A fracking rig in Pennsylvania. Like West Virginia, Pennsylvania is part of the Marcellus Shale.Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty
“I’ll cut red tape to help states get those factories built, and this Congress can help by putting people to work building fueling stations that shift more cars and trucks from foreign oil to American natural gas ...
“Taken together, our energy policy is creating jobs and leading to a cleaner, safer planet.”
Vivian Stockman, spokeswoman for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, praised some parts of Obama’s speech but sharply criticized his views on fracking.
“I’m glad the president mentioned solar energy and emphatically stated that climate change is already causing dire problems and we must answer to our children for our actions now,” Stockman told Al Jazeera.
“I agree we should cut subsidies to fossil fuel industries, but it’s wrong to claim natural gas (fracking) is a bridge fuel. Fracking, like mountaintop-removal coal mining, is poisoning our water.”
Mountaintop-removal mining is widespread in Appalachia. It involves blasting off the top of a mountain to get to the coal inside, and environmentalists blame it not only for destroying the landscape but also for introducing chemicals into local wells and streams.
“Every action the president wants to take depends on clean water, for without that we cannot live,” said Stockman. “Americans have come to take easily accessible, potable water for granted.
“What’s happened here, with the chemical-laced, licorice-smelling water, is a wake-up call. I wish the president had said, ‘We all need to wake up and smell the water.’”
To White, Obama’s climate-change-conscious energy policy aimed at increasing all sources of power to combat carbon emissions, from natural gas to solar power, rings hollow.
“Natural gas, like coal, is a finite resource that will create nothing but a boom-and-bust economy for areas, and neither can be extracted without impacting human health,” White said, referring to the "resource curse" of coal that some scholars say likely keeps Appalachia poor.
Maria Gunnoe, also with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, said Obama’s support for fracking sounded to her like an “eviction notice,” but the lack of mention of the state’s water woes was worst.
“I just feel like he’s so disassociated from what’s happening in West Virginia,” said Gunnoe, who is from Bob White, a small town in Boone County that was under a water-use ban.
“He said nothing about 300,000 people without good water."
A letter to the editor published Sunday in The New York Times called for the president to invite Gunnoe to the State of the Union because of her record of environmental activism and the fact that her hometown was in the path of the water ban.
She didn’t get the invitation.
“I don’t feel snubbed, but maybe it’s because I’m Appalachian. I’m used to it.”