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W.Va. economic outlook better than many think

Our Economic Outlook 2014 special report last week brought home our long-held belief that the future of the state is brighter than many people think. The in-depth look at the present, and predictions for a future for southern West Virginia that is less-dependent on extractive industries, was revealing.

As U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall put it, energy fields such as coal and natural gas will continue to play a role in our economy. But tourism, timbering, agriculture, manufacturing, technology and health care will all play increasingly bigger roles in adding good jobs to the region.

Manufacturing has never been as big in West Virginia as in some other states. But the Bureau for Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University notes that there are pockets of prosperity across the state in this sector.

That’s a good sign. And we think manufacturing will be a component in diversifying the state’s economy, particularly in chemical processing of components found in natural gas extracted from the state’s shale formations.

There are other possibilities as well. The Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve pumped $170 million into the state’s economy during the construction phase, and another $12 million was added to the local economy during the 2013 national Jamboree.

Tourism is becoming increasingly important to our economic well-being. Greenbrier County is building a tourism powerhouse, centered around the world-class The Greenbrier resort.

In Wyoming County, the Hatfield-McCoy Trail has possibilities that are still emerging, and when the Coalfields Expressway is completed, a vibrant new tourism industry is expected to flourish.

In Summers County, it is a wealth of water resources that have local leaders planning for a better future. The New, Greenbrier and Bluestone National Scenic Rivers, as well as Bluestone Lake, are correctly seen as underdeveloped treasures. Plans are under way to find ways to improve and market these natural assets.

Raleigh County is becoming an even bigger retail center for southern West Virginia, and its growing medical and hospital sector is attracting more interest and investment as Beckley becomes a crossroads for some of the best medical care in the region.

In Monroe County, long dependent on tourism and agriculture, leaders with vision are looking beyond the past to envision new manufacturing entities, like United Technologies Corp., which produces a broad range of high-tech products and services. Or M-Rock, an innovator in the stone manufacturing industry.

What we’re seeing is a new reality, one that is based on a hard-headed, objective assessment of our assets, our needs, our limitations, and most importantly our potential in southern West Virginia. It’s only when you start looking at things in new ways that you start to see all the possibilities.

— From the March 1 The Register-Herald in Beckley


Same old, same old on Tomblin’s EPA rhetoric

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin recently met with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy. What do you think was on his mind?

According to a news release from the governor’s office, the governor gave McCarthy an update on the state’s remediation efforts at the Freedom Industries site and shared some platitudes about how grateful he is for help from the EPA.

So grateful, apparently, he then went on to reiterate the tired anti-regulatory rhetoric that West Virginians can recite by heart:

“We understand the importance of environmental stewardship and are committed to preserving our state’s beauty for generations to enjoy,” Gov. Tomblin said. “We also understand the importance of a hard day’s work, but up to this point, I believe there has not been sufficient consideration of the real life adverse consequences of economically unfeasible greenhouse gas regulations on West Virginia and many other states. An unreasonable regulatory structure could destabilize our once reliable power grid, increase energy costs to vulnerable ratepayers, further burden industrial employers, and devastate coal mining families and communities.”

An unreasonable regulatory structure?

Heaven forbid what Tomblin considers a reasonable regulatory structure. One that fails to safeguard the drinking water for 300,000 people? One that allows black coal slurry to spill into streams? One that allows miners to be crushed to death?

Tomblin’s comments were part of an offer to help the EPA craft greenhouse gas emissions for existing power plants — rules that would be palatable to the coal industry. Tomblin’s DEP Secretary Randy Huffman says the offer was an attempt to get away from the typical rhetoric from West Virginia officials, who like to deny that climate change is happening, that human activity is causing it and that emission reductions are needed.

If that’s so, you really can’t tell it from the governor’s words.

West Virginians need their elected leaders, conducting the people’s business in their name, to protect the air, water and land for future generations, so there will be an economy here now and long after the coal is played out.

Yet, Gov. Tomblin, following in the footsteps of former Gov. Joe Manchin, seems to embrace this false choice — that West Virginians can have jobs or clean air and water, but not both.

Tomblin, like many before him, seems to believe that environmental protection is OK, as long as it doesn’t actually interfere with anyone’s polluting convenience. So, what kind of greenhouse gas emission limits could the EPA expect him to support?

— From the March 3

The Charleston Gazette




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