by Robin Blakeman
There are some incredible ironies in local and national news lately. The timing of the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s report, “Engagement is Working,” was certainly one. This arrived in my inbox on the same day as all 55 West Virginia county school systems closed down – due to a West Virginiateachers’ strike, and also on the same day as the Ohio River began flooding some communities in WV and Ohio. These three events may not seem related to an outsider, but let me share my “insider” lens. The WV teachers’ strike was largely one facilitated by our braggadocious Coal Baron Governor, Jim Justice, who proclaimed in his State of the State address that WV was in great shape financially, thanks largely to our friends in the oil and gas industries.
West Virginia teachers, therefore, chose to believe that our Governor and legislators could do better than a meager 2% raise, and they courageously engaged in a state-wide work stoppage. Among many outrageous and insulting things that have happened, one stands out as instructive here: a bill had been proposed in our state Senate which would fully fund public employee benefit packages, if severance taxes on oil and gas were raised a small amount. This bill made so much sense to teachers that many lobbied for it, but sadly the bill has been tabled in the West Virginia Senate. Why no discussion or vote? Oil and gas industry moguls Would. Not. Allow. It.
It is becoming increasingly clear to West Virginians who runs our government, and it’s not our elected leaders. It is industry leaders who pay large sums into campaign coffers; it is those who want to drill and mine every last gallon of oil, ton of coal and cubic meter of gas in our state. The gas industry is taking plays out of the coal industry’s playbook in this regard, and I do believe we are seeing this trend spread out on a national basis via our current EPA director and others. West Virginia is the nation’s resource colony, and we know how it goes…
So, from my perspective in West Virginia, I have to ask those on the MRTI Board: when are you going to get to the boardrooms of ALL the oil and gas companies who have invaded West Virginia and the surrounding region? When are you going to stop them from building more and more well pads, compressor stations and pipelines – all of which are rapidly turning our wild and wonderful mountains into polluted industrial zones – even our state and national forests. When are you going to deal yourself out of this gambling game you are playing with our children’s future? Methane emissions from the increased fracking in our region will prevent us from coming anywhere close to Paris Climate Goals. An “assessment” document of how to deal with those goals really doesn’t cut it.
If oil and gas corporate moguls have their way in our region, there will soon be a new cancer ally in the Ohio River Valleys – from something called the Appalachian Storage Hub. If this project comes to pass, there will be 5-6 cracker plants in the Upper and Lower Ohio River Valleys, multiple pipelines with a system of underground caverns storing highly volatile liquefied gas products – most of which will be used in plastics manufacturing. Can shareholder negotiation stop that? If so, please get on it soon, before the Ohio River - tap water source for 5 million people - is annihilated.
I’m writing these words as the mighty Ohio River floods Louisville, Cincinnati, and surrounding areas to dangerous levels. Thus, I’m pondering how long before we humans live up to our part of the Covenant agreement in Genesis 9 – that sacred Covenant God established with Noah and his descendants and with all of Creation? I hope we live to see the day when PCUSA fully divests from Fossil Fuel entities, no longer sharing in the tainted profits, corruption and pollution associated with the Fossil Fuel industry. I hope, instead, that PCUSA will divert those funds into a burgeoning renewable energy industry. I hope we live through the flood to witness the Rainbow.
Rev. Robin Blakeman is a 8th generation West Virginia resident, Minister Member at Large, West Virginia Presbytery, WV Presbytery Stewardship of Creation Ministry Team Leader, WV Interfaith Power and Light Steering Committee Member, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition Project Coordinator
For a snapshot of FF environmental exploitation in Greene County, PA (features an interview with one of our allies on Appalachian Storage Hub opposition): https://www.refinery29.com/2018/02/187763/environmental-activism-pennsylvania-center-for-coalfield-justice
LTE in today's Huntington, WV Herald Dispatch regarding the legislative issues I wrote about: http://www.herald-dispatch.com/opinion/voice-of-the-people/article_92788d32-c8f5-5fab-b88b-8fa209e46227.html
Most recent news on WV Teacher's strike: https://www.wvgazettemail.com/news/education/wv-school-employee-strike-to-continue-across-state/article_d824f764-2c6f-51ac-bf00-68f1873ca2a6.html