West Virginia DEP Secretary, Austin Caperton, Faces Tough Crowd At First Public Forum

28 Feb

By: Mariah Congedo

The Sierra Student Coalition hosted newly appointed, secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, Austin Caperton on Monday evening. Caperton and his environmental advocate, Ed Maguire were faced with many angered citizens of West Virginia regarding several economic topics.

Caperton has only been in office for forty days and says this was his first group he has spoken to since being elected. Faced with a tough crowd, Caperton talked about topics such as climate change, permits and economic development. The DEP handles not only water supply and clean air; it also takes care of implementing the laws passed in West Virginia.

The DEP is in charge of insuring that people obtain permits for what they can emit into the air, building landfills, any type of mining and plenty more. Caperton says there are 936 budgeted positions and that they spend about $500 million a year with less than two percent coming from the government of West Virginia.

Among the several “hot topics” discussed during the forum was the topic of climate change. The crowd was given the opportunity to ask any questions that they had and many were left unanswered. When asked about climate change, from several people, Caperton continued to state that he could not comment on it with a specific stance, he says, “the DEP is not in the climate change business.”

Those who asked this question felt as though climate change is a big issue and that he should be able to give a definite answer. Jim Kotcon, a member in the crowd said that he would have liked more specific answers to the questions. He says, “I am concerned that he doesn’t have a stance on climate change. I believe that it is the single most important issue facing the entire planet.”

Kotcon was not the only member who felt that this was odd of the secretary, however, they were pleased with his honesty in admitting that he did not have an answer for some of the questions, climate change being among them.

Caperton also discussed the topic of energy efficiency and his support in it. His background in the coal industry with both Massey Energy and Slab Fork Coal Company are strong indicators of his passion in energy. Being given the position of secretary of the DEP, he says he needs to learn more about what the agency does, then figure out what needs to be done.

During the Q&A part of the forum the crowd seemed to become agitated that both Caperton and Maguire were not able to answer several of the questions asked of them. Kotcon says that even though Caperton could not answer several of the questions, he did “appreciate that secretary Caperton was very forthcoming and expressed his opinion where he had one.”

At the end of the forum, Caperton expressed his excitement in getting to work with his new team. He hopes to come back soon with better answers to the citizen’s tough questions and while continuing to represent the DEP in the best way possible.

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