CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov.-elect Jim Justice on Friday named an energy industry consultant to head West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin’s wife to head his Department of Education and the Arts.
Austin Caperton is president of Caperton Inc. and has been vice chairman of the West Virginia Public Energy Authority. He is cousin of former Democratic Gov. Gaston Caperton.
The department handles mining and drilling licensing, pollution cleanups and environmental protection.
Justice, an outdoorsman who owns coal mines, said Caperton has the management experience to make the agency run efficiently. “Austin understands the energy sector of our state, and he will strike a balance between protecting our environment and getting rid of needless red tape that hurts job creation,” he said.
Caperton said he’ll work with Justice “to grow jobs while protecting our land, air, and water.”
Jim Kotcon, chairman of the Sierra Club’s West Virginia chapter, said it remains to be seen what that balance will be, but it’s an improvement from political rhetoric about environmental regulation as war on coal. The department, which gets pressure from legislators and industry to roll back regulations, takes administrative direction from the top, he said.
“There do not seem to be a lot of connections with the environmental advocacy community,” Kotcon said. “We will certainly give the governor due respect. … We hope to work with him to protect public lands.”
Gayle Manchin was on the state Board of Education from 2007 to 2015. Her husband was governor from 2005 to 2010.
She will head a department that oversees state cultural programs, public broadcasting, volunteer services, teaching and library support and vocational programs for the disabled.
Justice said she has a passion for the state and will help shine a spotlight on rich history and culture.