W.Va. No. 50 again

'Green states' list misleading, EPA official says

By Ken Ward Jr. Staff Writer, Charleston Gazette

West Virginia has landed at the bottom of another ranking of states, this one a Forbes list of American's "greenest" states.

Environmental Protection Secretary Stephanie Timmermeyer dismissed the rating, saying it was based on misleading data and a subjective scoring system.

"If I had to pay for it, I wouldn't," Timmermeyer said of the magazine's rankings, posted for free online at www.Forbes.com. "I'm not giving a lot of credence to the ranking."

West Virginia scored 14.2 out of 50 possible points, according to the article, published Wednesday.

The state ranked poorly in each category used, including greenhouse gas footprint, water quality, air quality and toxic waste management.

"The state exceeded its Clean Water Act permit levels by an average of 679 percent in 2005," the article said, citing a report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. "This means the water was frequently grossly tainted."

Vermont and Washington ranked highest in the list. Other states near the bottom included Indiana, Mississippi, Kentucky, Louisiana and Alabama.

Jim Kotcon, president of the West Virginia Environmental Council, said the ranking does not consider "West Virginia's wonderful wilderness potential, nor our outstanding state park system.

"But neither does it consider the atrocities of mountaintop removal mining and the almost complete absence of land-use planning," Kotcon said.

Timmermeyer took special exception to the rankings' use of per-person carbon dioxide emissions to judge the state's contribution to global warming.

West Virginia has a small population, but coal-fired power plants here produce electricity that is exported around the Eastern U.S.

"You can be a state that's not generating a lot of electricity and rank high in this category and yet you're receiving your electricity from a state like us that is a big carbon dioxide emitter," Timmermeyer said.

Timmermeyer said the state has improved its air quality with big cuts in sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions. But, she conceded, some areas may fall back out of attainment when tighter new federal guidelines are finalized.

Also, Timmermeyer said, the report does not credit the state with passage this year of a new greenhouse gas emissions inventory law or efforts to encourage more green buildings, such as the Department of Environmental Protection's own headquarters in Kanawha City.

Joe Lovett, director of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, said it was "shocking" that Timmermeyer would not take the Forbes.com report seriously.

"It's a shame that we are a state with the natural resources and the beauty we have, and our government isn't taking care of those things for the future," Lovett said.

Kotcon said the Forbes article "accurately describes some serious pollution and policy disasters in the state, and correctly notes that we will remain at the bottom until state government takes a pro-active approach to support energy efficiency, demand better pollution controls, and reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases," Kotcon said.

"As long as West Virginia's energy policy is to encourage more production and consumption of fossil fuels, we will remain headed in the wrong direction."

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