I spent three days this past week in public hearings. This is not quite as exciting as sitting in the Capitol hallway, waiting to see if anybody’s got a budget, but it is a close second.
In reality, it was a good way to be exposed to public opinion, up close and personal. I hope it was as good for the government as it was for me.
The first was two days of public comments for the repeal of the Clean Power Plan. About 200 people had their chance to be heard.
Those who spoke included state political figures, those in the mining industry, other manufacturers, West Virginians, people from out of state and people who have genuine concerns about the well-being of their communities.
Critics of the Clean Power Plan said they had been upset when the Environmental Protection Agency bypassed West Virginia as the federal plan to regulate greenhouse gases was being put together in the first place.
Many who want to keep the plan expressed the reverse. They were upset that while dismantling the Clean Power Plan, the EPA so far only has announced plans to come to West Virginia. They believe additional communities deserve the chance to be heard.
As I sat and listened, I wondered how the EPA administrators take the comments into account. Does it all wash over them? Do they listen for trends? Do they weigh more heavily presentations with technical insight? Does emotion win the day?
At the end of each of the two days, we actually ran out of speakers. There were long pauses while the EPA administrators asked for volunteers. We waited to see if anyone would be inspired to step to the microphone.
The next public hearing I attended last week was over the fate of the Green Bank Observatory. The telescope there is a scientific marvel and a source of pride in West Virginia, but the federal government is figuring out if it’s still worth the expense.
Another 200 people, many bused from as far away as Morgantown, gathered in an auditorium and spoke for about three hours. All were passionate about keeping the Green Bank telescope.
What will become of those comments? Will the federal officials take them into account? Will they be compiled in notebooks and placed high on a warehouse shelf?
I’m not sure.
But I do think a government that is made to listen to people has a better chance to produce better government.

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