CHARLESTON, W.Va. — An increasing number of West Virginians are open to regulation to help protect the environment.
The MetroNews Dominion Post West Virginia Poll asked whether this country should do whatever it takes to protect the environment or if the country has gone too far in its efforts to protect the environment.
Sixty-seven percent responded that the country should do whatever it takes.
That’s up from the 51 percent who held that view in 2014, the last time the West Virginia Poll asked that question.
“My interpretation is that there were effects of Obama-era regulations on the coal industry in particular that created a lot of angst among people in West Virginia,” said professional pollster Rex Repass, the author of the West Virginia Poll.
“Today the regulations have been loosened, but the pendulum may be swinging a bit more. Those regulations have been relaxed with the Trump administration, and more miners are working. There is greater concern with the environment than in 2014.”
There is a split in the response among people of different political affiliations, but still majorities in both who express support for environmental protection.
The poll shows 84 percent of Democrats supporting whatever it takes to protect the environment with 52 percent of Republicans expressing that view.
President Trump has advocated repeatedly for bringing back the coal industry. His administration last month unveiled a replacement for the Clean Power Plan that would provide greater flexibility to states.
The new Affordable Clean Power plan received applause from the coal industry, but concern from others because of estimates that increased pollution would result in the premature deaths of 350 to 1,500 people a year.
With an improved economy, Repass suggested, more people are concluding “regulations are relaxed and those jobs are back, but we need to be careful with the environment.”
A related question in the West Virginia Poll asked people to decide whether stricter environmental laws and regulations cost too many jobs and hurt the economy or if they are worth the cost.
In that case, the response was 50-50.
That still demonstrates a change from four years ago when 60 percent said stricter environmental laws hurt the economy.
“Here you see a split,” Repass said. “It’s a pendulum that swings back and forth.”
The West Virginia Poll surveyed 404 people between Aug.16-26. The confidence interval is +/- 4.9 percentage points.
The survey included voters from all 55 counties.
Development and environmental questions are affecting West Virginia communities all over.
Five major natural gas projects are sprawling out across the state, bringing construction jobs but also under scrutiny for their effects on property and streams. And the Eastern Panhandle embroiled in controversy over a proposed Rockwell industrial plant.
The Rockwell construction has drawn protests over concerns about its proximity to local schools in Jefferson County and the effects of air pollution.
“I wonder if statewide this is turning some heads,” said Angie Rosser, director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition.
Rosser considered whether the numbers reflected in the West Virginia Poll represent a changing attitude among state residents.
“It seems significant to me,” she said. “It’s a significant change.”
She went on, “The past two years from state and federal government, you’ve seen rolling back protections and I think that’s what’s going on here.”
Rosser suggested there’s revived recognition by West Virginians in the natural beauty of the state as an asset for quality of life and the economy.
“We are seeing our natural scenic beauty and amenities and tourism attractions as a strong asset,” she said.
Rosser and the Rivers Coalition have been particularly active as watchdogs on West Virginia’s many pipeline projects. Some of the projects are hundreds of miles long, crossing private property, forests, parks and streams.
“It’s something you can see, and it’s affecting people around the state,” Rosser said.
Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the largest of the projects in West Virginia, have faced repeated court challenges from environmental groups and property owners.
Each of the projects had construction halted last month over challenges to their environmental permits. Both recently got a federal go-ahead to resume.
Representatives of the pipeline developers spoke this week before lawmakers who serve on the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Natural Gas Development.
Delegate John Kelly, R-Wood, asked the pipeline representatives what, if anything, should be done to help with the regulatory environment.
“We’ve seen delays in pipeline construction,” Kelly said. “I’m going to ask you what you believe this committee and this Legislature can do to make this an easier process.”
Joe Dawley, deputy general counsel for EQT, the developer of Mountain Valley Pipeline, responded that developers just need to know what to expect.
“The key is regulatory certainty,” Dawley said.
West Virginia has been helpful on regulatory matters, responded Bob Orndorff, the state policy manager for Dominion Resources, one of the developers of Atlantic Coast Pipeline.
North Carolina is next in terms of regulatory cooperation, Orndorff said. “Virginia, not so good.”
“West Virginia’s regulatory environment has been delightful to deal with,” Orndorff said.
The Republican majorities in West Virginia’s Legislature have often talked about reducing the regulatory burden on companies.
Shortly after being named the new House Speaker last month, Delegate Roger Hanshaw described a balanced approach to regulation.
“They need a friendly business environment and by that I don’t necessarily mean complete absence of regulation,” Hanshaw, R-Clay, said in response to a question the night he was selected as the new Speaker.
“A lot of folks say that and when they say friendly business environment to some that’s code for we just need to abolish all regulations.”