West Virginia Open To Many Businesses

Commentary: Dave Peyton

West Virginia is open for business, or so says Gov. Joe Manchin. What he doesn't say is that all businesses aren't good. Just like people, many businesses have a dark side.

And that's why, in part, governments are "instituted among men." Government is supposed to regulate business and not give business a blank check to lie, cheat and steal.

Ironically, the same businesses that hold the promise of jobs can also wage war, not only on government and the people, but on other businesses.

Take the case of Chesapeake Energy, a huge gas exploration company that was the target of a class-action suit in Roane County. That trial resulted in a huge award from a jury against Chesapeake and its predecessors for not holding up its end of the bargain in gas leases with thousands of land-owners.

The case is on appeal, but Chesapeake has indicated that, if the jury decision holds, it may decide not to locate a regional headquarters in Charleston. That would mean the loss of 200-plus jobs for the city.

Meanwhile, in Texas natural gas companies have come together to fight big coal. The group is called the Texas Clean Sky Coalition.

A new ad campaign from the coalition features men and women with blackened faces and "facts" about coal plant emissions.

The coalition's Web site includes questions such as: "Would you bathe your child in coal? Sprinkle arsenic, mercury and lead on your husband's cereal? Treat your friends to a big dose of radiation?"

Guess what? Chesapeake Energy is part of that coalition.

The same energy company that is threatening to take its gas-drilling rigs and go home because West Virginia is just downright mean to gas producers has decided to attack coal, the primary natural resource that West Virginia has to offer the world.

Don't you just love a good fight, especially when you can just sit on the sidelines and not get hurt?

Following the Roane County jury decision, Manchin began a rally for Chesapeake Energy, claiming that he wanted new state legislation to "clarify" language for those who have gas leases in the state.

I was fascinated by the idea. How can leases be changed or "clarified" after they have been signed by both parties?

Legislation was introduced in the most recent session, but it didn't go anywhere. Now Manchin says he may seek a special session to consider this legislation, probably in hopes that Chesapeake Energy will change its mind and build a regional headquarters in "Open for Business West Virginia."

So that leaves Manchin courting a gas business that has declared open warfare on the coal business.

What a predicament. If he goes too far in promoting gas, the coal companies get angry. If he goes too far in promoting the gas business, he not only angers the coal companies but perhaps the 8,000 folks who leased land to Chesapeake and its predecessors and the coal companies that are jumpy enough about their environmental record.

Oh, well. Manchin asked for this job. No one said it would be a cakewalk for him.

All I can do is offer the benediction that mountain folks like to give people who find themselves in a quandary.

Bless his heart.

Dave Peyton can be reached at davepeyton@davepeyton.com


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