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Governor, commerce secretary outline events leading to MOU with China

By ANDREA LANNOM

The Register-Herald

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — Gov. Jim Justice and State Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher outlined events that led up to an $83.7 billion memorandum of understanding with China but did not give any specifics about the agreement itself.

Gov. Jim Justice, seated, West Virginia Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher and Brian Anderson of WVU’s Energy Institute speak to the media during a press conference Monday at the State Capitol.
(West Virginia Press Association photo)

In a press conference at the Capitol on Monday, Thrasher and Justice praised the agreement, calling it a “game changer” for West Virginia.

Last week, Thrasher and China Energy President Ling Wen signed the MOU in Beijing joined by President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The announcement of China Energy investment in West Virginia was the largest — about a third of the total investment of a series of projects in the U.S. totaling about $250 billion.

Thrasher said he could not release the MOU.

“We agreed with Shenhua (which is part of a merger with China Energy) that it is not appropriate to release the MOU,” he said.

Justice said China Energy has not asked for anything as part of the deal.

“What have they asked for? Nothing. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Why? Because President Trump is demanding a trade imbalance to be back in balance,” Justice said. “We will afford incentives as we do others in the state but they have asked for nothing thus far.”

Thrasher echoed Justice, saying China Energy has not specifically requested anything.

“This doesn’t have to be in West Virginia,” he said. “There are other places it could be.”

The MOU is not legally binding, Thrasher said. Thrasher said he could not guarantee that a total of $83.7 billion would be invested in the state over 20 years but said he would do everything in his power to facilitate projects going forward.

“All business deals begin with MOUs,” he said. “I do not want to minimize the impact. In the very near future, we could see construction activity taking place.”

Thrasher said he expects the bulk of the activity to be in the Ohio River basin but said he sees statewide economic effects.

Thrasher gave details about how the agreement happened. Discussions started in March when he went to China and Japan to pursue new opportunities and enforce strong relationships, Thrasher said.

He said about a month ago, a delegation from Shenhua visited the state. The company had a 10-year relationship with West Virginia through WVU, including research initiatives on direct coal liquefaction technology.

However, as recently as last week, Thrasher said West Virginia was not on the list of places to have proposed projects.

“We felt like this opportunity was slipping away,” Thrasher said. “Bloomberg (business publication) talked about the projects going forward in Texas and the Virgin Islands but West Virginia was not mentioned. The governor made it abundantly clear that these projects can’t slip away. He made it abundantly clear to the Department of Commerce and the Department of Energy.”

Justice attributed cheap gas and his relationship with President Trump to securing the MOU.

“I’m proud of this,” Justice said of the agreement. “And I’m proud of the relationship we have with the president. Whether you like him or don’t like him, the president really can help West Virginia and he’s doing it right now.”

Brian Anderson, director of WVU’s Energy Institute, said the agreement could represent an opportunity starting with manufacturing. He said natural gas liquids would be used as the building blocks for polymers and plastics.

“What the opportunity we’re presented with is you take that raw material and add value into products consumers use every day such as diapers, plastic bottles, auto components built into that sector,” Anderson said. “Right now, we are in the forefront of manufacturing those products and insert ourselves in the value chain here in the U.S.”

Anderson said the biggest part of the investment is infrastructure to support the petrochemical sector. He said one thing Texas had over West Virginia is that the Mountain State doesn’t have a storage and training hub.

WVU plans to work closely with the state Department of Commerce and other state officials to help coordinate the investment with funding focused on developing an Appalachia Storage and Training Hub. This would be a network of pipelines and storage to contain natural gas liquids. This also would include infrastructure of pipelines to connect manufacturing sites in West Virginia with raw materials.

Justice said he expects “tens of thousands” of jobs to come from the agreement. He also had a story that he related to the situation. He recalled his grandfather who he said loved to go squirrel hunting. Justice recalled going to the store to buy supplies for the two of them but said his grandfather wasn’t too pleased after going through the bags.

“He said, ‘Could you not have got the man a damn banana?’ If you’re against this (the agreement), then you’re looking for that banana.”

Email: [email protected]; follow on Twitter @AndreaLannom

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