Editorial Roundup: West Virginia

Charleston Gazette-Mail. Sept 1, 2021.

Editorial: Blair Mountain and the longer battle

It’s been 100 years since miners in Logan County took up arms against law enforcement, private security forces and strikebreakers in the Battle of Blair Mountain. What started as a protest march and an attempt at unionization ended in bloody conflict. It wasn’t the first time things had turned violent between coal companies and exploited workers, but it was certainly the largest labor uprising the country had ever seen.

The battle ended when federal troops were called in, and the miners laid down their weapons, not wanting to be seen as fighting their own nation.

Battles and wars typically are perceived to have decisive outcomes, but it’s often too easy to think of them as a point where something was decided, and everything remained on one course afterward.

Folding the South back into the United States after the Civil War was a long, painful process. Slavery was ended, but discrimination persisted, and those on the losing side continually looked for ways to keep minorities from gaining true equality. The effects of that rift can still be seen today across the country.

Before Blair Mountain, miners were essentially indentured servants. They lived in coal camps owned and operated by the coal companies and were paid in scrip, which was only good at the company store. Coal barons profited while workers endured dangerous conditions for wages that weren’t worth anything outside the camp. It was a brutal, inescapable loop for the miners and their families. The only way to try to break it was to unionize.

While the miners technically lost their battle in Logan County, historians point out that they didn’t surrender to the local authorities looking to put their movement down, but to U.S. troops. Many in the region and across the nation were sympathetic to the miners’ cause. Still, miners didn’t immediately gain union solidarity and better working conditions after the clash in Logan County. It took time and effort to make those gains.

And those on the other side didn’t just accept the change in public opinion or evolving regulations and worker protections. Coal barons and politicians in their pockets made unions fight for every inch of ground, while almost always looking for ways to maximize profits and minimize expenses, which often included sacrificing worker safety.

In the time since Blair Mountain, profiteers and politicians have played the long game, looking for ways to destabilize unions, whether it be poking and prodding at regulations or passing crippling laws like right-to-work and repealing worker protections like prevailing wage. In West Virginia, the battle that made national headlines and is seen as a landmark event in labor rights was left out of textbooks in schools for decades. Ignorance can be an effective weapon, too.

Even now, as coal companies file for bankruptcy left and right, they look for ways to shirk their financial obligations for things such as pensions and black lung benefits. Mining is still a hazardous operation that kills several West Virginians annually, and starts a rapid decline in the health of others because the buildup of dust in their lungs has made it harder for them to breathe. And still, the owners and their lobbyists and politicians look for ways to cut corners.

It’s been 100 years, but the battle that started in August 1921 and ended a few days later in early September continues in legislatures and courtrooms, instead of in treacherous mountain passes. As the mines and the workers dwindle in an industry that is wheezing much like a miner stricken with black lung, the workers try to get by while many on the corporate end look to get away from the table with everything they can stuff in their pockets.

___

The (Huntington) Herald-Dispatch. Sept. 5, 2021.

Editorial: WV needs to capture value-added activity for natural gas

How much has natural gas production in Appalachia increased since drillers began fracking in 2008? Consider this from the federal Energy Information Administration last week: “On its own, the Appalachian Basin would have been the third-largest natural gas producer in the world the first half of 2021, behind Russia and the rest of the United States.”

That’s why we see fewer coal trains moving through the area and why almost no coal barges come out of the Big Sandy River nowadays. Gas has taken much of coal’s market in the domestic power industry.

The Marcellus and Utica shale formations in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia accounted for 34% of all U.S. dry natural gas production in the first half of 2021, according to the EIA. In the first six months of this year, production in the region averaged 31.9 billion cubic feet per day, the highest average for a six-month period since production began in 2008, the agency said.

Northern West Virginia has benefited from development of Marcellus shale, as landowners have collected royalties and construction workers have built pipelines and gas processing plants such as those in Doddridge and Wetzel counties. Development of the shale field has had its problems, especially in the early days. In the Legislature, questions about property owners’ rights continue.

Fracking — shorthand for horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing — isn’t going away. Neither is the demand for natural gas in the chemical and electricity-generating industries. The thing is that West Virginia has lagged in taking full advantage of the gas industry.

There should be growth potential in natural gas liquids, such as ethane, which are found in some gas fields. About eight years ago, a Brazilian company announced plans to build a chemical plant in Wood County to take advantage of natural gas liquids that are abundant in West Virginia, but those plans were dropped soon after. A multibillion-dollar ethane processing plant has been built at Monaca, Pennsylvania, near West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle, and people in the Moundsville area keep waiting for a company in Thailand to decide whether to build a similar plant across the Ohio River from them.

The window to build such plants may have closed temporarily. Pipelines carry West Virginia gas out of state, and people in those other states receive most of the benefits of it. It’s easy to say West Virginia should do more to become competitive in industries that use natural gas. Answering the question “How?” is not so easy, but a viable answer could help give the state’s economy the boost it needs.

___

Bluefield Daily Telegraph. Sept. 5, 2021.

Editorial: ATV manufacturing: Manchin urges corporations to consider region

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., joined executives from Polaris, Kawasaki and Honda last month on a tour of the 900-mile Hatfield-McCoy Trail system. Manchin invited the ATV manufactures to tour the trail system with him, and is encouraging the companies to develop ATV manufacturing facilities right here in southern West Virginia, a move that would create both jobs and help to further grow the region’s ATV tourism engine.

Manchin, a power-broker in the evenly split U.S. Senate, said the tour was an opportunity to not only showcase the region’s growing adventure tourism industry but also to encourage the ATV manufacturers to consider setting up shot along the trail system.

“With our expanding trail systems and growing number of off-road enthusiasts traveling to our state, there is a great opportunity for manufacturers of these vehicles and their accessories to locate the facilities and jobs they require right here in West Virginia,” Manchin said.

The push by Manchin for an ATV manufacturing plant in the region is a welcomed effort, and an idea that makes a lot of sense.

We already have an established trail system in place that is utilized by thousands of riders from across the United States each year. A manufacturing plant would help to ensure that a supply of all-terrain vehicles are readily available to help meet the local tourism, business and service industry demand.

The ATV executives all had positive things to say about the region following the tour.

“West Virginia has always been one of the strongest off-highway vehicle markets for Kawasaki and the industry as a whole,” Bill Jenkins, senior vice president for sales and operations of Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A., said following the tour. “With a world class trail system in place like Hatfield-McCoy it is easy to see why. But as Senator Manchin showcased today, the state has also developed a business climate that has the ability to make West Virginia a key to future growth of the powersports industry in the U.S.”

Steve Menneto, president of Off Road, Polaris, described the southern West Virginia scenery as “stunning.” Menneto said the company discussed the importance of how the growing outdoor recreation industry can support small businesses and local communities as well as the importance of American manufacturing with Manchin.

An ATV manufacturing facility in southern West Virginia could provide a big boost to the region in terms of both jobs and economic diversification.

We join Manchin in urging these companies to consider the area for an ATV manufacturing plant.

Mercer County, which already has all of the essential infrastructure in place — including water, sewer, broadband and easy access to interstate travel — would be an ideal location for such a facility.

END