Saturday, April 5, 2014

Engineering, industry, politics, and the environment in West Virginia

Evan Osnos has an excellent article in the current issue of the New Yorker - Chemical Valley.  This could be a case study for covering the complexities of environmental management.  Link to the complete article.  From the article: 

"The arguments for making sacrifices to protect the coal industry will become more difficult to sustain. With the most accessible seams depleted, and West Virginia coal facing competition from inexpensive natural gas, the U.S. Department of Energy forecasts that by the end of the decade coal production in the region will have dropped by half. In anticipation, the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy, a progressive think tank, has called for using natural-resources taxes to create a “future fund” that would promote diversification by investing in infrastructure, education, and job-training programs.

But embracing that policy will be difficult as long as bills are written in private, politicians regard polemics as scholarship, and lobbyists can secure the co√∂peration of lawmakers by any means necessary. Year by year, the West Virginia public is recusing itself from politics. In 1960, more than seventy-five per cent of eligible voters cast ballots—almost fourteen per cent more than the national average. By 2012, West Virginia’s turnout had sunk to 46.3 per cent, the second-lowest level in America.

This fall, West Virginia will likely reach a milestone in its political evolution: Senator Rockefeller is retiring, and the strongest candidate to succeed him is Representative Shelley Moore Capito; if she wins in midterm elections, she will be the first Republican senator from West Virginia since 1956. The last remaining Democrat in the state’s House delegation, the nineteen-term Representative Nick J. Rahall II, is facing his most difficult campaign yet; Americans for Prosperity has spent at least two hundred and forty thousand dollars on ads linking Rahall to health-care reform, including one featuring the line “Obamacare is hurting West Virginia families.”

In 2012, the G.O.P. picked up eleven seats in the West Virginia House; this year, the Party is confident that it can win the four more it needs to claim the first Republican majority since 1932. The Party is running a get-out-the-vote campaign called “Make It Right,” and it’s encouraging conservative Democratic candidates to switch parties. In Clarksburg, where I used to live, Mike Queen’s family has been in local Democratic politics since the fifties. “You wouldn’t dare tell my grandfather that you were anything but a Democrat,” he said. Queen was elected to the House of Delegates in 1988, served one term, and had a career in business, before entering a race for the state Senate this fall, this time as a Republican. Over lunch, I asked why.

“We’ve been turned into a poverty-ridden, federal-program-dependent state with no hope,” he said. “I’m not saying the Democrats encouraged it. But the Democrats have allowed it to happen, with no planning for how we’re going to get out of this hole.” He went on, “So you take all those things together, people just got tired of the same old crap.”

Before I drove back to Charleston, I stopped by my old apartment building. A first-floor window was boarded up. I looked up at my place, on the third floor; a window was missing its glass, and a bedsheet, draped across the hole, was flapping in the wind. A first-time visitor could have mistaken Clarksburg for a place that had never caught up, rather than a city that once shared in an American moment of broader prosperity."

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