The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection held a forum sponsored by the Sierra Student Coalition on Monday, February 28th. This forum was put together to help introduce the new secretary, Austin Caperton, and environmental advocate, Ed Maguire, while also giving the people of West Virginia the opportunity to speak up about their concerns.
DEP is a gateway for economic development in West Virginia. Some of the work they do includes monitoring and regulating the input to any water supply and passing permits for landfills as well as any type of mining.
Caperton has been on the job for a little over a month and takes a lot of joy in the environment. Along with being the secretary, he is the representative for the people of West Virginia on environmental issues. His grandfather established Slab Fork, WV and his father founded Lake Stephens.
“When I took this job, it was one of the most prideful moments of my life,” said Caperton.
When Caperton was hired, he brought Maguire along with him. Maguire has worked on projects at Cooper’s Rock, the Ohio River Island, and the New River. He has a strong background in conservation, and described the work he does as “very gratifying.”
After introducing themselves, attendees were urged to compile questions on notecards for Caperton and Maguire. One of the biggest issues the crowd seemed to have was in regard to Marcellus shale production. Many people in the room have to live in harsh conditions where the air is polluted from Marcellus shale drilling.
“We’re going to die,” said a woman who desperately attempted to get Caperton to understand just how serious the dilemma is.
Another problem a lot of the community had was Caperton’s lack of stance on climate change. He sees where both sides come from in the belief toward it, and does not think that DEP has anything to do with climate change.
When it comes to priorities, Caperton didn’t have a set list. He wants to get to know the people he works more with before tackling that, but he told the room one thing was for certain.
“My priority is to work to the best of my abilitiy,” he said. “I’m a good student, and I learn pretty quickly. I’ve got a lot to learn.”
While a lot of his answers were uncertain, the crowd appreciated his honesty and readiness to know more about the issues West Virginia faces.
Emily McDougal is the conservation chair for the Mon County Sierra Conservation Club. She was in charge of gathering the questions from the crowd and keeping the panel going smoothly.
“I think it (the forum) went well. I definitely saw tears in the eyes of both men who were speaking, and I wasn’t expecting that,” McDougal said. “We definitely shook them.”
McDougal was nothing but optimistic about the impact that she thought the night made.
“Ed Maguire actually wants the notecards. He wants the questions and he wants to proceed with them,” she said. “You can tell he cares about what the citizens think.”