IF CAPITO HAS HER WAY - You Don't Have a Say In Your Future


IF CAPITO HAS HER WAY - You Don't Have a Say In Your Future by Vivian Stockman, OVEC outreach coordinator

You can't say she wasn't forewarned.

A member of the Huntington-based Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC) called Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito's office to inquire who would be on the panel for her "West Virginia Energy and America's Future" forum. The July 16 event at Riverside High School near Belle was one of several nationwide that Vice President Dick Cheney helped organize to whip up support for the Bush Administration's More, More, More national energy policy.

The panel consisted of pretty much anybody whose future wallet fatness is directly tied to promoting the status quo and blocking progress toward environmentally safer forms of energy, such as wind, solar and hydrogen fuel cells. This was going to be a warm and fuzzy taxpayer-funded Coal cheer leading session, with a little Oil and Gas thrown in for good measure. Not surprisingly, no one whose future is in peril from mountain top removal / valley fill strip mining had a place on the panel.

The OVEC member suggested to Capito's staff that a coalfield resident and an environmentalist be included on the panel. Apparently, the United Mine Workers also suggested to Capito that she get an environmentalist on the panel.

Who knows why Capito didn't heed the citizens' advice. Maybe she didn't want to offend her campaign contributors by allowing their opponents to appear on stage with them. According to the Center for Responsive Politics (www.opensecrets.org), during the 99-00 election cycle, Capito, out of all House members, received the fifth highest amount of campaign contributions from coal mining interests.

Though she didn't have anyone impacted by mountain top removal on her panel, Capito did invite an outside extremist to tell us what West Virginia's future is going to be.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) is chair of the House subcommittee on energy and air quality. "I think this is going to be the energy Congress," Barton said in his opening remarks. No wonder--during the last election cycle, Barton was the number one House recipient of campaign donations from the electric utilities industry. Of all House members, he got the third most in campaign donations from oil and gas interests.

After Barton spoke, Capito instructed the panelists, including coal and utility executives, to move from the stage into the audience so that they could see a slide show on the state's economic forecast. The presenter, WVU economist Dr. Tom Witt, would be up just as soon as he was introduced by Nick Carter, chair of the WV Chamber of Commerce.

Panelist and DEP chief Mike Callaghan walked off the stage and sat next to Chris Hamilton, Vice President of the WV Coal Association. Capito and Barton moved out into the audience, too.

Carter turned his introduction of Witt into a slam against environmentalists--"those people" who were opposed to wind power (huh?). "Those who fail to offer constructive and realistic ideas . . . should be left behind. Get real, get involved or get out of the way."

Thank you Mr. Carter! If you hadn't been so illogical and insulting to coalfield residents and environmentalists, we might have just sat there, quietly listening to that stacked panel extol the virtues of Bush's irresponsible energy policy. Instead, activist Julian Martin, a man who has been getting real, getting involved and helping to lead the way for years, had to take exception to your comments. He stood up and asked, "Do we get to speak or do we just get to listen to these insults?"

Capito and Barton stood up from their seats right behind Martin. Barton began arguing with Martin, saying he would call the sheriff on Martin and "haul his butt out." Perhaps there are laws in Texas against speaking out in public.

Martin, the son and grandson of coalminers, wasn't too pleased that this Texan was trying to silence a West Virginian concerned about the future of the Mountain State. Martin insisted that the citizens be given the right to talk about their future. Capito, sensing a public relations nightmare, finally agreed to let Martin have a say at the end of the forum.

The forum on the future proceeded, with not one mention of energy efficiency, energy conservation, the true costs of coal that society pays, nor alternative energies. Whose future is that?

Thank goodness Martin spoke up. He mentioned mountain removal's worsening of the recent floods. He mentioned Capito's and Barton's campaigns contributions.

"I am not an out-of-state environmental extremist. It's much more environmentally extreme to take the tops of mountains off," Martin said.

One thing we hope Capito learned from the forum: If you are going to discuss the future of energy in America, you had better make sure the dialogue includes the people whose mountain communities, whose very futures, are at risk from mountain top removal.

Hur Herald from Sunny Cal
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