Thursday, February 17, 2011

Hampshire County Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Advisory Committee

At their February 8th meeting, the Hampshire County Commission adopted the resolution that HCIN drafted, and established the Hampshire County Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Advisory Committee, the first committee of this nature created in West Virginia.

The commission appointed a distinctly masculine list (counter to HCIN's suggestion) of distinguished citizens to the committee, plus (much to my surprise) yours truly. They tasked county development director Les Shoemaker and myself with organizing the committee. Les and I (some of you may recall that we were the first co-antagonists in the Hampshire Review's "Thinking Locally" column) will meet today to get started.

The committee was modeled after a similar committee in Garrett County MD. Maryland seems to be way ahead of West Virginia in its concerns about the environmental and public health effects of the hydro-fracking process. An editorial in yesterday's Cumberland Times-News applauded the go-slow approach of Maryland lawmakers, whose humane sense of responsibility is a distant cry from the back-slapping industry cronyism of most of West Virginia's legislators.

There is perhaps no more loyal servant of resource-extraction industry than our present "acting" governor, Earl Ray Tomblin, whose craven genuflection to his lords in the coal industry is legendary. He might be more accurately named a "pocket" governor, since everyone in Charleston seems to know whose pocket he is in.

Yesterday's Charleston Gazette carried the story (also reported on WV Public Radio and elsewhere) that acting governor Tomblin has created a state "task force" to advise him on Marcellus shale drilling. As would be expected from Tomblin, the task force is dominated by representatives of the gas industry. But interestingly enough, he also appointed a token environmentalist to the panel, Don Garvin of the WV Environmental Council, to make it seem as if all "stakeholders" are being represented.

This little move is fraught with implications. Of the several people I talked with about this yesterday, not a single one disagreed that Tomblin's conjuring up of his industry-heavy task force is a direct reaction to our county commission's establishment of the gas advisory committee the week before.

The clue comes not only from the acting governor's feeble attempt to make it seem as if all sides are represented (as the HC county commission actually did), but also in a statement from Delegate Tim Manchin, found in yesterday's Hampshire Review, to the effect that people in "northern counties" were not welcoming the fracking process with the same open arms that the lords of industry have been accustomed to--in a state that has been the model for Third World corporate colonization ever since West Virginia seceded from its mother state, the only state in our nation's history to do so.

The reason Wheeling was our first capital is that we are a state founded by northern industrialists, and crafted to their liking.

They don't like the natives getting uppity, and that's exactly what they see happening in Hampshire County--local officials thinking for themselves. The reason the statement from Delegate Manchin is notable is that he received an award at WVEC's annual dinner last Wednesday night in Charleston, honoring people for their environmental achievements. I performed a few songs after the awards ceremony with bass player Chuck Sherry (who pluralized himself as "the Archangels"), and got a brief opportunity to chat with Delegate Manchin (with whom I'd worked before, on the attempt to change our county government). He is well aware that there are other counties in this region interested in following the example of the Hampshire County Commission and establishing their own Marcellus advisory committees--which means that everyone else in Charleston knows, too.

It seems to me that Tomblin's task force is a deliberate psychological operation, designed to neutralize any political energy that comes from the county level that resists the gas industry's insane process of injecting millions of gallons of poisonous chemicals under the ground and then just leaving them there (how small of a soul do you have to have to not see that as a problem?).

Co-opting the energy of "inferiors," and confusing average citizens by replicating bureaucracies, are both tried-and-true imperial strategies, and that is exactly the strategy Tomblin is pursuing here on behalf of the people who fill his pockets with contributions, in this oh-so-important political year for Earl Ray. Pocket governor, indeed.

In related news, a few of us from HCIN attended the Hampshire County Planning Commission's presentation last night by WVU extension agent Michael Dougherty on the issue of zoning. Dougherty had high praise for this county's deliberate approach to planning issues (citing as examples the county's comprehensive plan and subdivision ordinance), and recommended the same deliberate approach to zoning, should they think it is necessary in what remains (last I saw) the third-fastest growing county in the state. There are two more presentations planned, with Dougherty scheduled to return for the March and April planning commission meetings.

--Michael Hasty

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