The West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club has endorsed Lissa Lucas for WV House of Delegates in District 7. This means that Lissa has actually received the endorsement of the Sierra Club AND the United Mine Workers of America, both.

“I’m proud of that,” she says.

It’s no wonder. That she has them both illustrates her message perfectly: that the key issues facing West Virginians cross the divides that those in power are using to keep us apart.

West Virginians must unite and stand up for each other

“Corporate politicians repeat their corporate talking points, and try to convince regular people that it’s impossible to fight for workers and communities at the same time. They don’t want us uniting and fixing these problems, because they’re the ones benefiting in money and power from our current broken system…”

Fossil-fuel workers and environmentalists endorse the same candidate

“… I’m the jobs candidate—with mineworkers and pipefitters and construction trades behind me—AND I’m the property rights candidate,” Lissa says. “I’m knocking doors and listening to what folks’ concerns actually are. And the people out here are demanding basic services and infrastructure like maintained roads, functioning sewers, and clean running water.”

Lissa explains, “Many folks here in my district work in the oil and gas industry. They care about their constitutional rights, and they care about their neighbors, too. We’re all united in that, no matter what party we belong to: We don’t like the threats of corporate property seizure; we don’t like that mineral owners can now be forced into leases. We don’t like that property is being stolen and property values being damaged just to boost profits for out-of-state shareholders and executives. That’s why industry lobbyists have begun smearing the people speaking out against forced leasing and property seizures, smearing them even when they work in the field. But speaking out against the corporate theft of property is coming from both sides of the aisle. Because, dammit, demanding the protection of our constitutional rights is NOT too much to ask!”

Lissa believes the legislature has to get its priorities straight.

“We need to pay our teachers and school personnel good wages, and fully fund PEIA. We need to maintain our roads, and assist small towns in upgrading water and sewer systems,” Lissa says. “To do that, we desperately need to raise severance tax, among other things. But as long as we elect legislators who are being paid by and are therefore beholden to these corporations, it will never get passed, and things will continue to go downhill for most of us.”

We have to plan for the future—like we never did with coal.

Lissa has been speaking out from the start of her campaign about a West Virginia where regular people have real opportunity to do better. She wants to see a state government that prioritizes ongoing, concrete assistance to rural communities.

In her district, she says concerns about crumbling water/sewer treatment systems, and hazardous dilapidated buildings are common, yet small town mayors and councils have trouble even getting calls returned from public officials.

“We want our state government to start investing the return on today’s natural resources to diversify our future economy,” Lissa says.

She believes we have to plan NOW for a just transition to plentiful, clean renewable sources of energy. “But we have to do it in a way that doesn’t just discard our fossil fuel workers and their communities, like miners have been discarded,” she explains. “West Virginians want to be able to work hard and get rewarded for that hard work. We want the government to step in and protect retirees when corporations threaten to steal pensions, like Peabody/Patriot Coal did with miner pensions. But right now, with gas, we’re repeating the same mistakes that led to the dire state our coal counties are in.”

Justin Raines, recently elected chair of the West Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, shares those concerns. “There’s no one in West Virginia who cares more than Lissa about the natural wonders of our state and the people who live here.” Raines, who worked in the oil fields for 12 years, explains that the WV chapter of Sierra is setting out on a new path, focusing on justice for communities laid waste by coal and gas extraction, and on fighting for a decent future for West Virginia workers.

“These companies have to start paying for the damage they do,” Lissa notes. “Heavy trucks do about 99% of all non-weather related damage to roads, but the companies pay only about 35% of maintenance costs Meanwhile, it costs WV drivers an average of more than $1300 per year in car repairs to drive on roads in poor condition.

As for our water,  Lissa points out that corporations are shifting costs and risks onto fossil fuel communities in order to boost corporate profit at the expense of the rest of us: “For instance, our public water system isn’t designed to detect the sorts of chemicals that might be creeping in from Antero’s new frack dump, just like Parkersburg’s system didn’t detect C8, and Charleston’s didn’t detect MCHM. Yet Antero sited their toxic landfill within the peripheral zone of concern for the ONLY public drinking water intake in the whole county. It’s beyond irresponsible.”

“We’ll save money” is actually the excuse Antero gave when asked why they sited their dump so near the public water intake. There are plenty of places in the county that Antero could have put that dump, but they chose the site that creates significant long-term risks to people in Harrisville, Pennsboro, Ellenboro, and Cairo, because that was best for their bottom line. And they were allowed to put it there because they bought approval from politicians at the highest levels of government.

“Right now,” Lissa explains, “if it’s less expensive for a corporation to put their waste near our drinking water, then that’s where it goes. That’s what the lobbyists are paying our legislators for. That’s why I’m refusing to take that corporate energy money, because we can’t continue to allow all those costs and risks to be placed on rural communities… and I want my district to know that they’re far more important than lobbyists and corporate profit.”

Protecting our small towns and rural areas from corporate theft

Lissa and the Sierra Club both want to see WV elect representatives who’ll make sure that we don’t concentrate huge long term costs and risks on the people who live here. Yet out-of-state corporations, execs, and shareholders who want what’s ours pour money into our political campaigns while regular citizen property owners can’t compete.

“And worse,” Lissa explains, “once in office, the politicians taking that money go on to bend state laws and pressure agencies to help wealthy campaign donors at the expense of regular people. Rural families are left with a big legal burden when our government representatives are essentially paid to help these companies take legal advantage. Regular people don’t have the money to fight an army of industry lawyers.”

For example, Lissa’s opponent takes massive amounts of corporate cash.  His whole campaign is floated by that corporate money, including donations from corporate PACs and lobbyists of Antero (of the local frack dump), TransCanada (seizing property for the pipeline going through Ritchie County), EQT, and more.

He took that money, then sponsored a bill to allow gas and oil companies to trespass on private property without permission so the corporations can see if there’s any property there they might want to seize.

“I’m not saying he changed his vote for the money. I’m just saying that when the politicians are beholden to these companies for campaign financing, corporations choose the people who’ll help them. They put their people in office. They’re not financing candidates who are fighting to protect people from their own corporate seizures, you know?”

Accordingly, Lissa’s opponent voted for the forced leasing bill—voted to take property rights away from mineral owners—three times this year. And it ultimately passed. Yet that does nothing to help the people in the district, and in some cases just makes things worse.

Lissa observes, “Right now, private property has being seized for a pipeline in the southern part of Ritchie, while small towns are still struggling to provide functioning water and sewer services.”

Both parties have been bought

But Lissa points out that it’s not an issue with one party. Members of both parties take that money. For example, Antero lobbyists and execs have donated not only to her Republican opponent, but also to Democratic former Governor Tomblin.

“There were Republicans that voted to protect property rights, and against the forced leasing, for example,” she notes. “And Governor Tomblin took that dirty money to support the dump, the exact same way my opponent is taking it. Tomblin didn’t come out here and spend time with the people whose property values would be negatively affected. So it’s not Republicans versus Democrats.  It’s these big out-of-state companies and their hand-picked representatives versus the rest of us.”

According to Lissa, just taking that money creates a problem, whether the politician is literally selling his vote or not. “When you take that money, it means people can’t trust they’re being faithfully represented.”

“We should always be striving to demonstrate outward signs of our good faith to the people we represent. Out of respect for voters, we should take pains to be as absolutely clear as possible: we’re working for the people, we put them first. Yet many of our so-called ‘representatives’ seem to spend more time being wined and dined by wealthy lobbyists than they spend with voters. The bottom line,” Lissa says, “is that no one should ever have to wonder ‘Is my representative going to stand up for me, or for the corporations who gave him all that money?’ It shouldn’t even be a question. That’s why taking the money is wrong.”

Unite our fight

That’s also why Lissa is fighting to get the money out of politics. And she walks the walk: her campaign finance reports reflect that commitment. Unlike her opponent, she doesn’t take money from the companies and PACs that are victimizing her neighbors or her community.

And this is another reason the Sierra Club is standing with Lissa.

“A lot of lobbyists and politicians in Charleston are genuinely afraid of Lissa Lucas shining a light on their dirty dealings,” Raines points out. “I watched as they had her dragged from a public hearing for listing the money they’d taken to give away the property rights of regular West Virginians. Lissa represents the kind of honesty, integrity, and fearless dedication to the people of West Virginia that is so desperately needed in our corrupt legislature. The West Virginia Chapter of Sierra Club is proud to endorse this incredible woman.”