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How a Goldwater-era Teen Camp is Training the Next Generation of Conservative Leaders



A group of lawmakers had made quick work of a stack of bills and appeared to have completed the day’s business when, with just a spare few minutes remaining in session, a delegate rose with an unexpected motion.

“Mr Speaker, I move we suspend the rules to introduce a new bill and move it to third reading.”

The motion carried, and the delegate read the bill.

“This bill is called Parent’s Right to Know bill,” she said. “Whereas it is not legally necessary for mothers to know that their daughters are having an abortion; whereas an abortion’s effects can be not only physically damaging but also emotionally; whereas minors should receive at least some sort of counsel before making such a huge decision; therefore, let it be resolved that legal guardians of a daughter seeking to have an abortion be informed of her decision but not able to make a decision for her otherwise.”

With so little time left, the speaker allowed only one speaker from each side.

Before the vote was called, a voice rose from the back of the room: “Is this new legislation? Why are we introducing new legislation? Why are we suspending the rules and allowing new legislation when you have three minutes left?”

The sergeant at arms answered, “The body wants to do it, so…..”

The delegates approved a motion to close debate, and seconds later, the bill passed on a voice vote.

This was not the bill approved by the West Virginia legislature and signed into law by Gov. Jim Justice earlier this year — but it was modeled after it. Instead of elected lawmakers, these were roughly 35 West Virginia teenagers, ranging between 14 and 18, with most on the younger end of that range, practicing the art of politics.

Conservative leadership camp

Between 35 and 60 campers annually descend on Camp Lincoln, located just outside the town of Cowen in Webster County, West Virginia, for a week-long immersion in the inner-workings of politics and government. In between traditional camp staples such as sing-alongs, talent shows and a dance, attendees run campaigns, stage court hearings, debate policy and meet with high-ranking state Republicans.

They attend classes on politics and conservative philosophy and spend hours practicing the arts of persuasion, debate, campaigning and legislative maneuvering in mock sessions that provide them with hands-on training for the real thing.

U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina, who famously shouted “You lie!” at President Barack Obama during a 2009 speech to a joint session of Congress, is an alumni. So is Saira Blair, who attended the camp in 2013 and went on the following year to knock off a two-term incumbent in a Republican primary en route to winning election to the West Virginia House of Delegates as the youngest person ever elected to state or federal office. Her victory came in 2014: a landslide election where Republicans won a majority in both houses of the West Virginia Legislature for the first time in over eight decades.

Camp Lincoln gave Blair the chance to practice legislating with other teenage conservatives a couple of years before she reached the Capitol in Charleston, and that experience has paid off. Blair is assistant majority whip — a job that involves enforcing political discipline on close votes — and serves as vice chair of three committees. The camp gave her the chance to network with counselors who worked in political offices and speakers who held key elected positions in West Virginia politics.

Camp director Todd Gunter, known as the Grand Wazoo, works the rest of the year for U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, who visits the camp about every other year. This year’s speakers included U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner and West Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Allen Loughry.

“Young people voted for Barack Obama in historic numbers,” Gunter said. “There’s a reason for that. The liberal left, they — I don’t want to use the word ‘indoctrinate’ — they invest in young people more than the conservative movement does. The left has the public education system. The left has the higher education system. The left has the media. There are all these things that are influencing these young people. The conservative movement for so long has not followed the left’s lead, and we continually lose young people. To me, it’s about investing in these young people.”

This year wasn’t Jenkins’ first visit to the camp, which he praised as an opportunity for young people to develop leadership and policy skills. A few of the campers had already signed up to volunteer for his U.S. Senate campaign even before he spoke to the group.

“These are youth that have conservative feelings and a keen sense of the issues,” Jenkins said by phone after he had made an appearance at the camp. “This is an opportunity to not only grow in their areas of interest, but also test the waters and to learn about public service in the form of holding elective office. These are eager youth that want to make a difference. They’re not sitting on the couch at home but instead are getting out there and getting busy.”

The Cow Palace

Camp Lincoln was founded in 1960 as part of the growing grassroots conservative movement that crystallized four years later with the Republican Party’s nomination of Barry Goldwater for President. Lincoln was one of four national young leadership camps, but the only one to survive more than five years. It sputtered during the ’80s and ’90s, but otherwise has operated on an annual basis, first by the Republican National Committee, then the West Virginia Republican Party and now as a 501(c)(3) organization.

Non-profit status means the organization is no longer officially run as a Republican training ground, but party figures remain supportive. Gunter’s boss Capito contributes to it, as well as state lawmakers and business owners, he said. Many contributions go to $250 scholarships to support campers; Blair was the recipient of such a scholarship in 2013.

Although it is non-partisan and encourages campers of all political stripes, Camp Lincoln remains a conservative bastion. Part of Gunter’s mission is to encourage exploration of those beliefs.

“The camp is known as a conservative leadership camp,” boomed retired Col. Monty Warner as he addressed the campers in the Cow Palace  — the same building where campers debated legislation, named in honor of the San Francisco venue which hosted the 1964 Republican National Convention that nominated Goldwater for president.

Warner attended Camp Lincoln as a teenager, several years after experiencing a political awakening while working for the Goldwater campaign at age 8. Forty years later, in 2004 he ran for West Virginia governor but was defeated by Joe Manchin. Today, Warner serves as CEO for the YMCA of Kanawha Valley as well as Camp Lincoln’s “dean.”

Clad in khaki shorts, an Army sweatshirt and U.S. flag neckerchief, Warner paced back and forth along the wall at the Cow Palace, laying out the philosophical underpinnings of his conservatism in a lecture titled “Yin and Yang of Politics 2.” For the next hour, he walked through a series of themes, describing the dueling sides in questions of whether humans are inherently good or evil, American versus world leadership and economic theories.

The campers listened quietly, occasionally responding when prompted. When Warner said he personally believed humans are good and not evil — a belief he described as more liberal than conservative — one girl raised her hand to challenge him based on biblical teachings about original sin.

Warner came to a poster depicting a yin yang symbol drawn on a sheet labeled “individual’s role.” On one side, “citizen.” The other side had a question mark.

“What’s the opposite of citizen?” Warner asked the class.

Long pause. Warner pressed. Isolated voices began to respond.




A counselor at the back of the room added, “Leeches.”

Warner suggested “resident.”

“A resident occupies somewhere,” he lectured. “A citizen serves the body politic with the three T’s: time, talent and treasure.”

After the economics discussion, Warner had built his argument to the point where he distinguished the modern-day Democratic and Republican parties.

“Whether you choose to be a Democrat or Republican I don’t care, but you need to be one or the other,” Warner said. “It’s the yin and yang of American politics. You’re either this or you’re this. That’s it. Those are your choices. Now if you want to vote yourself off the island and not be part of anything, that’s fine. You now have just made yourself a resident. I want you to be citizens. You have to pick. And when you do, you become involved. And then you become 10, you become 100, you become 1,000, and when you do: you change the world.”

Warner continued on, discussing the American military’s role as the protector of Western Civilization, a global force built on four pillars: Jewish monotheism, Greek philosophy, Roman law and Christian love. Beneath that structure, Warner said, was yet another foundation: military superiority. Warner added a pinch of Adam Smith’s capitalist theories and concluded with his vision of an American-led world.

“Everybody’s boat will rise in a rising ocean of the economy,” Warner said. “All we need to do is deter war in the process, and let free trade take care of the rest. As long as we maintain military superiority to beat the crap out of anyone who stands up against this idea, the four pillars will exist and Western Civilization will advance. Too cool or what?”

Does a fight over marijuana explain modern conservatism?

Attendees at Camp Lincoln form into two parties, the Federalists and Nationalists. Counselors make up a third party, the Whigs. None of the party labels mean anything so far as ideology; they’re generic.

“Some of them come here conservative, some come here liberal, and some come without any political ideology,” Gunter said. “They leave here having had provocative discussions about politics. If they take something away that’s conservative, that’s success.”

“Conservative” be applied to positions in a variety different policy spheres, some of which conflict with each other. This spectrum of conservative ideology was on display during another camper debate over a bill proposing the legalization of recreational marijuana.

One delegate argued against it: “Marijuana is a known gateway drug. We already have a hard opioid crisis in West Virginia.”

Another responded, “The science on whether marijuana is a gateway drug or not can go either way. But West Virginia’s economy is suffering. This should really help with tax revenue. People are going to jail which taxpayers pay for, because of marijuana. Smoking marijuana I think shouldn’t go to jail or anything like that.”

The debate continued.

“I like the idea, but I feel it’s very flawed. It’s not clear how you can use or what restrictions are placed on it.”

“There’s more to recreational marijuana use than just smoking weed. There’s a whole industry. People could use marijuana to make soaps and lotions and things of that nature. We’d be creating jobs for people who decide to go into the hemp industry. There’s more than just smoking.”

“I think marijuana stinks. I don’t want to be walking down the street and walk into a cloud of marijuana smoke.”

“I am not interested in the smells. I’m interested in the jobs.”

After a hard-fought 12-minute debate, the congress voted — first on a motion to end debate, and then to kill the bill, 17-6.

Not all bills were that serious. The camp delegates argued over a series of more frivolous legislation such as whether to serve ice cream at next year’s camp luau. Another bill would allow female counselors to skip calisthenics and sleep in. That particular legislation turned surprisingly controversial when it was revealed that one of the counselors had paid a camper to introduce the bill. An argument over ethics ensued, but the bill was passed nonetheless.

A cheat sheet for Robert’s Rules of Order — outlining parliamentary procedure — hangs on the wall of a room at Camp Lincoln. (Photo: Mason Adams)

Gunter explained that these sort of situations occasionally arise. The bill presented an ethical conundrum, but one that’s often a standard part of doing business in Charleston or Washington, D.C. The concept of a third-party “paying” for the introduction of a bill through a campaign contribution or gift is one with which future leaders must grapple. So why not engage the campers with the question now?

Many of the campers come repeatedly as teenagers, giving them plenty of exposure to these questions. A cluster of 17- and 18-year-olds moved on from the camp to college last summer, and this year’s batch consisted mostly of younger campers aged 14 and 15. The group is a mix of boys and girls, with girls holding some of the prominent leadership positions, including the 2017 president. The campers also displayed a variety of personalities and debate styles while in mock session, indicative of the broader mix you’ll find in any group of teens.

Changing the world

After lunch the campers had lunch with Monty Warner’s brother, West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner. The secretary was introduced by his son, who — prompted with a few planted questions from campers — told stories about his experiences sweeping for mines and improvised explosive devices during a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Mac Warner picked up the theme, spending most of his time talking about his own years as a state department contractor in Afghanistan — helping to develop its legal institutions before briefly addressing his effort to purge about 120,000 people, or about 10 percent, from West Virginia’s voter rolls. Warner also introduced Juma Nazari, an Afghan lawyer and interpreter who worked with Warner and who is now seeking citizenship for his family in America. Afterward, a few campers lingered to speak with Warner and trade contact information.

These visits give the campers the chance to build a burgeoning network that can open doors within the world of politics. With the exception of Gunter, all of the volunteer counselors previously attended the camp, and some found their way into political jobs in part through connections made at Camp Lincoln. Others, including Blair and Wilson, parlayed the experience into real-world success winning elections and enacting policy.

Gunter said the camp aims to arm its participants with leadership skills that will help them no matter where they end up in life or which political party they join. Clearly, though, camp leaders hope that campers will go on to more deeply imbue Goldwater conservatism into the world.

During his lecture outlining the yin yang of American politics, Monty Warner repeated more than half a dozen times a quote attributed to cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead:  “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

In the mock congress, after the last-minute bill notifying parents of a planned abortion was introduced and passed, the campers staged a bill-signing ceremony. The president only vetoed a single bill — a bit of legislation that would purchase handheld vacuums for each camp room. She signed the rest, including the parental notification bill, as campers applauded.

If you squinted, it looked like the future.

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Distress Grows For Ohio Valley Farmers As Trade Deals Stall



Barry Alexander with a handful of yellow soybeans. Photo: Liam Niemeyer/Ohio Valley ReSource

This story was originally published by the Ohio Valley ReSource.

West Kentucky Farmer Barry Alexander doesn’t have an answer on when the Trump administration will reach a trade deal with China, now a year into tariffs that have hamstrung some Ohio Valley industries.

Listen to the story from the Ohio Valley ReSource.

Alexander is optimistic these continued negotiations will be worth it, but his plan in the meantime lies in massive, silver storage bins on Cundiff Farms, the 13,000-acre operation he manages.

He pulls a lever, and out tumbles a downpour of pale yellow soybeans.

Video: Liam Niemeyer/Ohio Valley ReSource

“These beans have been in here since Halloween day,” Alexander said. “The large bin on the right, that’s 350,000 bushels. The next-size bins down, that’s 180,000 bushels. To give reference, a thousand bushels is one semi-truck load.”

He’s been trying to hold onto about half of his soybean and corn bushels, waiting to see if he can sell for a better price before he’s forced to start planting again in early April.

Crop prices have crashed partly because of Chinese tariffs, and the losses have put a strain on some farmers he knows.

Barry Alexander, a lifelong west Kentucky farmer, in his small office. Photo: Liam Niemeyer/Ohio Valley ReSource

“There are farmers that have decided to retire because they didn’t want to work through these things now. We’re to that point,” Alexander said.

Alexander said he’s survived in part because his sprawling farm has resources to work with: eight full-time employees, two new $550,000 combines he traded up for, and the storage bins to help ride out bad crop prices.

“Our large structures are not cheap, but financially for our farming operation, they’re a necessity for us to do what we do,” Alexander said.

Farmers like Alexander are coping with losses from tariffs and a continuing trade war, and it’s not clear when it will end. A March 1 deadline for negotiations with China was delayed indefinitely by President Trump, and an agreement with Mexico and Canada that Trump signed in November has yet to be ratified by Congress. The retaliatory tariffs on U.S. crops and dairy remain, compounding problems caused by overproduction and low crop prices, and small farmers are suffering the most.

Massive, steel storage bins, half-full with grain, on Cundiff Farms in west Kentucky. Photo: Liam Niemeyer/Ohio Valley ReSource

Size Matters

“If you look at all the large farmers, these guys have the storage facilities to wait out bad prices,” Kent State University-Tuscarawas Agribusiness Professor Sankalp Sharma said. “For a lot of these small guys…they couldn’t actually store their commodity, they still had to deal with those lower prices.”

Sharma and others argue grain prices have been low for five years because farmers are overproducing, and tariffs are only making the situation worse.

“The United States soybean harvest this year in general was just crazy. There was a bumper crop, and prices were down because of that,” Sharma said. “This was just your classic demand and supply situation.”

Both Ohio and Kentucky set records for soybean harvests in 2018: 289 million bushels and 103 million bushels, respectively. This is up significantly compared to two decades ago, when Ohio harvested 162 million bushels and Kentucky harvested a little over 24 million bushels in 1999.

Farmers are also becoming more efficient than ever before — Ohio set records in 2018 for most corn and soybean bushels produced per acre.

Oversupply problems haven’t been limited to grains, though. Small dairy farmers are also dealing with excess supply and tariffs, with hundreds of cases of extra milk being dumped at Ohio Valley food banks.

Farms At Risk

Greg Gibson’s operation is small, but his family has made it work for decades. He milks 80 cows at his dairy farm in Bruceton Mills, West Virginia, and he took over the operation in 2002. The past year of tariffs hasn’t been easy.

“Everything’s down. Historically, if milk price is down you can sell some corn or you could sell some replacement animals are something,” Gibson said. “But nothing has a lot of value to sell right now, so it’s really hard to generate any additional revenue. And a lot of that is because of the trade problems we’re having.”

Like many Ohio Valley farmers, Gibson is receiving payments from the $12 billion in federal relief from the Market Facilitation Program intended to to help those who suffer losses from tariffs.

Small farms are squeezed by the dairy crisis. Photo: Nicole Erwin/Ohio Valley ReSource

Gibson appreciates Trump’s efforts to renegotiate trade deals, and like Alexander, is cautiously hopeful about the prospects of new trade deals.

But he said he’s also disappointed in Trump because the payments are not nearly enough to recoup his losses. He says milk’s price has plummeted nearly a dollar per hundred pounds of milk sold and the payments only reimburse 12 cents of that.

“I would have rather him said ‘I got to do this. You’re going to take the hit. Sorry.’ Don’t promise me you’re going to take care of me and then don’t,” Gibson said.

Some commodity associations including the National Corn Growers Association and the National Milk Producers Federation have called on the Trump administration in past months to bolster what they call lackluster relief payments.

Gibson’s squeezed budget has had him extend paying off his farm loans and put off paying several repair bills. He’s also had to put up his 150-year-old family farm as collateral for his loans.

Farm lenders say Gibson’s situation isn’t unique right now. Senior Vice President of Agricultural Lending Mark Barker helps oversee lending for Farm Credit Mid-America, which serves most of Ohio and Kentucky.

“Are we doing things differently? Well, sure,” Barker said. “Because we have customers coming in now and telling us ‘I’m struggling at this point. I’m challenged.’”

Barker said while most people are making their loan payments right now, the rapidly increasing amount of debt farmers are taking on to deal with depressed prices is concerning, especially for smaller operations.

“It seems like the larger producers, you think about their equipment and everything else, they’ve got some added advantages,” Barker said. “It doesn’t mean the smaller producer is necessarily ‘out,’ but I do think they got more challenges in this current environment.”

U.S. Department of Agriculture economists predict nationwide farm debt will reach $263.7 billion in 2019, levels of debt not seen since the 1980s farm crisis, when thousands of farm families defaulted on their loans amidst a trade embargo with the Soviet Union and high loan interest rates.

New Farmers

Tom McConnell leads the Small Farm Center at West Virginia University’s Extension Service and tries to help small farms succeed, in a state that has the highest proportion of small farms in the nation. He’s lived through the 1980s farm crisis and saw many dairy and beef farmers lose their farms.

He said one solution for small farmers to withstand these depressed prices is to switch to crops that bring a higher value, like vegetables. But those can be more labor-intensive, and the transition can be difficult.

“If you’ve been in a family that has milked cows or grown row crops for three generations, and I suggest you grow three acres of sweet corn and five acres of snap beans, there will be some resistance to that,” McConnell said.

McConnell said it might take a new generation to redefine what a successful small farmer business model can look like.

One of those younger small farmers is Joseph Monroe, who moved from Indiana to central Kentucky to raise beef cattle and grow tomatoes and greens. Monroe believes a way forward for smaller farms is to find ways to work together to sell products and have a greater market impact.

“I think there needs to be some pioneers and some examples out there of how to draw up a contract to work together,” Monroe said. “I think we need to throw all the darts and see what hits.”Share on Twitter

This story was originally published by the Ohio Valley ReSource.

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Plastics: The New Coal in Appalachia?



Gas processing plants like this MarkWest plant in Butler County, Pennsylvania, separate natural gas liquids from natural gas. Photo: James Bruggers

With the natural gas fracking boom, plastics production is spreading in the Ohio River Valley. But at what cost to health and climate?

MONACA, Pennsylvania — Along the banks of the Ohio River here, thousands of workers are assembling the region’s first ethane cracker plant. It’s a conspicuous symbol of a petrochemical and plastics future looming across the Appalachian region.

More than 70 construction cranes tower over hundreds of acres where zinc was smelted for nearly a century. In a year or two, Shell Polymers, part of the global energy company Royal Dutch Shell, plans to turn what’s called “wet gas” into plastic pellets that can be used to make a myriad of products, from bottles to car parts.

Two Asian companies could also announce any day that they plan to invest as much as $6 billion in a similar plant in Ohio. There’s a third plastics plant proposed for West Virginia.

With little notice nationally, a new petrochemical and plastics manufacturing hub may be taking shape along 300 miles of the upper reaches of the Ohio River, from outside Pittsburgh southwest to Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky. It would be fueled by a natural gas boom brought on by more than a decade of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a drilling process that has already dramatically altered the nation’s energy landscape—and helped cripple coal.

But there’s a climate price to be paid. Planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions from the Shell plant alone would more or less wipe out all the reductions in carbon dioxide that Pittsburgh, just 25 miles away, is planning to achieve by 2030. Drilling for natural gas leaks methane, a potent climate pollutant; and oil consumption for petrochemicals and plastics may account for half the global growth in petroleum demand between now and 2050.

Map: Ethane Cracker Plants on the Ohio River

Despite the climate and environmental risks, state and business leaders and the Trump administration are promoting plastics and petrochemical development as the next big thing, more than three decades after the region’s steel industry collapsed and as Appalachian coal mining slumps.

“We have been digging our way out of a very deep hole for decades,” said Jack Manning, president and executive director of the Beaver County Chamber of Commerce.

“When Shell came along with a $6-to-$7 billion investment … we were in the right spot at the right time,” he said.

Everyone wants jobs and economic growth, said Cat Lodge, who works with communities in the Ohio River Valley affected by the shale gas industry for the Environmental Integrity Project, a national environmental group. But not everyone wants them to be based on another form of polluting, fossil fuels, she said.

“While the rest of the world is dealing with global warming, Pennsylvania and Ohio and West Virginia are embracing developing plastics, and that just appalls me,” Lodge says. “It’s just not something I see as the future and unfortunately that seems to be the push to make that the future. And that’s upsetting.”

Lodge and her husband moved from Pittsburgh to the countryside 18 years ago in search of fresh air and open land. They have a small farm in a corner of rural western Pennsylvania, where winding roads trace the contours of Appalachian hills and a stark transition fueled by a shale gas boom is underway.

“We still love it, but little by little, and quickly over the last several years, we have become totally surrounded by the oil and gas industry,” she said.

Rising Demand, but Also Pushback on Plastics

The natural gas that’s pulled from deep underground in the Utica and Marcellus shale formations has done more than outcompete coal for electricity generation.

Drilling companies have also extracted a lot of natural gas liquids, particularly ethane, also called wet gas. It’s used to produce ethylene, which then gets turned into plastics, providing an additional revenue stream for the oil and gas industry. It’s the industry’s latest play, and it comes at a time when industry analysts and the federal government say the demand for plastics is skyrocketing.

Illustration: Plastics: From the Gas Plant to Your Home

“These materials are hooked into just about every part of the economy, from housing to electronics to packaging,” said Dave Witte, a senior vice president at IHS Markit, a global data and information service. “Today, the world needs six of these plants to be built every year to keep up with demand growth.”

IHS Markit calls the Appalachian or upper Ohio River region “the Shale Crescent.” Last year, it reported that the region’s gas supplies could support as many as five large cracker plants, like the one Shell is building. The plants “crack” ethane molecules to make ethylene and polyethylene resin pellets and would be in close proximity to a number of manufacturers that use those products to make everything from paints to plastic bags.

Chart: 3 States' Natural Gas Boom

IHS does see some headwinds, including an international backlash against plastics. It published a report last summer that found that worldwide pressure to reduce plastic use and increase recycling was one of the biggest potential disruptors for the plastics industry and was “putting future plastics resin demand and billions of dollars of industry investments at risk.”

The oil and gas industry might find themselves with stranded assets, needing to abandon Ohio River valley communities, said Lisa Graves-Marcucci, a Pennsylvania-based organizer for the Environmental Integrity Project.

“Do they really care,” she asked, “if they can make money for the first 10 years or 20 years of their operation, but then plastic goes away in the world? What happens to the communities that are left behind?”

She said she is also worried about such a major investment in oil and gas as the world grapples with the effects of climate change.

Visions of an Appalachian Plastics Hub

The idea for a plastics hub in Appalachia got a lift in December with a reportto Congress from the U.S. Department of Energy. It described a proposal for the development of regional underground storage of ethane along or underneath the upper Ohio River.

Storage is needed to help provide a steady and reliable stream of ethane to ethane cracking plants, and it would be important for the development of a regional petrochemical complex in the upper Ohio River valley, the report concluded.

Storage is another growing part of the plastics pipeline as natural gas is turned into natural gas liquids and eventually into plastics. Credit: James Bruggers
Storage is another growing part of the plastics pipeline as natural gas is turned into natural gas liquids and eventually into plastics. Credit: James Bruggers

A West Virginia business, Appalachia Development Group LLC, has proposed developing storage for ethane, possibly in mined salt or limestone cavernsdeep underground. It’s in the second phase of an application process for $1.9 billion in loan guarantees from the Department of Energy for the project, according to the department.

“We have sites of interest in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia,” said Jamie Altman, a representative of Appalachia Development Group. “We are aggressively pursuing private capital.”

The Energy Department is thinking big, too.

Its report projects ethane production in the Appalachian basin would continue rapid growth through 2025 to a total of 640,000 barrels per day, more than 20 times greater than five years ago. By 2050, the agency said ethane production in the region is projected to reach 950,000 barrels per day.

China Energy signed an agreement with West Virginia in 2017 to potentially invest $84 billion in shale gas development and chemical manufacturing projects in the state. Late in January, West Virginia’s development director, Mike Graney, told state senators that China Energy was looking at three undisclosed “energy and petrochemical” projects. An announcement could be made later this year, he said, though President Donald Trump‘s trade war with China was causing delays.

Other experts see a natural gas industry that’s subject to booms and busts and question whether the region is headed down another unsustainable path, like coal.

“We are less optimistic than the industry that this will really boom out,” said Cathy Kunkel, an energy analyst with Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, an environmental think tank that just published a reportdetailing how the natural gas industry in West Virginia hasn’t lived up to earlier expectations for jobs and tax revenue.

There is a huge amount of international competition for plastic production, she said. “All of the major oil exporting countries in the Middle East are talking about making massive investments in petrochemicals over the next five years or so,” she said. “That contains the risk that you will be exporting into a market that would be oversaturated with products.”

Increasing amounts of plastic waste are ending up in streams and oceans. Credit: Rosemary Calvert via Getty Images
IHS Markit, a global data and information service, published a report last summer that said worldwide pressure to reduce plastic use and increase recycling was one of the biggest potential disruptors for the plastics industry and was “putting future plastics resin demand and billions of dollars of industry investments at risk.” Credit: Rosemary Calvert via Getty Images

The Energy Department report also cited “security and supply diversity” as a benefit of developing a new plastics and petrochemicals hub in Appalachia. The bulk of U.S. plastics and petrochemical plants are currently along the Gulf Coast, where they face supply disruptions caused by hurricanes, it said.

Vivian Stockman, the interim director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition based in West Virginia, called that a “hugely ironic” justification for an Appalachian plastics hub, since science is showing that global warming can intensify hurricanes.

Economic Benefits, with Health Concerns

The Shell plant was lured to Beaver County by Pennsylvania officials with some $1.65 billion in tax incentives. It’s scheduled to open “early next decade,” company spokesman Ray Fisher said. This year, as many as 6,000 construction workers will be working on it, and Shell says it plans 600 permanent jobs to run the plant.

It’s in Potter Township, a community with fewer than 700 residents. Rebecca Matsco, who chairs the township commission that gave Shell the local zoning permits, said she sees the plastics plant as an industrial upgrade from a dirty zinc smelter that had stood on the property for about a century, and that Shell cleaned up.

“It had become a real environmental burden, and we do feel like Shell has been a real partner in lifting that burden,” Matsco said.

Others, however, see the cracker plant as its own environmental burden—a new source of emissions that cause lung-damaging smog and heat the planet.

People in Pittsburgh were sad to see so much of the steel industry go, but they don’t miss the dirty skies, said Graves-Marcucci, an Allegheny County resident. The economic resurgence that followed was centered around health care, academic institutions and cleaner industries, she said.

Pittsburgh has been brushing off its sooty steel city past and is now pledging to slash its carbon emissions. But the Shell cracker plant alone, just 25 miles away, would emit 2.25 million tons of carbon dioxide a year, effectively wiping out nearly all the gains in carbon reduction that Pittsburgh plans to achieve by 2030, said Grant Ervin, Pittsburgh’s chief resilience officer.

The Shell plant will also emit as much smog-forming pollution as 36,000 cars driving 12,000 miles year; that would equate to about a 25 percent increase in the number of cars in Beaver County, said James Fabisiak, an associate professor and director of the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities at the University of Pittsburgh.

The environmental and health threats will only increase with a plastics hub buildout, and no regulators are looking at those potential cumulative impacts, Graves-Marcucci said.

Two More Communities Could Get Cracker Plants

About 70 miles southeast of the Shell plant, another community waits for news about what could be the region’s second major ethane cracker plant, in Belmont County, Ohio.

PTT Global Chemical, based in Thailand, and its Korean partner, Daelim Industrial Co., Ltd., could announce any day whether they intend to proceed with an ethane cracker plant after getting state permits in late December. That plant would be along a section of the Ohio River in Belmont County where hulking old manufacturing plants and shuttered businesses paint the very picture of the nation’s Rust Belt.

Bellaire, Ohio, is a few miles from another proposed cracker plant. Belmont County officials are waiting to hear whether PTT Global Chemical and its partner are going to invest $6 billion to build the facility. Credit: James Bruggers
Bellaire, Ohio, is a few miles from another proposed cracker plant. Belmont County officials are waiting to hear whether PTT Global Chemical, based in Thailand, and its Korean partner are going to invest $6 billion to build the facility. Credit: James Bruggers

“Do you know what the biggest export is from Belmont County? Our youth,” said Larry Merry, an economic development officer with the Belmont County Port Authority, overlooking the Ohio River bottomlands where the cracker plant would be constructed on the cleared-away site of a former coal-fired power plant.

Merry, who has been working to secure the plastics plant, called the oil and gas industry “a great employer for us that’s provided a lot of investment that’s helped.”

But it’s not fully made up for losses in steel and coal, and this cracker plant “is about jobs and opportunities so people can make the most of their lives,” he said.

He brushed aside any concerns about climate change or too much plastics. “How are we going to live and have products? Until you come up with a solution, don’t expect the world to shut down,” he said.

A spokesman for PTT American said he could not say when an investment decision will be made.

A third potential cracker plant is planned for Wood County, West Virginia, but it has been delayed because of unspecified “challenges” with its parent company, the Department of Energy report said.

“It just blows my mind that there could be three or four cracker plants, or even one,” said Steve White, a western Pennsylvania builder. “That’s some serious investment. It just shows you where everything is headed and how much development is coming.”

White is also a pilot, and he said he has observed from the cabin of a Cessna 3,000 feet aloft the spread of oil wells, pipelines and processing plants across shale drilling zones in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, slicing up farms and encroaching on homes, schools and businesses.

“We are just in the way,” he said.

This article was originally published by Inside Climate News.

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Rural Drivers Can Save the Most From Clean Vehicles



Photo: Shutterstock/Standret

This post was written in collaboration with Maria Cecilia Pinto de Moura

The transition to clean vehicle technologies such as electric vehicles will benefit consumers everywhere, promising lower operating and maintenance costs, along with less pollution and a cleaner environment.

But the drivers with the greatest economic potential to gain by purchasing an electric vehicle are the residents of small towns and rural counties. Drivers living outside of urban areas often have farther to travel to work, shop, and visit a doctor. They have to repair their vehicles more frequently, they produce more carbon emissions per capita, and they spend more money on gasoline. As a result, rural drivers have the greatest potential to save money by making the switch to an electric vehicle.

Overall, rural residents have the potential to save up to twice as much as urban residents by making the switch from a conventional sedan to an electric vehicle. In addition, rural residents who drive pickup trucks and SUVs have the potential to dramatically cut their fuel costs and emissions through programs to encourage efficiency and electrification.

Rural drivers’ potential to save money and cut emissions

Using data from the 2017 National Highway Traffic Survey, we created a model that approximates what vehicles are being driven, and for how many miles, in every county in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region. This data allows us to approximate the average cost and emission savings from an electric vehicle in each county. We also mapped out some of the differences in vehicle miles traveled that form the basis of these calculations (see below, our full methodology is here).

Annual average fuel savings, miles driven and emissions reduction for a typical driver in 12 states and the District of Columbia

Overall, we find that in our most rural counties, the average driver will save $870 per year and cut carbon dioxide emissions by more than 3 metric tons per year by choosing an electric vehicle over a conventional sedan. That is almost twice the average emissions reduction from an EV in our most urban counties.

Bringing clean vehicle technologies to rural areas will not only benefit rural drivers, but it will also improve whole rural economies. Nearly all the money that we spend on gasoline and diesel fuel ultimately leaves our towns and our region, for other parts of the world. As electric vehicles replace the internal combustion engine on our roads, there will be more money in consumers’ pockets – which means more jobs, and more local development for our small towns.

Obstacles to rural electrification

Unfortunately, although rural residents have the greatest potential to save from purchasing an electric vehicle, currently EV sales are concentrated in urban areas and inner suburbs. As of 2017, people in urban areas and inner suburbs report that they are about three times more likely to own a plug-in vehicle compared to people in rural areas.

Rural drivers share many of the same challenges in selecting an electric vehicle as urban and suburban drivers: not many consumers are aware of how easy it is to make the switch to an electric vehicle, and the charging infrastructure is inadequate. These concerns are particularly acute for rural drivers, who on average need to travel greater distances between charging stations and destinations. Rural drivers do have one major advantage over urban drivers: they are much more likely to have access to offstreet parking, which should make installation of a home charging station easier.

In addition, rural drivers may have additional concerns about electric vehicle technology, such as the ability of electric vehicles to provide adequate performance in cold weather climates (hint: EVs are great in cold or inclement weather) or to provide enough range to deal with rural driving distances. Some of these concerns are being addressed through improvements in technology: at 200+ miles, cars like the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3 can serve the daily driving needs of residents of all areas. But even as the technology improves, cultural assumptions about what kind of vehicle is appropriate in what kind of area may remain.

As more electric vehicle models come to market, and vehicle costs continue to drop, rural drivers will have increasing choices in vehicle types from SUVs to pick-up trucks. But an EV may not work for every rural household today. Fortunately, automakers compelled by vehicle efficiency standards have been bringing more efficiency gasoline and diesel cars and trucks to market. Upgrading to a newer, more fuel efficient vehicle is another strategy available for every household today.

The Northeast needs a rural electrification strategy

Increasing growth of EV sales in rural areas will require states of the Northeast region to take a more proactive approach towards electrification in rural areas. We need a targeted strategy to reduce the barriers to adopt electric vehicles in our outer suburbs and rural areas. Such a strategy should include:

  • Increased incentives for rural & low- and moderate-income drivers. Overcoming the high purchase price of the vehicles is critical to achieving mainstream penetration of electric vehicles. Northeast states should consider adding additional incentives to make electric vehicles affordable for rural drivers. These incentives should include not only additional upfront rebates to reduce the purchase price of the car, but also financing assistance to help people with insufficient credit to purchase a new car. By targeting rural drivers, we can use incentive money most effectively to achieve our goals for emission reduction and cost savings.
  • Vehicle retirement programs to take the most inefficient trucks off the road. Many rural drivers are stuck driving some of the dirtiest, most inefficient vehicles on the road. A 10 year old Ford F-150 gets as little as 14 mpg, for example. A rural driver who trades an old F-150 to a new model can save up to $1,000 per year. Programs such as California’s Enhanced Fleet Modernization Program have helped retire some of these low-emission vehicles and in the process saved money for drivers of all kinds of vehicles.
  • Build rural charging infrastructure. Addressing rural range anxiety will require increased investment in rural charging stations. Utilities should target rural areas for support, both for public charging and for support in constructing home charging stations.
  • Support grassroots education outreach and marketing efforts. Bulk purchasing programs such as the Drive Green program run by Green Energy Consumers Alliance can reduce costs and help consumers address the complex decisions necessary to purchase an electric vehicle. Utility programs such as Green Mountain Power’s electric vehicle program can negotiate good deals from the auto industry and help their customers make the switch to electric vehicles. These programs should be encouraged to target rural communities and drivers.

As states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic consider new regional strategies to address transportation emissions, it will be critical for states to identify new strategies to help rural residents cut emissions and save money on transportation. One piece of a rural transportation strategy should be to enhance infrastructure that provides an alternative to driving an automobile, through expanded regional public transportation that give them easy access to urban centers, pedestrian and biking infrastructure that create vibrant communities in small towns. We should also consider how to best use innovative new transportation models facilitated by technology, such as vanpools, flexible bus routes, and ride hailing and sharing services to expand clean mobility to rural residents.

At the same time, we know that realistically driving a personal vehicle will remain an important part of the transportation system for rural communities. We need to provide rural residents with the cleanest vehicles that fit their needs. We encourage states to meet the challenges facing rural drivers with bold investments that can save money for consumers and reduce pollution for everybody.

This article was originally published by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

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