Charleston Gazette praised Sen. Manchin:

Surprisingly, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. — a longtime supporter of the right to bear arms — called for gun reform Monday morning. On the “Morning Joe” television show, he said it’s “time to move beyond rhetoric” about guns. He implied that he may vote to restore the ban on military-style assault weapons of the sort used in the Connecticut massacre.

“I don’t know anyone in the sporting or hunting arena who goes out with an assault rifle,” Manchin said. “I don’t know anybody who needs 30 rounds in a clip to go hunting.”

The former West Virginia governor said the Connecticut massacre of school tots has changed America’s mood.

“Never before have we seen our babies slaughtered,” he said. “It’s never happened in America that I can recall, seeing this carnage.” He added that law-abiding gun owners and hunters “understand this has changed where we go from here.”

Bravo. We’re proud of Manchin. We hope this reform spirit snowballs, and America finally attempts to protect people from the world’s worst level of gun murders.

But what remains unclear is exactly what sort of new gun safety measures Sen. Manchin would support, let alone push for in the Senate.  There are plenty of measures already pending, proposed by a variety of members of Congress. This helpful Congressional Research Service report provides an overview of those bills. None of them have Sen. Manchin’s name on them as a co-sponsor.

In fact, Sen. Manchin has actually put his name mostly on pro-gun measures backed by the National Rifle Association, a group that gets huge amounts of its funding not from the hunters whose rights Sen. Manchin proclaims to defend — but from the companies that make and sell firearms (see here and here).

For example, while Sen. Manchin believes that states should have the absolute right to regulate their own coal industries, he doesn’t want states to be able to set their own limits on guns, instead backing NRA-pushed legislation to force states to recognize gun permits issued by other states. Sen. Manchin is also co-sponsoring legislation to block the U.S. Department of Justice from tracking and cataloguing the purchases of multiple rifles and shotguns.

Sen. Manchin has been talking quite a bit this week about assault weapons:

Assault rifles were designed for the military, multiple-round clips.  I never had more than three rounds in my gun. I don’t know any people who go hunting with assault rifles with 30 rounds in their guns.

Media coverage yesterday and today focused on whether Sen. Manchin would support legislation that California Democrat Dianne Feinstein plans to introduce next year to ban assault weapons. If Sen. Manchin were truly concerned about assault weapons, he could have already signed on to S. 32, legislation that would ban large-capacity ammunition feeding devices.

It’s worth noting here that, while Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said yesterday that it’s “unacceptable” that the assault weapons ban hasn’t been renewed, Sen. Rockefeller also did not choose to co-sponsor S. 32 regarding large-capacity clips. Back in 2004, Sen. Rockefeller did vote to add continuation of the assault weapons ban to a separate bill, a gun lobby-based measure to protect weapons makers from lawsuits. Once the amendment was added, the overall bill was defeated in the Senate that March. That year, there were at least four bills introduced to continue the assault weapons ban, and I don’t see Sen. Rockefeller’s name listed as a sponsor for any of them. Unlike Sen. Manchin, though, Sen. Rockefeller is being perfectly clear that he wants to again ban assault weapons, saying in a Monday statement:

We need to pass a bill that will again prohibit such weapons.



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Regulations: What is Gov. Romney talking about?

Perhaps it’s become just an accepted notion that the Obama administration has brought the nation’s businesses to a halt with out-of-control regulation. Otherwise, why would GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney have said this in last night’s presidential debate:

Regulations have quadrupled. The rate of regulations quadrupled under this president.

The idea of over-regulation probably comes as a surprise to coal miners who are dying from black lung disease, or to factory workers worried about excessive amounts of explosive dust, or to kids facing dangerous conditions working on the nation’s farms. And in fact, the numbers Gov. Romney threw out don’t seem to be anywhere near accurate, at least according to reporting a few months ago by Politico:

So far, the number of Obama’s regulations trails those of his predecessors …

While the overall number of final Obama rules was slightly higher the year after the 2010 mid-terms, the number of economically significant rules — which have either a $100 million price tag or $100 million in public health benefits — dropped from 70 in 2010 to 55 last year, according to a search of the economically significant rules listed in the OMB database. This year, nearly a third of the big-ticket rules — eight of 25 — have been related to implementing the health care law.

The length of time regulations sat at OMB for review also has increased by more than three weeks since the 2010 elections, from an average of 45 days before to 67 days after.

And here’s how Obama’s 1,004 rules completed as of Tuesday compares overall with his predecessors: George W. Bush had completed 1,073 rules at the same point in office, Clinton 1,775, according to the OMB database.

Cass Sunstein, an Obama friend who had been running regulatory review at the White House Office of Management and Budget, bragged about the numbers:

Just the fact is we haven’t had as many as our predecessor. That’s suggestive that there’s been some discipline.

AP: Raese built golf course without permits

Here’s the latest from Vicki Smith over at the AP:

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — Republican Senate candidate John Raese filled in wetlands and damaged more than 2 miles of streams when he rerouted them to create waterfalls on a private, 18-hole West Virginia golf course that federal regulators say he built without the required permits.

The years-long construction of Pikewood National Golf Club near Morgantown is “probably the biggest violation we’ve ever seen in this district,” Sheila Tunney, spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Pittsburgh, told The Associated Press.

More than two years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency ordered Raese, the club’s president, to develop a plan to mitigate the damage. Tunney says work on that plan is ongoing.

Raese, who’s challenging incumbent Democrat Joe Manchin, recently called Pikewood “the nicest golf course in the United States” and a local job creator. He didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

The millionaire businessman campaigns routinely on a platform that includes abolishing several federal agencies, including the EPA, and the government regulations that he says squelch economic development.

EPA officials have repeatedly declined to answer questions about the violations but did provide the AP a copy of a six-page compliance order issued in March 2010. The last page says EPA “reserves the right to seek any remedy available under the law,” including pursuit of any civil or criminal charges it deems appropriate.

Tunney said the corps first learned about the 1,300-acre golf course, which sits on the Monongalia-Preston county border, from a farmer who complained he was no longer getting water from a local stream.

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