Justice looks to create federal subsidy for hardwood industry

ELKINS — Gov. Jim Justice made news while speaking at The Inter-Mountain’s 125th anniversary event Saturday, telling the crowd he wants to work with President Donald Trump to create a federal subsidy for jobs in the hardwood manufacturing industry.

During the speech, Justice took his cellphone from his pocket and said, “My flip phone” rang on the way to the event, and “it was Eric Trump.”

The governor then said he wanted to speak with the president and leaders of Congress about a proposed subsidy for wages in heavily forested states where hardwood products are manufactured.

“In West Virginia, our trees are cleaning up the atmosphere. … I’m a real believer (that) we’ve got to have something for that,” Justice told the crowd. “We’re making a contribution to our environment that’s unbelievable.”

After his speech, Justice sat down with The Inter-Mountain to further discuss his plan.

“As we all know, our trees suck up carbon dioxide and they remit oxygen. That’s what happens with trees,” Justice said in the interview. “West Virginia is 77 percent forested.

“In West Virginia we cut a third of our growth, meaning the trees are growing three times faster than we’re cutting them,” the governor said. “Now, I’m not an advocate to go out and start whacking trees everyplace, but I am an advocate of this. And that’s if we can cut a few more trees and not ever cut more than our growth, then that’s got to be an economic benefit to us.”

Justice said his plan could provide an even greater benefit to the state’s economy, by creating new jobs.

” If we can just get Congress and others to recognize the gigantic contribution of what our trees are doing for the earth, then the next thing that has to happen is you create an economic subsidy, an environmental subsidy, and you base it on the percentage of forested that your state is. Now all states can participate, but the states that are the heaviest forested are going to be the ones that have the biggest winners.”

Justice said in recent years “we’ve lost all of our furniture manufacturing to China, Mexico and Vietnam.”

The governor described how creating new manufacturing jobs in West Virginia would cut down on environmental pollution.

“When we cut a tree in Elkins here and we dry kiln, and we make a piece of hardwood furniture, the carbon is suspended in that forever,” Justice said. “So the carbon that would go into our atmosphere won’t go. If we let the tree die and fall on the ground, and a fire comes along, as happens all the time, then the carbon that this tree sucked up goes right back into the atmosphere. So in other words, you could actually cut a few more trees and you could reduce carbon with a little bit of expanded cutting, harvesting.

“As it is now, trees are harvested in Elkins, dry kiln, the lumber is put on a truck, then it goes on a ship, and there’s more emissions. It goes overseas, more emissions, it goes on a truck over there, more emissions, then back on a ship, more emissions, back on a truck, more emissions, then all of the sudden it’s back here and it’s a piece of furniture that we buy,” he said.

Justice said he will “keep pushing” to bring the federal subsidy idea before Washington’s leaders.

“If we could get Congress to develop an economic subsidy, that would be a proportion of wages. The only reason in the world that those jobs are in China, Mexico and Vietnam is because of the wages,” he said. “We have a great transportation edge because we have the trees here. We don’t have to ship them in.

“If we can get this subsidy to where it’ll pay a really substantial portion of the wages of anything that is manufactured from hardwoods — flooring, cabinetry, furniture, any product that is manufactured from hardwoods — if we could do that, we could bring manufacturing right back to the United States, the very states that need the jobs and need the opportunities.”

Justice said he believes President Trump will be receptive to the idea.

“President Trump wants badly to bring jobs back, and so he’s motivated by that. Well, I want to have jobs and opportunities in West Virginia like crazy,” he added.

Justice pointed out he has personal connections to the president.

“We are friends, I’m friends with the family,” he said. “I’ve hunted with Don Jr., and I’ve been all over the place around in the woods with Eric. They’re my friends. So I have at least a pathway that I can talk to him.”

Justice and Donald Trump Jr. spent a day together in May turkey hunting and trout fishing in Greenbrier and Monroe counties.

During Saturday’s interview, Justice took out his phone and showed that he’d recently received a call from a Trump family member.

“I’ve got this flip phone, and I’m sitting there and the phone rings, and it’s Eric Trump,” Justice said.

Justice, a Democrat, has several things in common with the president, a Republican, as both are billionaire businessmen who were elected to high posts last year in their first campaigns for office.

The governor said the time is ripe for politicians from both sides of the aisle to work together.

“With all of the other things we’ve got going on, with the roads, with Corridor H, with tourism, we just left a lot of things on the table (during the Legislative Session) that we didn’t have to leave, and we left them on the table primarily because of the House, we just did. Whether you like it or not, we just did,” he said. “We had an opportunity to help the teachers and the miners and tourism, and we just walked away.

“We’ve got a lot of people fighting amongst themselves and everything else. And they don’t like me because from time to time I tell them what I think, and you know that drives them crazy.

“But the bottom line is the Democrats dove in the ditch because they didn’t like any level of tax reform, They didn’t like it, not because it was my idea; they didn’t like it because it was a Republican idea. And that’s just wrong,” he said. “We need to do what’s right for West Virginia. All this politics as usual stuff, it drives me crazy.”

Justice promised he will do everything he can to make the federal subsidy plan a reality.

“I’m going to keep working on it,” he said. “You talk about stuff like this in a campaign, but then nobody ever does anything about it. I’m trying to make it happen.”