The Politics of Rockwool in West Virginia

Despite overwhelming citizen opposition to the Rockwool industrial facility in Jefferson County, West Virginia, politicians are still taking a cautious approach to the red hot political situation there.

With the November elections looming, a majority of state legislative candidates in the Eastern Panhandle have refused to take a pro or con public position on the issue.  

Fourteen out of 24 candidates in the Eastern Panhandle did not respond to a Morgan County USA survey about whether they support or oppose the Rockwool facility.

Here’s the district by district breakdown.

In Senatorial District 16, which includes Jefferson County, Senator John Unger (D) did not come out flatly against the Rockwool facility, but said he will introduce a bill in the 2019 Session of the West Virginia Senate that will require public hearings in the area impacted by any air or water permits.

“We’ve had a lot of concerns expressed with the Clean Air Permit given to Rockwool, Inc.,” Senator Unger said. “Though the public comment period ran legally, a hearing was not held in the community that will be affected. I want to make sure that in the future, our communities have a chance to give input to the processes that directly affect them.”

Delegate Michael Folk (R) said that while he’s not opposed to the facility being built, he would have never supported the corporate welfare that underpins the project and would have never voted for those provisions that made the project possible.

In Senatorial District 15, neither Senator Charles Trump (R) or challenger Jason Armentrout (I) responded.

In House of Delegates District 58, former House Majority Leader Daryl Cowles (R) did not respond.

Bibi Hahn (D) said she opposes building the facility. “Really? A 20 story silo, poison in the air right across from a school, and only 150 jobs? I need a reason,” Hahn said.

Independent Kent Brooks McCumbee said that while he supports jobs, “if the citizens in Jefferson County don’t want it then it must not be too great of an idea and I wonder about the environment issue being so close to a school.”

In House of Delegates District 59 neither Larry Kump (R) nor John Isner (D) responded.

In House of Delegates District 60, Delegate Marshall Wilson (R), who is running unopposed, did not respond.

In House of Delegates District 61, Delegate Jason Barrett (D), who also is running unopposed, did not respond.

In House of Delegates District 62, Tom Bibby (R) said that he supports “the effort by Rockwool to construct its industrial facility because it offers increased economic opportunities for West Virginia and will provide manufacturing jobs for about 150 people within the Eastern Panhandle, while using state-of-art technologies to control emissions and comply with strict federal and state environmental standards.”

“These types of manufacturing companies create great paying direct jobs, along with a multiplier effect that further expands the economy through an increased tax base, decreased unemployment and infrastructure development,” Bibby said.

Cynthia Toodle (D) did not respond.

In House of Delegates District 63, John Hardy (R) and Brett David Rogers did not respond.

Sam Brown (D) issued a statement after this story was originally posted.

“I stand firmly against Rockwool,” Brown said in a statement. “I stand against the construction of Rockwool and with my friends and neighbors in Jefferson County. Throughout the remainder of this campaign I will be discussing the necessity of further transparency in construction projects, as well as the inability of my opponent to produce a stance on this issue. It’s clear to me that there are many environmental concerns surrounding Rockwool, none of which have been addressed by the Jefferson County Development Authority or Rockwool themselves. We need answers, and citizen participation, which is why I stand firmly against Rockwool.”

In House of Delegates District 64, Eric Lee Householder (R) did not respond.

Barby Frankenberry (D) said she’s opposed to the facility.

“The Eastern Panhandle is the economic heartbeat of West Virginia, and House District 64 is in the center of it with the Air Guard and airport, Proctor and Gamble, and numerous other manufacturing and high-tech companies finding the I-81 corridor a great place to do business,” Frankenberry said. “We are fortunate to have economic and population growth supported by a strong public education system and dedicated workforce while much of our state struggles due to a mono-economy dominated by the coal industry for over a century. I grew up in my district in South Berkeley, and my grandfather was a county commissioner. Back then we trusted our elected leaders to make decisions that benefited us all. Many have lost that trust. It is critical that our government — at all levels — be transparent with the citizens it serves. The people of Jefferson County deserve to be heard and deserve to be represented by honest elected officials who stand up for what they believe is good, and who can take responsibility for mistakes and work to make them right. West Virginians are sick of the ongoing corruption in government. I am opposed to the Rockwool facility based on my deep belief in transparency and accountability. Corporations have their place in our society, but not at the detriment to our society itself.”

In House of Delegates District 65, Jill Upson (R) did not respond.

Sammi Brown (D) said she’s opposed to the facility being built in Jefferson County.

“I am in direct opposition to this project for a number of reasons, not the least of which includes a clear show of contempt by the corporation for the people of my community,” Brown said. “I feel that there is a stark difference between economic growth and economic justice, the latter being one that emphasizes the betterment of an entire community — not only through wages and job placement, but also through social responsibility, and reinvestment in the community in which it inhabits.”

“Candidacy aside, this is extremely personal for me. I grew up here. I know this community. I attended school here. In no way can I condone the actions made by some to affect the many. I will seek policy to lift up and strengthen environmental protections, consumer protections, preference to small business over out of state corporations and interests, transparency in dealings (particularly in economic development), and labor regulations that insist upon West Virginia Workers getting West Virginia jobs and workplace safety measures in manufacturing spaces.”

In House of Delegates District 66, Delegate Paul Espinosa (R) did not respond.

David Dinges (D) said he opposes the Rockwool facility.

“I oppose because of the health risks associated with the emissions from this facility,” Dinges said. “I also don’t agree with not having any of the 150 positions for employment guaranteed to West Virginia residents.”

And in House of Delegates District 67, Delegate Riley Moore (R) did not respond.

John Doyle (D) said he opposes the Rockwool facility coming to Jefferson County.

“The proposed plant will pollute too much, and is particularly dangerous to schoolchildren,” Doyle said. “An elementary school is less than a half-mile from the proposed plant. Another elementary school, a middle school and a high school are all within two miles of the plant. Also, Jefferson County’s strongest economic development potential is primarily in agriculture and tourism. I fear Rockwool’s presence in Jefferson County will discourage entrepreneurs who might be interested in creating new tourism or agriculture jobs, and might even chase away some of the agriculture and tourism jobs we already have.”


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