On March 26, Delegate Sammi Brown and I met with Scott Mandirola, Deputy Cabinet Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and DEP General Counsel Jason Wandling. We met with them to urge the DEP to make good on its promise to hold a public hearing on the natural gas pipeline coming to Jefferson County.
The DEP had scheduled such a hearing, to be held on February 21 at the Ranson Civic Center. But the DEP mysteriously canceled that hearing. There was a suggestion about “security” concerns, but we told the DEP that was nonsense.
State law does not require such a hearing, because size of this pipeline project is below the minimal requirement for a public hearing. I think the law should require such a hearing on a project of this size.
In that meeting, Delegate Brown and I said we thought it necessary to hold the hearing, because of the nature of the project and because the Jefferson County community had already been promised the hearing. We also informed the two of them that the Jefferson County Commission had voted to send the DEP a letter asking for the public hearing.
They suggested to Delegate Brown and me that perhaps a public “meeting” (rather than a hearing) might be held. We said that might work, but we’d have to check with the citizens in Jefferson County who had originally asked for the hearing.
To clarify, at a hearing, only the public can talk, while the staff of the agency holding the hearing must stay silent. At a meeting, there can be interaction between the public and the agency.
After talking with several folks back here in Jefferson County, Delegate Brown and I agreed that the meeting would suffice, so long as three conditions were met. Everything said would be a matter of public record, the public comment period would extend for at least several days after the meeting, and there would be no action taken on the permit application until several days after the meeting.
I contacted Mr. Wandling the following Monday, April 1, to inform him that holding the meeting would be okay. He told me that DEP Cabinet Secretary Austin Caperton had decided to not hold either a meeting or a hearing, and told me the next day, Secretary Caperton had on the previous Friday (March 29) signed the order approving the pipeline application. I told him I thought that action was outrageous. I asked to meet with him again.
Delegate Brown and I met with him and Mr. Mandirola that afternoon. We told him that we believed the decision to be wrong substantively, and that if such a decision were to be made, that the two of us, and the County Commission, deserved the courtesy of being informed of the decision immediately. By failing to do so, I think Secretary Caperton insulted the people of our county.
We also presented Mr. Mandirola and Mr. Wandling with information regarding an African-American cemetery in the path of the pipeline. Mr. Wandling suggested that we should get the cemetery information to the Public Service Commission (PSC), as well, and offered to scan it to the proper person at the PSC. That was quite gracious.
Shortly after his inauguration as governor, Jim Justice appointed Mr. Caperton as DEP Secretary and announced that the DEP must “stop saying no” to industry. I know the entire staff of the DEP wants to do its job and protect the environment. But sadly, under the direction of Governor Justice and Secretary Caperton, the acronym “DEP” may now mean “Directed to Encourage Pollution.”
— John represents Jefferson County in the WV House of Delegates—District 67.