Editorial Roundup: West Virginia

Charleston Gazette-Mail. June 22, 2021.

Editorial: Better answers needed on cancer risk

There are many industrial sites in the rustbelt — especially in Appalachia — where the dark joke goes “You get cancer just driving by that place.”

Data from two Union Carbide facilities in Kanawha County — one in Institute and one in South Charleston — show an increase in fugitive ethylene oxide emissions over the past decade. Overall, emissions of the chemical byproduct — which was declared a carcinogen in 2018 — are down since 2014, but the rise in “fugitive” emissions means more ethylene oxide is getting into the air through leaks or other malfunctions at the plants, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. And, overall, emissions at the South Charleston plant tripled from 2009 to 2019.

Can you get cancer just by driving by? No. However, the Institute plant is in an area that includes West Virginia State University and several homes and businesses, and the South Charleston plant also has an emissions range that covers highly-populated areas, including schools. Breathing in the toxin over a long period of time does lead to higher rates of cancer and can even cause genetic mutation.

It’s been linked to higher cancer rates by the EPA in other parts of the country with high levels of the compound in the atmosphere. Kanawha County has the 10th highest risk of cancer in the nation, with much of that risk owing to high levels of ethylene oxide in the air, according to a story in the Gazette-Mail by reporter Mike Tony.

What’s truly troubling is that, although emissions have been reduced recently, ethylene oxide has been pumped into the air for years from those facilities before it was declared a carcinogen. So a lot of the potential damage might already be done. That doesn’t mean the company and state and federal agencies shouldn’t do all they can to minimize the danger going forward.

Just what the real risk is remains undetermined because of incomplete models and studies. The EPA and the state Department of Environmental Protection need to step up their monitoring activities to get as much of an accurate risk assessment as possible. The EPA also needs to stop dragging its feet on community outreach. Those in the range of emissions need to know how they are potentially impacted just by living or going to school near these facilities.

A spokesman for Union Carbide’s parent company, Dow, told Tony the companies are investing in new equipment, facility modifications and updated emissions control technology to reduce emissions across all of its ethylene oxide-producing sites in North America. But no one from Union Carbide or Dow explained why emissions drastically increased in South Charleston from 2009 to 2019, nor why there was an increase in fugitive emissions or what, if anything, is being done to curb fugitive emissions. Union Carbide needs to assure the community it is monitoring the situation and has a plan to fix the problem.

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(Huntington) The Herald-Dispatch. June 18, 2021.

Editorial: WV’s population problems are those of rural Appalachia

In the weeks since the Census Bureau released its state-level population count showing West Virginia continues to lose population, there has been weeping and gnashing of teeth over this state’s continued inability to match other states’ population growth.

Solutions have been offered, but many have ignored one basic fact: West Virginia has as many people as its economy can support. This is bigger than West Virginia. Rural Appalachia as a whole struggles to maintain an economy that can compete with the Sun Belt and other prosperous regions.

As West Virginia is the only state that is entirely within the federally designated region known as Appalachia, its problems regarding economy and population stand out. In many ways, you can scratch out “West Virginia” and talk about “Appalachia” instead when discussing the state’s problems.

The Appalachian Regional Commission was formed in March 1965. It’s done good work. Without the ARC, the Appalachian Corridor highway system might never have come about, or it might have been developed later than it was. ARC money has helped with utilities, emergency services and other public needs. Appalachia is better off with the ARC than without it.

But the ARC alone cannot level mountainous terrain, it cannot unilaterally increase the skill levels of the region’s residents and it cannot eliminate the conditions that led to the opioid epidemic. A generation ago, the Appalachian stereotype was inbred moonshiners. Now that stereotype is “pillbillies.” It’s gone from one offensive stereotype to another.

There are at least two takeaways from this. The first is that West Virginia’s problem is bigger than West Virginia alone. The governor and the Legislature can do what they can to improve this state, but the ultimate solution lies beyond the boundaries of any one state.

The second is cultural. As the late columnist Dave Peyton tended to say, Appalachians are the last group of people in America that it is OK to stereotype and humiliate. How do you recruit people or industries to a region like that?

One reason the company formerly known as Ashland Inc. pulled its corporate headquarters out of this region nearly 25 years ago was that it had a difficult time recruiting executive talent to work here. Ashland Inc. relocated its corporate offices to Covington, Kentucky. Now known as Ashland Global Holdings Inc., it’s based in Wilmington, Delaware.

The problems facing West Virginia are not unique to the Mountain State. Solutions will not be unique to West Virginia. When the Census Bureau releases more information later this summer, we’ll have a better idea exactly what parts of Appalachia share the same problems as West Virginia in retaining residents.

Some of Appalachia’s problems can be addressed at the national level in terms of government and culture. Some can be addressed at the state or local level. Many will have to be addressed at the individual level.

The region’s problems can be solved as long as there is more money or power in their solution than in prolonging them. That’s not a simple task, but the region’s viability and its sustainability depend on it.

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Parkersburg Sentinel. June 22, 2021.

Editorial: Transitions: Ignoring a problem is not an option

During a Congressional hearing last week, U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., hosted a panel of experts to help lawmakers focus on the costs of moving too quickly in our effort to address the health of our environment and the transition of our economy.

At the forefront of the discussion was not the idea that we must make changes — just about everyone can agree on that — but that we must do so at breakneck speed without regard to the harm it will do to ordinary citizens. As McKinley pointed out, even President Joe Biden’s U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry has acknowledged if we could flip a switch and go to zero emissions tomorrow, it would have no effect on global CO2 levels. Countries such as China and India would have to shut off emissions, too. That is simply not happening anytime soon.

Meanwhile, Americans would pay the price.

“President Biden and Congressional Democrats are pushing climate proposals calling for zero carbon emissions from power plants by 2035 and net zero emissions economy wide by 2050,” McKinley said. “Can this be done? Yes. But there are consequences. Rising energy prices, massive job losses, dangerously high global CO2 levels, and we will still have extreme weather events.”

For households, the push would mean doubling electricity prices by 2035, if we go 100 percent renewable, according to McKinley. For industries such as steel and aluminum, that price increase could be crippling. And of course there’s the matter of what to do for the hundreds of thousands of coal jobs in this country, the loss of which would affect families directly, and communities through not just the loss of income for their citizens, but loss of tax revenue. In coal country, population would scatter — more than it already has.

“Let’s use McDowell County, W.Va., for example the closure of coal mines and power plants in McDowell County caused a loss of 80 percent of its population,” McKinley said.

Of course the solution is not to throw up our hands and forget about tackling this issue. The solution is, as those at the hearing were told, research, innovation, and a determination to take care of the planet AND the humans living on it. It can be done. Americans can do just about anything they decide is important. The trick is getting everyone to agree on a course of action that makes sense, rather than scoring political points at the expense of vulnerable populations.

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