Editorial Roundup: West Virginia

Charleston Gazette-Mail. July 16, 2021.

Editorial: Another case showing coal’s decline

The coal-fired Mitchell Power Plant, in Marshall County, likely will stay open and economically viable until at least 2028. That’s longer than a lot of coal plants in similar positions, but it’s not what a Kentucky subsidiary of American Electric Power, which has a 50% stake in the West Virginia plant, was hoping to hear.

Kentucky Power was seeking approval and partial funding for a wastewater upgrade project that would make the plant environmentally compliant through 2040. But, as Mike Tony reported in the Gazette-Mail, the Kentucky Public Service Commission issued an order this week rejecting that plan.

This might look like an environmental decision, rather than an economic one, but it’s actually a bit of both. Yes, environmental groups were against it. But so was Republican Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, because of concerns that the proposal was misleading about costs and savings. Meanwhile, the other company with a stake in the plant, AEP subsidiary Appalachian Power, said in a filing in December that retiring a portion of the plant by 2028, rather than spending more money on upgrades, has “comparable costs and benefits.”

No one wants to see workers in Marshall County or at any other coal-fired plant in West Virginia lose their jobs. However, while coal will still play some role in energy production for at least the next decade, the industry’s time as the main fuel for keeping the lights on is ending, if it isn’t already over. That can be seen everywhere across the state and the rest of the country.

Two years ago, Gov. Jim Justice and the state Legislature engineered a $12 million tax break for the Pleasants Power Station after FirstEnergy stated that the facility was bankrupt and would close. That prolonged the plant’s life through next year.

There will continue to be markets for coal beyond energy production. The metallurgical market is in an upswing. But energy is the sector the coal industry is most dependent on, and those customers are leaving the table.

Environmental concerns and changing regulations have always been an issue, but the No. 1 factor in coal’s demise continues to be cheaper natural gas and emerging renewable energy sources that are not only cleaner but, now, economically competitive. Even with reduced regulations during the past presidential administration, coal companies filed for bankruptcy left and right. Coal is being killed by supply-and-demand capitalism, plain and simple.

Gimmicks and legislation to keep these facilities going for as long as possible are all well and good, but it again pushes back the conversation West Virginia has needed to take seriously for decades: What does the state do when the coal industry is truly finished?

The Legislature has taken a good first step, by forming a bipartisan committee to seriously study the financial impact the decline has and will have on coal communities in West Virginia, along with examining possible economic solutions moving forward. That’s important, because it’s not the fault of the workers or the community, whether at a mine or a power plant, that the country is moving on.

The Legislature also is seeking federal reclamation funds that will not only clean up and close off abandoned mine sites but will provide jobs to do it. There’s also hope for jobs in existing and emerging sectors through the federal infrastructure plan, whatever that winds up being.

West Virginians shouldn’t live with false hope or denial about coal’s future, but those who have relied on it to keep food on the table shouldn’t be cast aside and forgotten, either.

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Parkersburg News and Sentinel, July 17, 2021.

Editorial: Stonewalling: Make a decision on Confederate memorial

We’re all familiar with the phrase, “Not making a decision is still a decision.” In the case of West Virginia’s Capitol Building Commission, it seems they have made their decision regarding a statue and bust of Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson by choosing not to make a decision.

When the group met Wednesday, it again chose not to take up the issue of whether to move the memorials to Jackson from the Capitol grounds in Charleston. Back in December, the commission held a public hearing on the matter and was told by seven of eight speakers that they should remove the statue from the southeast corner of the Capitol complex and the bust from the Capitol Rotunda.

In meetings twice since then, the commission has taken no action on the matter.

Meanwhile, the Kanawha County Board of Education unanimously voted to change the name of Charleston’s Stonewall Jackson Middle School last year after community protests. On the other hand, commissioners in Harrison County, where Jackson was born, voted last year to keep his statue outside the courthouse there. Earlier this week, the Virginia Military Institute removed the duplicate of the West Virginia Capitol’s Stonewall Jackson statue from its grounds.

Other groups appear perfectly capable of making difficult decisions about memorials to the Confederate general.

If the Capitol Building Commission believes by stalling they can preserve a statue and bust they would like to keep in place, they should have the courage of their convictions and make the decision official. If, on the other hand, they believe there is sufficient evidence the public (i.e. the true owners of the Capitol grounds) would support moving the statue and bust to a museum or historical park with plenty of context and educational opportunities, they should make that decision official.

Regardless of the decision they make in the end, the Capitol Building Commission is now doing a disservice to the taxpayers who would like the matter to be resolved. Though it seems as though they wish it was the case, commissioners cannot ignore the matter forever.

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Times West Virginian. July 16, 2021.

Editorial: Clarksburg’s lead problem should sound an alarm throughout W.Va.

The City of Clarksburg’s Water Board has had a tough month after children age 6 and under tested positive for lead poisoning.

Now, the city is facing fines after the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources issued a notice of violation for failure of compliance.

“The Clarksburg Water Board has failed to notify the public about the risk of lead exposure through the prescribed timeline in the administrative order,” DHHR officials stated in a press release.

Due to the non-compliance, a fine of $5,000 a day for each day will be imposed until the water board is in full compliance with West Virginia Code.

While city officials in Clarksburg attempted to clarify this week that the lead is not in the city water system, that didn’t stop many residents from believing their source of water is contaminated.

DHHR writes: “The issue of lead service lines was first identified by staff in the Bureau for Public Health’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program during environmental lead assessments conducted at the homes of children diagnosed with elevated blood lead levels.”

In other words, the source of the lead poisoning is old legacy lead pipes in homes that were built before codes were put in place outlawing the use of lead pipes.

Now, the Clarksburg Water Board has been ordered to implement a multi-faceted corrective action plan “that will include additional sampling, increased frequency of monitoring, installation of a corrosion control system and an alternate source of drinking water and/or point of use filters for homeowners where elevated lead levels are known from existing sample results and where known or suspected lead service lines exist.”

We support these measures because we believe the city should do everything in its power to protect the health and safety of our children.

We join DHHR officials who are encouraging parents of children younger than 6 who live in older homes serviced by the Clarksburg Water Board to discuss the risks of lead exposure with their child’s pediatrician to determine if precautionary blood lead testing is needed.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children who are exposed to lead can experience brain and nervous system damage, slowed growth and development, learning and behavior problems, and hearing and speech problems.

Meanwhile, the good news is that a solution to this tragedy may be closer than we all realize.

Clarksburg is set to receive $6.34 million from the American Rescue Plan that Congress passed earlier this year.

This marks the first time in U.S. history that cities and counties have access to such large sums of federal funding from one piece of legislation.

While there has not been a dollar estimate presented on how much money it could take to correct the lead pipe situation in Clarksburg, we urge city officials to look into whether American Rescue Plan dollars can be used for such an important quality of life issue.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a review of lead service lines found that West Virginia has about 20,000 lead pipes, and that’s 20,000 more than we should have.

The time to act is now.

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