Gov. Justice talks about ideas to boost coal, hardwood industries, defends party switch

Gov. Jim Justice talks during a news conference Friday about proposals he has been discussing with the Trump administration to boost the coal and hardwood industries.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said Friday he has been speaking with President Donald Trump and the White House about ideas the governor hopes would jumpstart the Mountain State’s coal and hardwood industries.

“I’ve got the ear of the White House, and I think I being a Republican will help,” Justice said during a news conference at the state Capitol. “I have a real relationship with the president of this country.”

Following an announcement Thursday at Trump’s rally in Huntington that he is switching from being a Democrat to a Republican, Justice talked Friday about two recent visits to the Oval Office where he talked about ideas he hoped would spur the economies in West Virginia and Appalachia.

The governor said the idea on coal he talked to the Trump administration about was the possibility of creating a homeland security incentive that would encourage eastern power plants to purchase more coal produced in Appalachia. He said such an incentive would bring tens and tens of thousands of jobs to West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.

Justice said ensuring coal production in Appalachia is essential to homeland security because if coal dries up there, energy in the United States would be dependent on gas and western coal. In that case, a terrorist attack on a major pipeline could create an energy crisis in the country.

The governor said he also talked to the Trump administration about a way to boost the hardwood industry in areas such as manufacturing and cabinetry by creating an environmental subsidy that would be paid on hardwood.

Justice said he did not receive a commitment from the White House on either proposal, but he said the administration is taking things into consideration.

Meanwhile, Justice talked in more detail about his decision to switch to being a Republican. He maintained he and the Legislature were close to an agreement on a budget that would have “alleviated all kinds of pain.” Instead, he said it took away a pay raise for teachers, a break for veterans on taxes and hurt seniors and higher education.

“We had the votes. We had it done. My whole party left me,” Justice said.

The governor also was asked why he thought he could get along with Republicans when he locked horns with the GOP leadership multiple times during the legislative session.

“I truly believe I can work with Republicans and get somewhere,” he said.

Following the news conference, Justice headed to the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office and changed his political affiliation.

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