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Good Joe or Bad Joe

Is Manchin too compromised to take a stand?

Story by David Levine. This piece is not an official statement on behalf of Resist Rockwool and does not necessarily represent the views or experience of our members.

A former Jefferson County public official wrote:

"Manchin grew up in Farmington where 78 miners were killed with no prosecutions. He has a place in himself that hates that kind of willful neglect. Another case in point, when the chemical spill featured in What Lies Upstream occurred it shows that Manchin again finds the toughest investigator, a professor i believe from Purdue, who really got to the bottom of it all, including fudged data from the chemical's creator Eastman Kodak. I confronted him when he came to Shepherdstown with protestors opposing PATH (a massive electricity transmission line that was to cut through our community). I put them together, they took a drive and looked at things and by noon he made a phone call and had the route of PATH moved to not impact this area. With Joe there is a good Joe and a bad Joe - so we'll see.”

On February 14th, 2019 the free citizens of Jefferson County saw the bad Joe.

45 constituents demanded Senator Manchin take a stand against Rockwool. While 11 were being arrested for "unlawful demonstration" he was five minutes away in the capital tweeting support for Arch Coal.

This story begins on September 18th, 2018 when I sent a letter to Senator Manchin challenging him to “make a full-throated, whole-hearted defense of Jefferson County, WV against the Rockwool project.” The day before he had published a letter to the EPA that I characterized as “tone deaf and disheartening,” and I published a piece in Forbes recounting my experience as a Manchin appointee in the West Virginia Development Office. I took particular exception to Manchin's statement that “our economy and environment can be balanced,” as if they were oppositional rather than complementary forces. I noted he would be in Shepherdstown, where I lived, two days later and asked for a half hour to present my case. That morning my cell phone rang.

“Hey buddy, this is Joe Manchin,” said the rough country voice from the other end of the line.

“Hello Senator Manchin, thank you so much for calling.” I’ve been careful about protocol since calling him Joe instead of Governor Manchin at our first public meeting together with the board of the Council on Community and Economic Development at the West Virginia State Capital in 2005 and being chastised immediately afterwards by the Secretary of Commerce.

“Well, David I got your letter and read your article in Forbes and I wanted you to know that I didn’t agree with something you said. I didn’t hire you for any political reasons. I hired you because you’re the smartest technical guy I know,” he said, referring to my claim in Forbes that my appointment to state government was due to my donation of space for the Eastern Panhandle Democratic Party Campaign Headquarters in the 2004 election. We were probably both right. My political work might have led to the interview, but he made the decision to appoint me as Director of Technology & Transformation for his own reasons.

“I’m very sorry for the mischaracterization, I hope you found the rest of it accurate and informative,” I replied.

“You don’t have to apologize for anything,” he said. “I wasn’t aware of all the political BS you went through and I was sorry to learn about that.” Here he was alluding to my description of the attacks by Verizon for championing the fiber-to-the-home public-private partnerships that led to my resignation.

“So on Rockwool,” he continued, “I want you to know I don’t have a position on that right now. I was at the groundbreaking but that was just because I was told it was a big investment and it was a green company with a lot of jobs. I don’t have any connection to the company or an opinion right now, but I’m not sure there is anything I can do to help. Why aren’t you talking to Jim Justice? It’s really his deal, not mine.”

Governor Justice, a coal company CEO, had recently publicly declared his support of Rockwool, following a statement by DEP Secretary Caperton, also a long-time coal industry executive. Rockwool was expected to burn up to 84 tons of coal a day to melt basalt rock and steel slag which they would then spin into wool-like fibers for insulation material.

Dr. David Didden is one of many physicians, meteorologists, biologists, toxicologists, historians and economists that have expressed alarm at the siting of the Rockwool plant in such a vulnerable area.

Watchdog groups claim the DEP is consistently putting its finger on the scale for industrial polluters by testing to prove there are no problems, rather than to ensure there are no problems. If there is a source of probable contamination, the DEP test upstream of the polluter. Where the fossil fuel extraction and heavy manufacturing industry are prominent, West Virginia residents have some of the worst water quality in the country. Solving the problem could run into the trillions of dollars.

According to the DEP’s own 2012 report, over 40% of West Virginia rivers and streams were too polluted for drinking water, recreation or aquatic life. We didn't want to add Evitt's Run and the Shenandoah River to that list.

“C’mon you know that would be a waste of time,” I said. “He’s all in on this. I know you. I’ve seen you bring people together and tackle hard problems. I know you have a big heart and actually care about the health and wellbeing of your constituents. You’d do anything for us. Wouldn’t it be great to prevent a tragedy for a change instead of console the victims and holding the perpetrators accountable? All we’re asking is that you sit down with us. Hold a public meeting. Hear our side. Right now, all you’re getting is theirs.”

Manchin, though, wasn’t convinced. “There are people on both sides, David. We need to get everyone, all the stakeholders, including the JCDA, Jefferson County Commission, the Development Office, the DEP, EPA, Ranson and Charles Town to sit down and make sure we have all the facts. I’m hearing different things from different people. We need to get everything out on the table. And we need this to be civil.”

I expressed my skepticism about the prospects for a stakeholder summit. On one side you had industry and government staffed by professionals who made a career of minimizing the concerns of citizens, countering objections and pushing through projects that met technical standards negotiated with industry rather than public health and safety. On the other, Manchin wanted concerned “teachers, nurses and parents” of Jefferson County. Another problem was the lawsuits filed by Jefferson County Vision (JCV). "I don't think a stakeholder meeting is going to work," I told Joe. "JCV wouldn't be able to participate because of the litigation, and everyone else will probably have to clam up."

Manchin viewed the challenge of bringing together Rockwool and the citizens of Jefferson County as similar to others he faced in the past such as resolving chemical safety reform legislation that had been deadlocked for years. In 2015 he accomplished the legislative feat by refusing to back either liberal Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) or and conservative Senator David Vitter (R-LA) Vitter as co-sponsors of chemical safety reform legislation and forcing them to reach their own resolution before he would sign on to the bill. This was different. There were not two equal sides. There were his constituents against a multinational corporation headquartered in Denmark.

Before the call ended, Manchin gave me the number of Pat Hayes, his Chief of staff, stated he was counting on me to come up with a “technical solution,” promised me a seat at the table and agreed that we could record the meeting on video to share with the citizens of the county. For the next few weeks the Kavanaugh confirmation dominated Manchin’s schedule, then he flew to his campaign headquarters in Charleston, WV as soon as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released the Senate on October 11th. Then with the election, holidays, a government shutdown... it was looking like the stakeholder round-table was never going to happen.

Jefferson County Delegation with Senator Manchin's Staff in October 2018. Left to Right Wes Kungel (Legislative Director), Catherine Feaga, Sarah Venuto (Chief Counsel), Seth Gainer (Legislative Assistant), David Levine, Karen Glennon, Pat Hayes (Chief of Staff), Billie Garde, Catherine Jozwik, Shaun Amos, Jim Cummins.

To make sure Senator Manchin understood that that our concerns were legitimate, I organized a delegation of Jefferson County citizens that included a biologist, physician and attorney to visit his staff on Capitol Hill. Manchin was supposed to dial-in but cancelled at the last minute. We met with his full senior staff for two hours.

As a result, Manchin sent a letter to the EPA characterizing our concerns as “serious, genuine and worthy of thoughtful engagement from all stakeholders, particularly due to the close proximity of the Rockwool facility to four schools.” He concluded the letter with a call for the EPA’s participation in the public stakeholder summit. “I believe it is important that all parties sit down in a face to face meeting in order to address ongoing concerns, particularly because I continue to hear from parents expressing genuine fear for their children’s health and well-being. Therefore, I also ask that you designate a member of your staff to attend an upcoming meeting which I will convene to ensure a constructive fact-based dialogue amongst representatives of all interested stakeholders.”

After I circulated Manchin’s EPA letter to the 10,000 members of Concerned Citizens Against Rockwool-Ranson (a campaign of JCV) as evidence he was working for us in the Rockwool controversy, Jefferson County turned out for the Senator casting 51.32% of our 20,782 votes his way, with only 9,360 (45.05%) supporting Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

I sent a follow-up emails to Manchin's Chief of Staff copying his Chief Counsel, Legislative Director and Legislative Assistant on November 20th, December 19th, January 10th and January 20th. Each one included a piece of the ever-mounting evidence that the Rockwool factory would significantly deteriorate the air, water, health and economic prosperity of Jefferson County. A few received a quick response such as "Thank you for sharing, David. We will take a look." Some received no response at all.

Finally, on January 31st I sent an email demanding some sort of action. That started a thread which ultimately resulted in the scheduling of a Town Hall on February 25th at 11am. You'll see in the midst of the thread a reference to a text from Mara Boggs, Manchin's State Director.

This text message from Mara Boggs, Manchin's State Director, shows the imperious attitude of Manchin's staff toward constituents.

A week later, on February 7th, I sent an update to Manchin's staff on the same thread with a letter from the Superintendent of Schools, who had determined that Rockwool was unable to verify the safety of the plant for school children so the Board of Eduction was pursuing remedies that included withdrawal from and opposition to the project. I concluded "Please don't let Senator Manchin both sides this or come seeking opinions. He has the facts. He should come to Jefferson County to tell his constituents how he is going to help protect their interests, rather than the interests of a Danish company and the suppliers of coal and natural gas. If he needs more facts in preparation, let us know."

A week went by with no answer or engagement. Joe was on the television constantly talking about the border wall, the looming shutdown, the State of the Union, bipartisanship. My dad was sending me links and videos telling me how reasonable he was. I thought about how many of us called his office, sat down with his staff, provided detailed information over the last six month. I thought about how Pat Hayes, Manchin's Chief of Staff, proudly showed us two pages of "action items" he took during our meeting in October. At the end of the meeting Pat claimed he had jotted down more such items than he'd taken in any other meeting. Not only was there no subsequent, Manchin's state director had written "The Senator will be more than happy to come back to Jefferson County and hold a public town hall. Senator Manchin hosts public town halls across the state, and they are open to any constituent who wants to attend, and he’ll address any issue that arises."

I felt I was misleading my friends and they were going to be disappointed. We had provided Joe with volumes of information. I didn't understand why Joe wasn't OUTRAGED that he had been misled by Rockwool and JCDA executives when they handed him a shovel, told them it was a job-creating "green facility," and said he was doing the right thing. When Charles Town Mayor Scott Rogers discovered the nature of Rockwool several months after the groundbreaking he was horrified and changed his position. Manchin knew that. He said he would be working closely with Mayor Rogers. I called Scott and asked him if he'd heard from Manchin, and he said no. Silence.

I was certain the Men in Black were going to visit Joe, as they did with many fence-sitting politicians, and he was going to come out and hear what people had to say about "any issue that arises." He was going to pretend he didn't already have all the information he needed to make a MORAL JUDGEMENT and ETHICAL DETERMINATION. He was going to listen and then go back to DC and DO NOTHING. Maybe write more strongly-worded letters. Maybe run some political and financial calculus on how much 84 tons of coal a day was worth to Barbour County versus the health of 30% of the children in Jefferson County.

So I sent Pat Hayes an email at 1:43 pm on February 13th with the subject line "boiling point out here in Jefferson County re: Rockwool." I was providing political advice. I wanted to give Joe a chance to do the right thing. A chance to LEAD on the issue. I began, "I'm writing to give you a heads-­up that folks out here aren't interested in waiting for Senator Manchin to come out on 2/25 and hear from us in the manner described by Mara. The Senator and his staff should have all the information you need to make a clear and unequivocal statement. If anything is missing I'm happy to
provide it. I'll need an answer by the end of the day today on the Senator's understanding of the situation and his decision on whether he is supporting Rockwool or supporting us. When I initially spoke w/ Senator Manchin by phone on this topic I predicted a round table wouldn't work because of the litigation. We
need to get this settled, and the only way to do that quickly is with Senator Manchin's support

As you can see in the archived email thread, Pat Hayes responded 2 hours later, at 3:50 pm, cancelling the Town Hall. "We were looking forward to having an informative exchange at the town hall meeting, but since there is no interest in the
meeting, per your email, we are not going to host it at this time

Pat was clearly misrepresenting my email, so I quickly responded (13 minutes later) making sure he understood that. "There is a great deal of interest in the meeting. And as you know I am not speaking for JCV/CCAR or any organizations. I think it's a huge mistake to cancel the town hall and will send exactly the wrong message."

Pat's final statement eleven minutes later : "in light of your email we have already canceled the event and the venue."

In summary, I offered political advice to Senator Manchin after months of educating him on the issue and after a recent wave election that shifted three Jefferson County state legislative districts in the mid-terms to anti-Rockwool candidates by 13, 17 and 30 points from the 2016 election results, and I demanded an RESPONSE by the end of the day (not a public statement). He had my cell number, and when I made a demand before the election he called me on my cell phone. Now that he had been re-elected, his response was to cancel a Town Hall because the SAME PRIVATE CITIZEN THAT SPENT MONTHS GOADING HIM INTO HOLDING ONE demanded that he do more than just show up.

Manchin was trying to set people up against each other and appear as the reasonable person in the room. He knew he could blame me for cancelling the Town Hall and not have to deal with angry constituents. He'd rather make the rounds of the news shows talking about IMPORTANT SERIOUS PEOPLE STUFF like the boarder wall and how we can still keep extracting and burning coal in a cleaner greener manner. Morgan County, USA describes this dynamic is a recent post: "If you haven’t seen it up close over and over again, it’s easy to be fooled."

I have seen it up close up over and over again. So have many others. That's why 45 of us showed up at his office the next day, February 14th. And that's why I kept receipts. And that's why we've organized.

When Hoppy Kercheval asked Joe why he didn't meet with us, he said "between meetings around 3 or 4 I can get somewhere between a meeting and do it." As you can see from the livestream, we repeatedly asked for confirmation that Senator Manchin was going to meet with us, and the time he was going to meet, and it was never confirmed. He could not have been more than 5 minutes away. He could have stepped out of a meeting and called in on the phone. Or he could have told us he would be there between 3 and 4. He didn't. After months of keeping us waiting, he was still putting us off, but he took the time to tweet in favor of a new coal mine opening in West Virginia by a company that is restructuring to avoid paying employee benefits.

Full livestream of Resist Rockwool in Senator Manchin's office.

Then he claimed "we had a Town Hall set up. A Town Hall we had set up. They called my chief of staff Pat Hayes and says 'we need Manchin' and starts making demands..." First of all, Manchin gave me Pat's phone number and told me to call him. I had placed several calls that weren't returned before I sent the email. When things had gotten heated between Pat and I in the past, he thanked me for "holding them accountable." Pat cancelled the Town Hall as a power play to show that Manchin was in control, and if we didn't behave there would be repercussions. Manchin had to avoid taking a position and getting off the fence as long as possible while appearing to be concerned, and we were calling his bluff.

Even worse, Joe claims we cancelled the Town Hall because "they didn't want a meeting where the facts would come out." WE HAVE BEEN PROVIDING FACTS FOR MONTHS, WE SPENT TWO HOURS IN A CONFERENCE ROOM WITH HIS SENIOR STAFF PRESENTING FACTS AND WE PROVIDED MORE FACTS STANDING THERE IN HIS OFFICE. What facts is he missing? Hundreds of thousands of tons of toxic and hazardous emissions falling on school children is bad. Are there facts that will disprove that? The Jefferson County economy is robust, and based on agriculture, tourism, light manufacturing, education and government. Does he have some alternative facts? The vast majority of us don't want Rockwool or heavy industry. That is a fact.

Then Hoppy asks the critical question, "have you reached a decision on whether or not Rockwool is a good thing or bad thing for that community?" Manchin responds, after passing the buck to the EPA, West Virginia Development Office, WV DEP and court system, "They don't want to listen to all the facts once they've made up their mind what they want. If the court decides that the facts shows they're wrong, they're gonna build it."

Joe isn't talking about the facts. What he is talking about is control. He's saying that if all the boxes are checked the factory will be built. He expresses concern about the health of our children, but if the WVDO, the DEP, the EPA and the court system say the kids can get sick, what's a Senator to do? I can’t understand the Senator’s actions as anything other than clear, deeply disappointing evidence that he is happy to abdicate, equivocate and prevaricate as long as he appears to be concerned and remains in control.

We listened to the all of the facts. We consulted with experts. We have made a decision. The free citizens of Jefferson County are not going to allow the Rockwool factory to be built where it will pollute our air and water, harm the health of our children and destroy our economic prosperity. Sorry, Joe, the people have the power. We're in control.

Resist Rockwool serenades Senator Manchin's office with our state song, "West Virginia Hills."

Take a look at the video above, where Resist Rockwool is singing our state song. In the background is a picture of Joe's big, beautiful family. If he knew that they would face an increased risk of birth defects, asthma and a wide range of chronic and fatal diseases, would he take a stand? What did it take to get Manchin to the point where he was willing to risk the health and safety of a community by letting the mechanical processes of state government put the interests of a Danish corporation over the wellbeing of his constituents?

Here's a picture of my grandson who will be born in April. It's been my dream since moving out to West Virginia 23 years ago that my children and grandchildren would live near me. I want there to be jobs here for them, as well as clean air and water. Prosperity is an entire ecosystem that takes care of everyone. We can have that, but only if our public servants take principled, moral and ethical stands on issues that affect their constituents, rather than letting industrial interests and toxic polluters game the system.

This would seem like an easy stand to take, protecting school children from a toxic polluter. But unfortunately that hasn't been Joe's history, despite the best efforts of so many of us to pull him in that direction. Parents insisted that Marsh Fork Elementary School be moved away from a coal processing plant and massive toxic waste storage facility (sludge dam) operated by Massey Energy subsidiary Goals Coal. According to Coal River Mountain Watch, “This seeping dam sits 400 yards from the school, and a coal silo ominously looms 150 feet from school grounds... This silo loads powdered coal onto trains and sprays it with a chemical binding agent. Another Massey subsidiary, Independence Coal, operates a 1849-acre surface strip mining operation above and around the school and dam.”

Regina Hendrix, who was present in Manchin's Senate Office last week and in Charleston, WV for the Marsh Fork Elementary School protest in 2007, State Troopers used "abusive force" in arresting and removing 13 protestors. Marsh Fork Elementary was finally moved in 2012.

Coal River Resident Hillary Hosta, who was not in the police's forbidden zone, is arrested and painfully hauled away. Photo (l) by Paul Corbit Brown, (r) by Graham Boyle.

Jefferson County citizens have reason to be outraged that Manchin won't take a stand against Rockwool. The facts are in. The environmental and health risks are sufficiently evident to oppose the project. We have enough information about suspected improprieties in the process by which the factory has been advanced to halt it on that basis alone until an investigation is conducted and our legitimate questions are answered.

It's disrespectful to state that parents that are concerned about our children aren't interested in the facts. It's disrespectful to the citizen researchers and local scientists to state that we don't have command of the facts. It's outrageous that after many months of dialogue Manchin claims not to have enough information to oppose the project.

Our demands are reasonable. Summon up the courage to come to Jefferson County and face us. If you won't state your unequivocal and official opposition to the Rockwool factory, tell us why. If you won't call for an investigation into the environmental and health concerns tell us why. If you won't call for a halt to permitting and construction while possible improprieties are investigated, tell us why.

Get off the fence, Senator Manchin. Take a stand.

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