Editorials, Opinion

Lawsuits oppose W.Va.’s interests

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is once again dragging West Virginia into foolhardy and counterproductive national lawsuits. One is a lawsuit to block the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s vaccine mandate for businesses with 100 or more employees. The other is a lawsuit that will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the authority and reach of the Environmental Protection Agency.

We knew the OSHA lawsuit was coming. As soon as Biden announced he would put rules in place to get workers vaccinated, Morrisey started swearing he would stop it.

Here’s the thing: The OSHA rule is very reasonable and accommodating — even for the anti-COVID vaxxers.

Employers with 100 or more employees are required to have all employees vaccinated or implement a testing and masking requirement for unvaccinated employees. In short, all OSHA says is, if an employer declines to have a vaccine mandate, the employer needs to make sure unvaccinated employees are tested at least once a week and wear face coverings while in the work place. Employers must also give paid time off for workers to receive the vaccine, including up to four hours to get the shot and sick leave to recover from the side effects.

Unless your primary goal is to wage a culture war, there is nothing unreasonable about the so-called “vaccine mandate.”

And yet, for some reason, this is the hill some people are willing to die on — literally.

The lawsuit against the EPA is par for the course for Morrisey. It’s not the first time he’s sued the EPA, and — as long as the EPA does its job to protect the environment — it probably won’t be the last.

The dramatic irony of West Virginia fighting tooth-and-nail against regulating pollution is frustrating; the state’s top officials coddle the very industries that destroy our land, deplete our resources and ravage our bodies while attacking the entities trying to save our very lives.

U.S. News ranks West Virginia in the top 15 for industrial toxins and top 10 pollution health risk. The Natural Resources Defense Council ranks the Mountain State as the 10th most polluted state in the nation. Eighty percent of West Virginia’s pollution comes from electricity power plants — the majority of which are coal-fired — while another 10% of the state’s pollution comes from chemical plants. According to the report, West Virginia has the highest per capita mortality from fine particle pollutants in the nation.

Incidentally, coal has been a major topic of discussion at the COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, the last few days. Coal is considered the dirtiest of the fossil fuels and contributes significantly to climate change. Locally, we are all too familiar with the more immediate impacts of the coal industry. Residents of Newburg saw it, smelled it and tasted it in their water when mine seepage ruined their wells. We see it constantly in stream banks stained orange and creeks running red.

Big polluters have been using West Virginia as a dumping ground for years. Instead of fighting to protect our state and its residents from this abuse, leaders like Morrisey attack the very agencies that are trying to rein in the polluters.

When we put these lawsuits back-to-back like this, we notice a theme: Morrisey keeps taking the federal government to court to fight for businesses’ rights to put profits ahead of West Virginians’ health and safety.