Editor’s Note: Through May 4, The Register-Herald will publish a daily story featuring in-depth interviews we conducted with candidates seeking the office of Governor of West Virginia. Each of the 16 people who filed were issued an invitation to appear before our editorial board, and 14 of those came to Beckley to meet with us and discuss some of the key issues in West Virginia. The stories will appear in the order in which the candidates were interviewed. Today’s story focuses on Democratic candidate Jeffrey Kessler, of Glen Dale.
1 — It certainly appears that Marcellus shale regulation will remain a major topic of interest for the next several years. What are the key features that you see that need to be included in West Virginia law to best serve the interests of all the parties involved?
Well, first we need to have adequate inspectors. We need to properly fund the Department of Environmental Protection so that they have enough inspectors with boots on the ground to go out and do the necessary field work in order to make sure the permits get issued timely, number one, and when they do get issued, they do it in compliance with environmental regulations and to ensure the roads and other things that might get damaged get fixed. Number one, we need to have a basic regulatory framework in place to ensure both predictability for the industry and to ensure the safety of the public and protection of the environment.
Probably the biggest disappointment of the legislative session we just came through was the failure to have any meaningful regulation pass. The Senate, we passed out a bill that came out of the Senate EIM committee. I had Sen. Green as chair of my subcommittee with that, together with Doug Facemire from north-central West Virginia, and Karen Facemire as well on it. We did pass a regulatory bill out of the Senate. We sent it over to the House, and unfortunately, though they had taken up the issue first, failed to put out a bill. We were unable to get it to conference in any fashion, so we were unable to, at the end of the day, have a law passed.
It has a negative impact in two-folds. Number one, I think again, it sends... In order for the industry to come in and make the type of the investments I think they are prepared to, they want to know what the rules are, and I think we need to have the rules in place that are fair, meaningful and applied even-handedly to create predictability.
There’s always some uncertainty in how much investment you are going to get in an industry if the rules aren’t set, and I’m not prepared. I know the governor has said “‘just let the DEP do it by regulation.” Well, their job is to enforce the law. It’s the Legislature’s job to set the public policy and make the laws. I am always uncomfortable when you get regulatory agencies making the law. You see what the EPA is doing over in Washington when you give them the power to make laws and rules. You’ve seen what they’ve done to the mine industry by taking hold of the lawmaking function away from the legislative branch in Congress. Again, I don’t want to see that happen here. I want the Legislature to fulfill its duties and pass the laws and set up the policy dealing with the environmental protections, the rules of the game, you break it, you buy it on our roads, the repairs, and also for public safety. That needs to be done. We need to fund it.
When we never got a bill out of the House, so we could have our version get into conference, and reach a meaningful bill, that was the biggest disappointment of the session, frankly. I think, quite truthfully, the Marcellus shale opportunity is probably the biggest single potential economic boon the state is going to see in my lifetime, and it would be foolhardy for us not to seize the opportunity it creates for the people of the state at this time. I think we need to do that, and we need to be willing to be courageous, step up and do our job, and deal with the issue and not wait until maybe it lands in another state, in Ohio or Pennsylvania or other states, where they have the same ability or capacity to do it.
I am happy that we passed an economic incentive bill for the, not necessarily the industry, but we created some tax breaks on the books now for various manufacturing industries. It would ensure that some of the tax breaks would be available for some of the, not necessarily the drilling companies, because they are falling all over us to come into our state, particularly in the north and north-central part of the state, but for some of the derivative industries.
One of the byproducts of the natural gas is ethane. That is separated in a cracker facility. The beauty of that is that the ethane is then used as a component in the chemicals and plastic industry. As you look at West Virginia, we already have in West Virginia, from the Northern Panhandle to St. Albans, a pipeline or right-of-way for the transport of that byproduct that could then be used for the cracker facilities to rejuvenate the entire chemical and manufacturing plastics industry, the PPGs, the Bayers, the Duponts. It could create a rejuvenation of our entire manufacturing sector in this country and in this state particularly.
We’ve lost so many jobs in the Kanawha Valley and my part of the state. Look at the census — the Northern Panhandle, southern West Virginia has lost and a lot in Kanawha County. Two of those areas have always had a high manufacturing base. Those have all lost their jobs. All the way from Jackson County all the way down. We could, truthfully, recreate, or reinvigorate our entire manufacturing industry, not only with gas and the gas jobs, but the derivative industries could then lead additional steelmaking. Guess what we need more steel, guess what else we need? We need more coal, so it all feeds on each other. I look at that as the single biggest opportunity our state has had since the coal boom in the 1900s. This time, we’ve got to do right.