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Environmental Groups Meet at West Virginia Summit

Representatives from a dozen West Virginia environmental groups convened in Morgantown on September 24 and 25, 2022 for a discussion of the proper strategy for the movement over the next few years. The Summit was convened by the West Virginia Environmental Council.

The keynote speaker was the nationally known climate advocate Mary Anne Hitt, a member of Conservation West Virginia’s Board of Advisors. Hitt focused on the actual, present effects of climate change in West Virginia. She highlighted a recent New York Times article arguing that West Virginia’s infrastructure is more exposed to flooding damage than that of any other state. This includes, schools, hospitals, police and fire stations, as well as roads and bridges. She also mentioned a Wall street Journal article demonstrating that West Virginia’s dependence on coal for energy generation drives up utility bills for state residents.

Hitt was followed by a panel discussion presented by four young leaders in the environmental movement. Among them was Corey Lilley, Director of Beckley’s Office of Outdoor Recreation and Economic Development. Lilley described how he has been able to enlist the help of Beckley businesses by focusing on how the development of green spaces and recreational facilities brings hard economic value to the city.

The final day of the Summit was devoted to a discussion of which legislation environmental groups should jointly support. The idea was to pick one or two legislative initiatives that advanced the goals of the environmental movement, as opposed simply to defeating bad bills. The discussion was led by Angie Rosser of West Virginia Rivers, also a member of Conservation West Virginia’s Advisory Board, and Del. Evan Hansen from Morgantown.

Using ranked choice voting the attendees favored backing a community solar bill and a reintroduction of the Clean Drinking Water Act of 2022, which is focused on the problem of PFAS “forever chemicals” in our drinking water. The next steps will be developing a public message around these bills, which Del. Hansen called the “outside game,” and a plan to develop allies inside the Legislature.