POINT PLEASANT — “Mason County has flat land and a lot of it,” U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said at Thursday’s round table discussion at the Mason County Economic Development Authority office.
Though this may seem like an obvious statement to many who live in the area, it’s not so obvious to investors, which is what Capito and local officials hope to change. Capito went on to say there was no reason that a project similar to the one undertaken by Procter & Gamble in Berkeley County couldn’t happen here.
“You’ve got all your pieces in place,” Capito added, talking about access to rail and river as well.
The senator participated in several events throughout the state this week, focusing on economic development and strengthening communities, including stops in Mason County.
Though she began her visit at the development authority office, she eventually worked her way to the Point Pleasant River Museum and Learning Center, then to Appalachian Railcar Services in Point Pleasant, followed by Marshall University’s Mid-Ohio Valley Center and M&G Polymers in Apple Grove. Capito was escorted to the sites by Economic Development Director John Musgrave, who also introduced her at Thursday’s round table discussion.
One thing Capito is passionate about is creating available, affordable broadband for the residents of West Virginia. She told those gathered: “We’re not wired for the next generation of business and we’re being asked to transition out of coal. … The only way to be able to do this is if we have the tools to attract jobs and be able to deal with a worldwide economy.”
Capito said she’d been pressing broadband providers to promote commercial competition and had been attempting to attract grant funding into the state to develop this network of high-speed Internet availability for all.
“We’ve lost tremendous jobs … over 10,000 in the coal industry. We’re losing population as a state,” Capito explained, saying when she gets asked by colleagues in Washington about what can be done to help counteract these circumstances, she says she has a simple answer.
“Wire the entire state, please … wire the state and build a few highways and let us do it on our own,” she said.
Capito is the first female senator from West Virginia and sits on the Environment and Public Works Committee and Energy Committee in Washington. On Thursday, she talked a bit about those committees, and about Washington. She said being on the EPW committee, which involves the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has left her concerned about executive powers.
“I really think the president has adopted a philosophy that is not only harmful to us in West Virginia, but I’m concerned about it for the future of the executive branch,” she said, speaking of presidential vetoes and mentioning the closure of the Philip Sporn Plant as a result of stricter EPA guidelines regarding carbon emissions.
“All we’re asking for is common sense here, give us some time so we can actually react, give us a timeline to develop the technologies so we can react,” Capito said. “We have a base-load energy of coal where we can continue to use it. We need to use it. I’m not anti-renewable, I’m pro-renewable, but that can’t power the nation, it’s not your base-load fuel.”
Capito told those gathered it is “difficult” to watch and describe to her colleagues the way legislation has affected her constituents who depend, both directly and indirectly, on coal.
“I don’t get a lot of sympathy from Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Ed Markey, D-Mass., or Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI. These are huge environmentalists and that’s all they see,” Capito said. “They don’t see the economic impact of this at all and so when you try to describe it, it’s almost like you’re talking to that wall over there, but that doesn’t mean we quit talking.”
Another talking point Capito took on was the drug issue.
“I know it’s hitting Mason County hard. This is not a new phenomena for Mason County, the new phenomena is heroin and it’s laced with fentanyl and it’s lethal,” she said. “I don’t know about you, but when I read the obituaries in Charleston and I see a 27-year old, the first thing that comes to my mind is some kind of drug issue and it’s just really said.”
Capito talked about the use of naloxone to reverse overdoses, speaking with Mason County Sheriff Greg Powers, who was in attendance, saying she wanted to get his staff trained on using this medication. She talked about working in the Senate with colleagues to provide follow-up help for those who have naloxone administered to them in terms of more options for treatment.
“This takes resources and people say, ‘Well, you’ve got a tight budget,’” Capito supposed. “Yeah, we’ve got a tight budget but you have to set priorities in your budget and to me, saving that next generation of young people is a top priority.”
As the meeting wrapped up, the senator pointed to a map of West Virginia projected on to a screen in the meeting room at the development authority office, saying, “As I look at that picture there of the state and where we are and where we’re situated, there’s no reason we can’t prosper.”
Reach Beth Sergent at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BSergentWrites.