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Justice gives closed-door talk to WV DEP inspectors


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice gave a closed-door speech on Tuesday to hundreds of state Department of Environmental Protection inspectors, in which the governor said he repeated his message that he wants DEP officials to stop saying “no” to state business and industry.

Inspectors from the state Department of Environmental Protection file out of the Culture Center following a closed-door training session that featured a speech by Gov. Jim Justice.
(Photo by Ken Ward Jr.)

“I just told them that I think they have a terrific responsibility,” the governor said as he left the meeting.

“We want to be progressive in our thinking,” Justice said he told the DEP inspectors. “We want to try to not just say no, but always work within the constraints of the law.”

Justice attended roughly the last 15 minutes of the hour-long meeting of DEP inspectors, which was held in the Culture Center Theater at the Capitol Complex because of the size of the agency crowd attending.

DEP Secretary Austin Caperton confirmed the event was a new idea of his that brought agency inspectors in from around the state.

“This was just a training seminar,” he said.

Caperton said inspectors were being trained on “leadership, judgment, all those kinds of things.” He declined to answer other questions.

Justice, Caperton and many of those in attendance were wearing new buttons that contained Caperton’s new motto for the DEP: “Driven by Employee Pride” or that said “DEP = Pride.”

Butch Antolini, the governor’s communications director, declined to allow a Gazette-Mail reporter to attend the portion of the event where Justice spoke. He said the DEP had asked that the discussion be held behind closed doors.

During his State of the State address on Feb. 8, Justice promised that West Virginia regulators would stop saying “no” to business and industry and singled out for harsh criticism DEP inspectors the governor alleged were wearing “T-shirts and old jeans” and “not having shaved in forever.”

A week later, during a speech before the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia, Justice again singled out DEP inspectors for criticism.

“First of all, they don’t need to show up in a tank top and flip-flops on and haven’t shaved in three months and look at you and say, ‘By God, you’re not doing that,’ ” Justice said.

“They can at least look like something, and the first words out of their mouth can be, ‘Someway, somehow, if this is what you’re wanting to do, we’re going to try to help you, within the constraints of the law,’ ” the governor said.

Later, records released by the DEP under the state Freedom of Information Act showed that the agency has not received any complaints about how inspectors dress and had not punished any inspectors for improper attire on the job.

It was not clear who the other speakers were for Tuesday’s meeting or what was discussed. DEP spokesman Jake Glance did not respond to a request for additional information about the event.

Justice said after Tuesday’s meeting that he didn’t notice any poorly dressed inspectors at the meeting.

“They have a tremendous duty to try to protect our waters and our environment, and no one loves that more than me,” the governor said.

“I wanted to commend them for the job they do,” the governor said. “Sometimes they don’t get commended as much as they should. That’s all there is to it. Sometimes in that job, it’s almost a thankless job and they do good work.”

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