The Sierra Club hosted a public forum this week featuring newly appointed Cabinet Secretary of West Virginia's Department of Environmental Protection, Austin Caperton. It was among his first public speaking events as secretary.
Caperton opened with nostalgic anecdotes of life in a family that owned Slab Fork Coal Company in Raleigh County, West Virginia.
"I was born in 1951 and I can't remember a day when Slab Fork didn't have a sewer system and a treatment plant for water," Caperton remembered. "And very few if any of the surrounding communities had the same thing. I take pride in that because it's part of my family's history on how things should be done.”
He talked about his love of the outdoors, about being a golfer and world-traveling bicyclist. He admitted he had limited experience with matters dealing with environmental protection, but was open to answering every question posed by the 40 or 50 people who showed up to meet him at West Virginia University’s Mountainlair.
Caperton frequently and frankly admitted that he didn't have answers yet to many questions. He said his time as secretary so far has been dedicated to understanding his staff and the responsibilities of his agency. Attendees, including students, residents, and professionals asked about everything from his position on pending environmental legislation to his stance on climate change:
“I don’t have a clear stance," Caperton said. "I can read the literature on both sides of the equation and I just don’t have a clear stance on it.”
He was quick to point out that his personal convictions had no role to play in his duties as secretary of the DEP.
Caperton was joined by newly appointed environmental advocate Edward Maguire. Maguire had just spent the day touring the oil and gas fields of Doddridge County. Both he and Caperton promised to return to Doddridge to meet with residents affected by the oil and gas industry - several of whom were in attendance.