By Colleen S. Good
Times West Virginian
Delegate and Majority Whip Mike Caputo, D-Marion, has been selected to vice chair the new House of Delegates Energy Committee.
The committee was proposed by Speaker of the House Tim Miley, D-Harrison.
Caputo said that Miley’s decision to make a committee focused solely on energy makes sense, given how much of West Virginia’s economy has been based on energy industry.
“It’s such a huge part of our economic engine here in West Virginia,” Caputo said.
Before this session, energy hadn’t had its own House committee, instead being addressed as a part of larger committees.
“One time it was energy, industry, labor and small business, all in one committee,” Caputo said. “The speaker wanted to change that.”
After the House of Delegates passed a resolution to start the committee, Miley appointed the chair, vice-chair, minority chair, minority vice-chair and the committee’s 20 other members.
Caputo said he’s pleased to have been chosen for the position.
Caputo has almost 38 years of experience in the coal industry, first as a coal miner for the Federal No. 2 Mine for 20 years, then working for 18 years for the United Mine Workers of America, and he is now the UMW international vice president.
“I have been around this part of the energy sector for well over half of my life,” Caputo said. “It was shortly after high school that I became a coal miner, and it’s all I’ve ever known, so I have a deep interest in mining.
“I want to make sure that coal mining remains vibrant in West Virginia because, quite frankly, they’re good-paying jobs with benefits.”
Caputo said that this experience will help with his work in the committee.
“I think my background will certainly be a respected part of the committee,” Caputo said. “I’m looked at by my colleagues as someone who understands the worker issues in the coal industry very well, and the industry very well.”
The committee will discuss and debate any energy bills proposed during the legislative session. They will also hold meetings with energy producers and workers, to see what issues matter to them most.
“We’re going to be getting advice from those who work in this field every day, and then the committee will at that point in time decide which direction we would like to head in,” Caputo said. “I think it’s going to be a good experience and open a lot of eyes, and hopefully we’ll do some good things.”
There are two issues Caputo thinks will be important to the committee.
“First we’ll be dealing with workplace safety issues,” Caputo said. “We want to make sure that everyone who works in this industry first and foremost has a safe place to work and has an absolute expectation to go home at the end of their shift without injury or worse.”
Caputo said the committee would also work with the industry to see what obstacles it faces.
“We’re going to be hearing form the industry folks, and see what they feel is holding them back,” Caputo said. “The theory is to try to keep the energy sector here in West Virginia as vibrant as possible.”
Caputo said that he believes the energy industry is vital to West Virginia’s economy.
“I know firsthand that if we’re not mining coal or producing gas, then West Virginians aren’t going to have these good jobs,” Caputo said.
“I’m going to do the very best I can to hopefully make this committee find some ways to keep people working in West Virginia.”
The 24-member committee also includes Marion County’s Delegate Linda Longstreth.
Email Colleen S. Good at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @CSGoodTWV.