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Rockwool: The fight goes on

By Delegate John Doyle - Report From the Legislature | Oct 2, 2020

On September 17, the Danish Mediation and Complaints-Handling Institution for Responsible Business Conduct announced it was investigating Rockwool, who’s building a stone wool insulation manufacturing plant in Ranson.

This resulted from a complaint filed almost a year ago by a group called West Virginians for Sustainable Development. I signed on as a co-complainant, along with several other individuals and a number of groups. The Danish Institution is Denmark’s National Contact Point (NCP) for complaints filed under the Organization for Economic and Community Development (OECD).

We fear that Rockwool presents a potential danger to the air we breathe and the water we drink here in Jefferson County.

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) signed off on air quality permits for Rockwool, despite the fact that Rockwool used air monitoring stations in its application that are far away from Jefferson County (one is in Garret County, Maryland). And it did so without a local public hearing.

DEP also permitted Rockwool to use retaining ponds for stormwater management, even though the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends against this procedure in Karst topography. “Karst” is the name for the porous limestone that permeates Jefferson County. Sinkholes could unexpectedly open up under the ponds, expand wider than the ponds’ liners and dump the stormwater (which will have picked up debris from buildings and parking lots) into groundwater. Since well over half of us in Jefferson County get drinking water from groundwater, these ponds pose a serious threat. Again, no public hearing.

Two years ago, Trent Ogilvie, a Rockwool executive, said (at a public meeting in Shepherdstown attended by over 150 people) that Rockwool would be given a property tax break of about $60 million to locate in Jefferson County. Rockwool will make up $2 million of that in payments to our county. It’s what’s called a PILOT agreement (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes).

In addition, Rockwool is the beneficiary of a $150 million line of credit from the State of West Virginia. The state will float a bond (underwritten by the taxpayers) for that $150 million. Rockwool is expected to pay the state back, but the credit interest rate was not specified. In the agreement with the state, Rockwool committed to produce 120 jobs (not the 150 its advertising claims), and made no commitment regarding wages. Once again, no public hearing.

To all of this, Rockwool says they played by West Virginia’s rules. They may very well have. But if that’s the case, the rules need major changes.

For the entire 11 months our complaint was being considered, I thought the Danish Institute was a government entity. Actually, it’s a pseudo-government entity created by Danish law, but acting outside the government. Only after the announcement of the investigation did I discover this.

Perhaps my ignorance resulted from the fact that the U.S. NCP for OECD is the U.S. State Department. Also, in some parliamentary democracies (i.e. Britain and Ireland) the term “government” means “the party in power.” I don’t know if that’s the case in Denmark.

John Doyle is a delegate for the West Virginia District 67. He can be reached at johndoyle@wvhouse.gov.