Editorial Roundup: West Virginia

The (Martinsburg) Journal. Nov. 29, 2021.

Editorial: Jury decision rebukes pharmacies’ role in opioid crisis

As it became increasingly evident that the opioid epidemic was sparked and fanned by “legal” drug dealers such as doctors, pain clinics and pharmacies, residents across Appalachia and the Rust Belt cried out for justice. Earlier this week, they got a little.

A federal jury in Ohio decided CVS, Walgreens and Walmart pharmacies recklessly distributed absurdly large numbers of the pain pills in Lake and Trumbull counties. This was the first time pharmacy companies decided to go to trial in an attempt to defend themselves. But the jury determined the pharmacies did, indeed, play an outsized role in poisoning our communities.

“The law requires pharmacies to be diligent in dealing drugs. This case should be a wake-up call that failure will not be accepted,” said Mark Lanier, an attorney for the counties. “The jury sounded a bell that should be heard through all pharmacies in America.”

Of course there will be appeals, meaning for now the pharmacies in question are still trying to blame everyone else. There certainly were many entities at fault. But the very fact responsible pharmacies have since changed their practices in dealing with opioids and some other kinds of medication indicates they know they should have been better gatekeepers.

Approximately 80 million prescription painkillers were dispensed in Trumbull County alone between 2012 and 2016 — equivalent to 400 for every resident. Lake County saw approximately 61 million pills distributed during that period. Mountain State residents will recall another instance in which an astounding 11,000 doses of opioid pain pills was doled out by pharmacies for every resident of the tiny Kermit, W.Va.

Ohio was not alone.

For now, the decision should be an important reminder to all pharmacies of their responsibility to adhere to principles such as the code of ethics spelled out by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, which includes:

“A pharmacist promotes the good of every patient …,” meaning “A pharmacist places concern for the well-being of the patient at the center of professional practice.”

And “A pharmacist acts with honesty and integrity in professional relationships,” meaning “A pharmacist has a duty to tell the truth and to act with conviction of conscience.”

No where in that or similar documents does it say “A pharmacist should do what the doctors and pill mills say, even after discovering such orders are killing tens of thousands of people.”

A federal judge will determine this spring what consequences the three pharmacies will face in the Ohio case. It is a shame so many have paid already with their lives.

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Charleston Gazette-Mail. Nov. 25, 2021.

Editorial: Don’t underestimate the power of Tudor’s

Democrat or Republican, believer or atheist, cat or dog person, most West Virginians agree Tudor’s Biscuit World is just as much a part of this state’s identity and culture as the Capitol dome, Mountain Stage or the motto “Mountaineers are always free.”

So, while attempts to unionize for better wages and benefits at some Tudor’s restaurants in West Virginia might seem a paltry affair, it could prove a bellwether for labor relations in West Virginia going forward.

If you think that sounds crazy, recall that Tudor’s has been at the center of policy making in this state before.

A few years ago, when West Virginia was smarting from its label as the most obese and unhealthy state in the country (with Huntington singled out as the most overweight city in the U.S.), the Legislature attempted to pass a bill that would require fast food restaurants to list calorie counts beside the items on their menus.

Just the thought of what that might do to business for Tudor’s resulted in a straight-out — albeit low-stakes — bribe, as legislators arrived to their respective chambers one morning to find a complimentary breakfast from the restaurant for each of them. The bill died. (Shortly thereafter, calorie counts were added to fast food menus, but that was a result of federal action.)

Now, as the state and national economy attempt to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, finding workers for low-wage jobs has proved difficult. Some Tudor’s employees, working in understaffed restaurants, want to join the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which also represents Kroger employees.

At first glance, this might look like a bad move. Ever since Republicans took control of the Legislature six years ago, they’ve enacted more than a few laws that undermine what power labor unions still have. Yet, some Republicans in the Legislature have formed a Labor Caucus, looking to undo some of those measures, realizing they haven’t produced any economic growth. While that upcoming battle might not impact food service workers, it shows the atmosphere in the state is at least shifting somewhat.

Workers like those at Tudor’s also find themselves with a rare upper hand. The restaurant chain could threaten to fire everyone for even thinking about forming a union, but they’re already understaffed. Just who are they going to get to replace those workers without offering higher pay and better benefits?

There’s also the customer to consider. The host of the Tudor’s faithful have probably noticed longer drive-thru lines and wait times because of fewer staff at some restaurants. If better pay and benefits get staffing levels back up to par, the customer might be all for it, even if it resulted in a slight price hike on their favorite biscuit. They might just as well think a 50-cent price hike on a Mary B or Ron is outlandish. They’d probably still buy it, though, after a bit of muttering while fishing through their wallets.

This could be a lot of hullaballoo that comes to nothing, but don’t be surprised if it actually leads to a significant change. Never underestimate the power of Tudor’s as it pertains to any issue in West Virginia.

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The (Huntington) Herald-Dispatch. Nov. 28, 2021.

Editorial: EPA deadline hastens coal plants’ retirements

There’s no doubt coal is being replaced as a source of electricity. Recent events have reinforced that trend, but they shouldn’t mean coal will be eliminated entirely anytime soon.

As reported by the Associated Press last week, dozens of plants nationwide plan to stop burning coal this decade to comply with more stringent federal wastewater guidelines, according to state regulatory filings. A new wastewater rule requires power plants to clean coal ash and toxic heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic and selenium from their wastewater before it is dumped into streams and rivers. The rule is expected to affect 75 coal-fired power plants nationwide, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Those plants had an October deadline to tell their state regulators how they planned to comply, with options that included upgrading their pollution-control equipment or retiring their coal-fired generating units by 2028.

Also last week, HD Media’s Mike Tony reported that FirstEnergy, the electric utility that supplies most of northern West Virginia, is seeking approval from the Public Service Commission to build five utility-scale solar energy projects throughout its state service territory. The facilities would generate 50 megawatts of renewable energy, but the projects would not displace the company’s current levels of coal-fired generation capacity in accordance with a 2020 state law disallowing renewable energy facilities from doing so.

Utilities know there’s a market for renewables. Industrial and commercial customers want to distance themselves from fossil fuels, and they will pay to know that the electricity they pull from the grid comes from solar or wind sources.

The downside for coal-producing regions is that every kilowatt that comes from burning gas or from solar or wind sources is a kilowatt that does not come from coal. There is no indication the trend is about to reverse. Opposition to coal-fired power means no new coal plants are likely to be built in the United States in the foreseeable future, no matter how many are retired.

In some cases, retired coal plants could be demolished and replaced with solar farms. Those farms would produce less power than the coal plants, but the pollution concerns would be negligible.

Coal should remain on the grid in some form until battery storage technology can catch up with gains in solar and wind generation. As events of this year have shown, unexpected changes in power markets show that coal is necessary as a backup that can be called upon when other power sources have problems. Unlike other sources, coal can be stored on site, so it is less vulnerable to disruptions caused by weather or fuel delivery.

East of the Mississippi River, West Virginia is alone among states whose legislators and regulators protect coal as a power source. But as the 2028 deadline shows, their flexibility is limited as federal regulators add more environmental restrictions on coal-burning plants and as customers want assurance their electricity comes from renewable sources.

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