By Gary Zuckett
As the dust from the 2011 legislative session settles and its impact soaks in, we’re assessing the damage and progress. All in all it was a disappointing exercise in civic engagement. Most all of our initiatives failed to pass and as usual, many unsavory ones sailed through.
One thing we always have to remind ourselves is that if we hadn’t been at the scene shining light on the ugly bills, many many more of them would have made it through to passage. And many of the bills that did pass were altered by our collective input to be less toxic and costly to our values. However, this is scant consolation when all our joint efforts on regulating Marcellus Shale drilling or promoting Energy Efficiency were thwarted or just plain ignored.
We did have a few wins! The legislation creating a West Virginia Health Insurance Exchange passed and as such our state will be one of the leaders in the nation in enacting the Affordable Care Act (see article on the ACA’s first birthday celebration this week).
The Ethics Bill also passed, was vetoed by the governor for technical flaws, and reenacted during the special budget session last week. (See Ethics article by Joel Brown.)
The rules governing next year’s Public Financing pilot project for both Supreme Court races did pass, but the bill for additional funding didn’t.
Community/Satellite voting sites will be easier for counties to set up under new legislation but the early voting period was shortened by five days.
On the bleak side, Marcellus regulation tanked, but a bill to provide additional tax breaks to this billion dollar industry passed. This enables the industry to set up compressor stations and entice a “Cracking Plant” to West Virginia to process Marcellus gas into plastics. It was particularly painful to see even more money being thrown at this bloated, largely unregulated industry.
Some of the other casualties of this year’s session were the Coal Slurry Moratorium; Unemployment Insurance Modernization; Office of Minority Affairs; Insurance Fairness Act; Water Quality Rules; National Popular Vote compact; Tobacco tax and more…
Most of these issues aren’t going away. We’ve already begun a campaign calling for a special session on Marcellus regulations after the primary election and hope to have an interim study on Energy Efficiency. We’ll continue to work for additional funding for the Supreme Court Public Campaign Financing pilot project. There is life after session…
Legislature Fails to Address Marcellus Drilling Concerns
By Julie Archer
With two comprehensive bills to consider -- one drafted from DEP after a year-long review of its oil and gas regulatory program and another proposed by a legislative study committee that had been hearing presentations from various stakeholders for more than two years – we were optimistic that 2011 would be the year the legislature took action to protect our land and water resources from destructive drilling practices and give surface owners more say when the minerals beneath their land are developed. However, after 60 days, legislators failed to pass a bill and there is plenty of blame to go around.
First, industry backers in the Senate were allowed to rewrite and weaken DEP's proposal (SB 424). A subcommittee of the Senate Energy, Industry and Mining (EIM) Committee consisting of Senator Doug Facemire (D-Facemire), EIM Committee Chair Mike Green (D-Raleigh), and Senator Karen Facemyer (R-Jackson) amended the bill so that its scope was severely limited and drastically cut the permit fees requested by DEP, leaving the agency with a $500,000 gap in funding for current staffing levels.
Then on the floor, the Senate narrowly defeated an amendment offered by Senator Clark Barnes (R-Randolph) to revise problematic hiring practices for oil and gas inspectors that presently have the foxes hiring the foxes to guard the hen house. Although the bill was not as strong as we would have liked, to their credit the Senate passed the bill unanimously.
A House Judiciary subcommittee strengthened the original House bill (HB 2878), briefly making it almost too good to be true. Unfortunately, many of the changes adopted by the subcommittee were not in the final version of the bill advanced by the full Judiciary Committee, although it still included several good provisions. After the Senate passed its version of the bill, the House Judiciary Committee replaced the language in SB 424 with the language from HB 2878. However, efforts by industry’s delegate, Delegate Sam Cann (D-Harrison), to delay consideration of the bill, along with inexplicable actions taken by House Speaker Rick Thompson (D-Wayne) caused it to die on the last night of the session.
Because of the lack of action taken by the legislature, WV-CAG, our Surface Owners’ Rights Organization (WV-SORO), the WV Environmental Council and others urged Acting Governor Earl Ray Tomblin to call a special session to address the environmental and other concerns related Marcellus Shale and other gas well drilling.
Tomblin has not totally ruled out a special session, but said he believes there is too much of a divide between the House and Senate and is unwilling to call lawmakers into a special session until he is confident they can reach an agreement. We don't think there is as much of a divide as he and others are suggesting, and the good news is that Speaker Thompson and Acting Senate President Jeff Kessler (D-Marshall) agree on the need for a special session. We must continue to pressure Tomblin to give lawmakers the opportunity to work out the differences sooner rather than later.
We can’t go another year without increased regulation. With only 15 inspectors for 59,000 active gas wells and laws that have not kept pace with technological advances, the DEP’s ability to protect citizens and the environment from the threats Marcellus development poses to human health and our land, air and water is extremely limited.
Surface owners have been waiting more than 4 years for legislation to keep drillers from sneaking onto their property and surveying for well sites and access roads without notifying them first and involving them in the planning process. For Marcellus Shale operations in particular we are concerned about the close proximity to people’s homes – especially given their duration, the air, noise, light and other pollution from the sites, in addition to the potential for serious accidents. The Northern Panhandle has experienced three major fires and explosions in the past 18 months and current law allows gas wells to be drilled within 200 feet of people’s homes.
The current system isn’t working! We need a special session to address the environmental and other concerns related Marcellus Shale and other gas well drilling.
The failure of the Legislature to pass an effective and responsible bill to help regulate Marcellus Shale drilling, despite enormous public support for increased regulation, also has several legislators requesting that the DEP stop issuing new permits until proper regulations are in place. The bipartisan group of legislators making this request also called for a special session to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the legislation that died. Please help us support their efforts.
If you haven’t already -- please call, e-mail or write Governor Tomblin and send a copy to Acting Senate President Kessler and House Speaker Thompson saying:
Dear Governor Tomblin:
I am disappointed that the Legislature was unable to reach any agreement on legislation to regulate Marcellus Shale gas drilling. It is important that you stop issuing new permits until regulations are in place to protect property owners and the environment and to ensure proper enforcement and inspector staffing. It is unacceptable that West Virginians were not heard during the 2011 Legislative Session asking for protection from destructive gas drilling that is happening all over the state. Please call a special session to address environmental and other concerns related Marcellus Shale and other gas well drilling.
You can contact Governor Tomblin at:
Phone: (304) 558-2000 or 888-438-2731
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin
State Capitol, Building 1
1900 Kanawha Blvd East
Charleston, WV 25305
You can contact Senate President Kessler at:
Phone: (304) 357-7801
Senator Jeff Kessler
Room 227M, Building 1
State Capitol Complex
Charleston, WV 25305
You can contact House Speaker Rick Thompson at:
Phone: (304) 340-3210
Delegate Rick Thompson
Room 228M, Building 1
State Capitol Complex
Charleston, WV 25305
By Gary Zuckett
West Virginia is bucking the trend when it comes to state fiscal issues. Instead of budget cuts, we gave teachers and public employees a raise this session. The House passed a resolution, (HR40). The official summary for this resolution states that it is “Expressing the will of the House of Delegates in supporting the Wisconsin state employees and others that will be affected by legislation introduced by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.” HR 40 was co-sponsored by 62 of the 100 Delegates.
The conservative assault on critical social programs in Washington and the simultaneous attack on workers in all states is a coordinated effort to roll back decades of progress by labor for the middle class in order to further enrich the already absurdly wealthy.
My favorite Wisconsin rally poster read “They only call it a Class War when we fight back!” Well folks, we better fight back right now, hard and fast, if we want to keep the Banksters and Billionaires from reducing this nation to third world status. If they get their way we’ll all be working seven day weeks at minimum wage with no benefits or healthcare. The unions have taken up this challenge and are working hard to energize their base.
Through our West Virginians United coalition, we helped organize a Capitol press conference with labor leaders and a BIG rally the last day of the session on the Capitol steps with about a thousand people in attendance! I helped MC the event and it was totally energizing to see folks from all across the state come down to support our labor and civil rights.
We’ve got to keep up the momentum on this! Last Sunday there was a Solidarity Rally in Clarksburg. There will be one tomorrow, Saturday March 26, at 7:00 p.m. at Word Park in Beckley, on the corner of Nevill Street and First Avenue, downtown. Another Solidarity event will be held April 4th in Kanawha City and led by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) local. Co-sponsored by WV United, it will be a lunch time rally in front of the Frontier Communications building which is next to the University of Charleston campus. April 4th is the day Martin Luther King was shot during his visit to Memphis in support of the sanitation workers organizing a union. Sunday, April 10th at 1:00 p.m. is the “We Are One” rally being organized by the AFL-CIO and supported by community groups. It will again be held on the riverside of the State Capitol (inside if raining). Come on out for a day of Solidarity with all who work for a living and want to be treated with respect and dignity.
Check out these great pictures from our last Solidarity Rally at the State Capitol! If your browser won't open them, please visit our website to see the shots on our paper newsletter.
A Beautiful Day for a Solidarity Rally!
CAG’s Own Gary Zuckett Introduces Many Speakers
All Together Now: Stop the War on Workers!
“Gone With the Wind” - MIC Leaves the Kanawha Valley for Good!
By Beverly Steenstra
Early last week legal motions and high emotions were flying through federal court as the “Sweet Seventeen” v. Bayer CropScience battle continued. But come last Friday, lo and behold! Much to everyone’s surprise, shock and – mostly – delight, BCS announced that not restarting the MIC (methyl isocyanate) unit at its Institute plant was a GOOD IDEA! Well, the heavens parted, the angels wept for joy, and many of us here in the Chemical Valley simply breathed a sigh of MIC-free relief. For a detailed account of this amazing turnabout on the part of BCS, check out Ken Ward’s article in the Charleston Gazette here
While I and many others are thrilled with BCS's decision to pull MIC out of Institute, there is no way we can ignore the MIC unit employees who now will either be transferred or looking for other work sooner rather than later. BCS announced that the 220 layoffs were part of global restructuring and its commitment to the World Health Organization to phase out products that were deemed especially dangerous. By failing to adapt, they failed to ensure their commitment to those jobs in our community.
To the employees I – for myself – can only say that I am sorry it had to come to this. No one ever wants to see people lose their jobs. The point is that these folks worked with this potentially fatal chemical in a plant whose record of poor safety management finally caught the eye of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board following the 2008 Larvin unit explosion. I truly hope that the MIC unit employees find better and safer jobs within the company, wherever that may be, and if not, that they find employment with companies that are responsible and truthful about safety issues not only to the workers but to the community as well.
To get involved and informed about the chemical industry in our area, contact Maya Nye of People Concerned About MIC at 304-389-6859, visit www.peopleconcernedaboutmic.com or email email@example.com.
People Concerned About MIC will present two showings of the new award-winning film, “Bhopali,” a documentary about the survivors of the world's worst industrial disaster, the 1984 Union Carbide gas leak in Bhopal, India. Today the suffering continues, prompting victims to fight for justice against Union Carbide, the American corporation responsible for the disaster.
“Bhopali” will be presented on Saturday, March 26th at 8:00 P.M. at CASASANTA, 122 N. Court St. in Lewisburg, and Monday, March 28th at 7:00 p.m. at the West Virginia State University Davis Fine Arts Theatre in Institute. Sanjay Verma, a Bhopal survivor who is featured in the film, will be present to answer any questions after the showing.
Tax-deductible donations will be accepted by the Pesticide Action Network of North America (PANNA) and will go to support the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal and People Concerned About MIC. For more information on the film, visit http://www.bhopalithemovie.com/. For more information on the showing, call 304-389-6859, visit www.peopleconcernedaboutmic.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sanjay Verma was 6 months old when the disaster killed his mother, father, and five brothers and sisters in one night, leaving only his older siblings Sunil and Mumpta alive. His brother, Sunil, started the Children Against Carbide organization and became a leader in the movement. Sanjay took his brother’s place as a leader of the movement when Sunil took his own life in 2006 as he struggled with mental health due to the disaster. Sanjay’s heroic struggle, transcending from a victim to a survivor to an activist, has given him hope.
The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB) is a coalition of survivor groups in India, as well as a solidarity movement in the U.S., campaigning to hold Union Carbide Corporation Dow Chemical accountable for the ongoing crisis in Bhopal, India. It works on a range of medical, compensation, environmental, and legal issues like the ones shown in the documentary.
People Concerned About MIC (PCMIC) is a community organization in the Kanawha Valley, West Virginia dedicated to the protection of health and safety of all who reside, work, and study in the vicinity of local chemical plants producing highly toxic chemicals.
Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) works to replace the use of hazardous pesticides with ecologically sound and socially just alternatives. PANNA serves as the fiscal sponsor of ICJB.
ABOUT THE FILM:
“Bhopali” documents the experience of second generation children affected by the Union Carbide gas disaster of 1984, the worst industrial disaster in history, and subsequent contamination of groundwater by Union Carbide Corporation (an American company now owned by Dow Chemical, the second largest chemical company in the world). It follows several children as they and their families cope with the ongoing medical and social disaster, as well as their memories of that traumatizing night that shocked the world and changed Bhopal forever. Set against the backdrop of vehement protests for the 25th anniversary of the disaster, the Bhopalis continue to fight for justice, proving to be anything but victims.
Thousands were killed and more than 100,000 were affected by the contaminants. 26 years have passed since the disaster, yet the suffering continues and, for the victims, justice has yet to be seen. Award winning director Van Maximilian Carlson presents a modern portrait of shattered lives in the community surrounding the abandoned Union Carbide factory. We focus on survivors of the disaster and their families as they continue life amongst the indelible remainders of contamination and death. Set against a backdrop of high stakes activism, global politics, and human rights advocacy, this film explores the ongoing struggle for justice against Union Carbide, the American corporation responsible for the disaster. Featuring Noam Chomsky, Satinath Sarangi, and attorney Rajan Sharma.
Ethics Bill Passes, Again
By Joel Brown
Last week Acting Governor Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed the Ethics Bill (HB 2464) on a technicality. The House amended the bill to help clarify the “revolving door” policy, stating which public officers and employees “may not, during or up to one year after the termination of their public employment or service, be allowed to register as lobbyists”. The Ethics Act also clarifies filing requirements for officeholders and their spouses. Generally, a spouse’s financial details are required unless the filer of the disclosure statement serves in an unpaid position. Both houses quickly passed the amended bill, which awaits Tomblin’s signature. The revised Ethics Act is scheduled to be effective July 1, 2011.
By Gary Zuckett
A crowd of over one hundred citizens joined lawmakers and state and federal officials at the Kanawha County Health Department Thursday to celebrate the first anniversary of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – the health reform bill that is still being bitterly opposed by conservatives. Senator Jay Rockefeller was the keynote speaker and Obama appointee Dr. Mary Wakefield, Director of the Health Resources and Services Administration also addressed the crowd. Individuals who are now being helped by the new law also spoke of their personal experiences. What we’re finding is that the more citizens learn about the benefits of the ACA the more they like it. See the new www.healthreformwv.org web page for information on grassroots training sessions planned for this summer and to find out how you can help!
The event was organized by West Virginians for Affordable Health Care with help from Citizen Action. See the Gazette article here: http://www.wvgazette.com/News/201103230891 and listen to Senator Rockefeller and Dr. Wakefield at our YouTube site here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QjG-sRJSzq4 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mm3F2vDr5lM
Here are some images from the celebration!
Senator Jay Rockefeller Pumps Up the Crowd for Affordable Health Care!
Dr. Mary Wakefield Explains Important Provisions of the ACA
Dr. Rahul Gupta Delivers a Message from Congressman Nick Rahall
CAG’s 37th Anniversary Celebration April 29th
By Gary Zuckett
I moved to West Virginia in 1974, the year David Grubb and a handful of dedicated young activists incorporated West Virginia Citizen Action Group. Since then WV-CAG has been a stalwart advocate for consumer protection, good government, and social and environmental justice. This shoe-string non-profit has a rich history with many wins and losses. At some point or another, most of the progressive Charleston community seems to have worked for or been associated with CAG. I still meet folks from all over who worked a summer on the canvass or were somehow involved in our citizen actions.
To celebrate our 37th year, all are invited to our Spring Awards Dinner on April 29th at the Charleston Women’s Club. Live music, great food and good folks will abound. A silent auction will entice the crowd with unusual and exotic items, plants, art and jewelry. We’ll present two community service awards and keep the “talking heads” portion of the show to a minimum.
We’re now collecting items for the auction at the office. Check your storage for usable stuff you no longer need and give us a call at (304) 346-5891. Tickets are $35.00 and program sponsorships are also available.
Come on out at the end of April and help us look back to our roots and look forward to our goals. Ask anyone who has come to one of these celebrations -- they’re fantastic fun!
The Democracy for America (DFA) will hold a campaign training session in West Virginia on April 9-10, 2011. Its mission is to focus, network and train grassroots activists in the skills and strategies needed to take back our country, manage successful campaigns or run for office themselves.
The training also includes issue advocacy and lobbying with an emphasis on organizing around an issue, generating public pressure and citizen lobbying of elected officials. Considering the numerous social, environmental and economic problems facing West Virginia, this individualized training will be invaluable. To register and prepay online visit: www.democracyforamerica.com/events/2506-weston-wv-dfa-campaign-academy . For further information and to sign up for email updates contact North Central WV-DFA Chair Denise Binion at email@example.com or call 304-669-0247.
Up For Women’s Health Lobby Day and Rally in DC ~ April 7th
By Joel Brown
When I was hired by Citizen Action to lobby during the final three weeks of the 2011 legislative session, I had only a vague idea of what to expect. But I was interested in making a contribution and learning a thing or two along the way. For the millions of Citizen Actioneers and other progressives who enjoy this newsletter, I am writing to introduce myself and share a few observations from a first-time lobbyist.
I was born and raised in South Charleston, West Virginia, and am back in my hometown after spending most of the last 20 years in Virginia. I have had a longstanding interest in West Virginia politics, stemming from my childhood days when I visited my mother, Delegate Bonnie Brown (D-Kanawha) at the Capitol. Recently I was given an opportunity to help Gary Zuckett and Julie Archer for the final three weeks of the session.
I quickly discovered that the “well” under the dome of the Capitol is the center of the lobbying universe. This home base is a convenient location to interact with other lobbyists, legislators, staff, and journalists. The learning curve is steep; each house has its own rules and its unique publications. Keeping track of bills on a daily basis (bill tracking) is daunting, so teamwork is essential. Julie was a terrific mentor, coordinating how we would cover various committee meetings, meet with individual legislators, and compare notes with other lobbyists. I imagined a “David vs. Goliath” scene at the statehouse: We progressive lobbyists from CAG, SORO, E-Council, Sierra Club, etc., noticed an abundance of well-dressed, presumably highly-paid industry cheerleaders who seemed to continuously oppose the good legislation that we were fighting for.
Our government is very accessible to anyone who wants to observe it. Except for occasional closed caucuses, the floor sessions and the committee meetings are open to registered lobbyists, citizen lobbyists, and the general public. Sometimes the committee rooms are too small to accommodate everybody, but now that the House and Senate use live streaming audio from their meetings, it’s easier to stay tuned in.
I was able to be a part of meetings with legislators and lobbyists, and I know that despite my inexperience I made a contribution. Sharing ideas and information, tracking bills, and simply being an additional presence were valuable experiences. The last three weeks of the session were insightful, though sometimes frustrating and surreal, and I appreciate having had the opportunity to work with CAG!
By Julie Archer
As reported in the last edition of The Eye, most of the election bills that we were following died on “crossover” day. More unfortunately, some of those that managed to get over that legislative hurdle did not make it to the Governor’s desk.
Most disappointing was the demise of HB 2732. The bill would have provided additional funding for the Supreme Court Public Campaign Financing Pilot through modest “fair administration of justice” fees on those using our courts, annual fees paid by licensed attorneys and a one-time transfer of $2 million from the Unclaimed Property Trust Fund. The bill passed the House but was killed by the Senate Finance Committee on the last day of the session.
The legislature established the pilot project last year so that candidates for the two
Supreme Court seats on the ballot in the 2012 election would have the option of running for office without depending on private campaign contributions and avoid any appearance of undue influence from contributors. Legislators directed $3 million from the State Auditor's Purchasing Card fund toward the program last year. However, we’re concerned that without the additional money, candidates will perceive the program is under funded and decide not to participate.
In 2008, five candidates vying for two seats on the Supreme Court spent about $3.1 million. In 2004, three candidates spent $2.8 million for one seat. These figures do not include expenditures by independent groups, which would trigger the release of matching or “fair fight” funds to candidates participating in the pilot project.
By the time the 2012 legislative session rolls around, we’ll know how many candidates have filed to run for the Supreme Court and how many of those plan to try to qualify for public financing, and if more funding is needed the legislature could still appropriate additional money. However, HB 2732 would have provided additional funding without tapping into general revenue. Many legislators supported the pilot project because it relied on alternative sources of funding, so an appropriation from general revenue seems unlikely.
The good news is the rules for the pilot project were approved and are awaiting the Governor’s signature.
Citizens for Clean Elections will meet on Thursday, April 7 at 10:30AM to discuss next steps. The meeting will be in the conference room at Affiliated Construction Trades – The Building Trades Foundation, 600 Leon Sullivan Way (corner of Leon Sullivan Way and Smith Street, next to Capitol Market).
One happy note on the end of the session was that you, our grassroots supporters, came through with matching donations to help us draw down the full $3,000 legislative session challenge grant from one of our major donors! Thanks again to all of you who sent in contributions to help us through the grueling work of lobbying the lawmakers. We know times are tough for many and that makes your support mean even more to us!
7PM Saturday April 9th
WV State University - Performing Arts Auditorium
Hedges will discuss his latest book:
“Death of the Liberal Class”
and views on War, Peace, Politics and Poverty in America
Sponsored by: Seneca 2; ACLU-WV; WV Patriots for Peace;
WV Citizen Action Education Fund; and WVSU Political Science Dept.
Book signings with the author at both Taylor Books (4:15) and at evening event!
About the Speaker: Chris Hedges, published Mondays on Truthdig, spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans reporting from more than 50 countries. He worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, as a foreign correspondent for 15 years.
Hedges was part of the team at The New York Times awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for coverage of global terrorism. He also received the Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism in 2002. The Los Angeles Press Club honored Hedges as the Online Journalist of the Year in 2009, and granted him the Best Online Column award in 2010 for his Truthdig essay “One Day We’ll All Be Terrorists.”
Hedges is the author of nine books, including the bestsellers “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle”; “I Don’t Believe in Atheists” and “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America”. His book “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction. In addition to Truthdig, he has written articles for Harper’s Magazine, The New Statesman, The New York Review of Books, Adbusters, Granta, Foreign Affairs and others.
For More information contact Rev. Jim Lewis at 304-342-1149