U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has been touring the state of late, conducting town hall meetings to tap the public’s views on the issues of the day.
The junior senator brought his tour to Huntington Feb. 20, offering comments on a wide range of topics, including the water crisis in Charleston, where a faulty tank at Freedom Industries leaked a little-known chemical into the Elk River, disrupting water service and posing a long list of still-unanswered questions.
That uncertainty is perhaps the worst part of the crisis, he said. No one in authority is willing say the water is safe. “You know the word they use about the water? They say it’s ‘appropriate’ to use. No one will say it’s safe beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Some critics have taken Manchin to task for urging strong action by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the water crisis when he’s repeatedly blasted the EPA for its efforts in regulating coal.
In response to the water crisis, Manchin has introduced the Chemical Safety and Drinking Water Protection Act of 2014. The act would establish state programs to oversee and inspect chemical facilities that present a threat to sources of drinking water. It would establish minimum federal standards for the state programs and would allow states to recoup costs incurred from responding to emergencies such as that in Charleston.
Manchin addressed a wide array of other topics during the meeting, including the war in Afghanistan, the nuclear threat from Iran, raising the minimum wage, Obamacare and the future of Social Security.
A number of his comments drew applause from the crowd. Perhaps the loudest applause came when he bluntly said of Afghanistan: “Enough is enough. It’s time to close it down and bring the boys home.”
Turning to Iran, he said he supported President Barack Obama’s willingness to negotiate with the Iranians “but the bottom line is this: We must not let Iran have a nuclear weapon.”
Raising the minimum wage will be a major issue in Congress in the days ahead, he said, and he indicated he’s inclined to support it.
“If you work 40 hours a week, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty,” he said.
Creating a sub-minimum wage for first-time workers might be a useful compromise, he suggested.
Obamacare isn’t going away, he said, but will undergo “dramatic change” in the next few years. Social Security isn’t going away either, he said, but there must be drastic changes if it’s to be put on a sound financial footing and remain in place. The crowd was swelled by the presence of 75 students from Cabell Midland High School. The students attended the meeting at the urging of their civics teacher, Don Scalise. Near the end of the meeting, Manchin called Scalise to the front of the chamber and commended him for getting his students involved.