West Virginia editorial roundup
Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
Charleston Daily Mail on a potential multi-billion dollar investment from a China-owned energy company for shale gas and chemical projects in West Virginia:
Last week’s big announcement of a potential $83.7 billion investment from a China-owned energy company for shale gas and chemical manufacturing projects in West Virginia — assuming any or part of it comes to fruition — signals things will be different in West Virginia.
The potential investment and the new manufacturing, jobs and revenue that could come with the memorandum of understanding signed between China Energy and the West Virginia Department of Commerce would be a huge boom for a region that could use a big economic boost.
But why in West Virginia, and why now?
The reasons for this potential investment in the Mountain State are bigger than Gov. Jim Justice, bigger than West Virginia — and bigger than anyone imagined.
It is part of a major economic shift in the oil and gas industry — thanks to the newfound ability to extract the resources from tight shale formations, which is transforming the industry at its core — as well as international politics.
Nearly since oil’s first production from an underground well in western Pennsylvania drilled by Sir Frances Drake 158 years ago, the market for oil has largely been controlled, or at least highly manipulated, by cartels or cartel-like organizations, writes Meghan L. O’Sullivan in her new book: “Windfall: How the new energy abundance upends global politics and strengthens America’s power.”
First it was Standard Oil, which controlled the means to transport oil, then the Texas Railroad Commission, which grew to regulate more than just railroads after the discovery of the East Texas Oil Fields in the 1930s.
For the last 50-plus years, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has had a handle on global oil supplies and prices — at times to the chagrin of U.S. energy consumers.
But the shale oil that drillers and operators in the United States have learned to produce quickly, abundantly and relatively cheaply has thrown a wrench in the traditionally OPEC-dominated production and pricing system.
“OPEC is a greatly diminished force,” O’Sullivan writes. “Instead, the market — rather than OPEC or any other institution — will play a greater role as a balancer of supply and demand.”
As for natural gas, it never developed a global market like oil did, considering it’s not easy to store and transport natural gas and ship it wherever it needs to go.
Natural gas needs expensive infrastructure to capture, contain, store and ship to customers.
But with the greater abundance, which brings lower prices, and better technology in both production and infrastructure, a global market for gas is beginning to take shape as the industry is increasingly able to liquefy natural gas and ship it to markets overseas.
China is smartly recognizing this new energy abundance and taking advantage of it. China needs cleaner energy to continue its economic growth.
“These new energy realities have presented unforeseen avenues of cooperation between the United States and China,” O’Sullivan wrote in the book published in September.
There’s a global change in energy economics and resulting geopolitics. West Virginia stands to profit from this change. The state is right to aggressively work to capitalize on its good geological fortune.
The Herald-Dispatch on a study on surface mining and health issues:
As the months pass since a U.S. Interior Department agency ordered an independent group to stop work on research about the possible health effects of mountaintop removal coal mining, the decision looks more and more curious.
The reason given by the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement was that the Trump administration, mindful of how taxpayer dollars are used, was halting the project as part of a financial review of any Interior Department studies costing $100,000 or more. The study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine was intended to review existing research and come up with a consensus from experts in various fields on potential short- and long-term health effects of the mining technique. The $1 million project was focused on West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee.
Previously, some studies concluded that people living near mountaintop removal sites had higher mortality rates and higher incidences of certain diseases such as lung cancer and other forms of cancer. Counter to that, some studies explained those differences by other factors, such as poverty, obesity, smoking rates and education. Thus, this research was to try to come up with more conclusive findings one way or another.
Many people living near mining sites were hoping for answers. But now, with this study canceled, some of them figure the decision was an example of government siding with big business rather than being concerned about the health of the public. Research experts wonder whether the decision stopping the study was a means toward inaction on coming up with answers and doing anything about any possible links.
The Interior Department has provided few answers after its initial announcement. But it is known that the coal mining study was the only one the agency halted among six studies it paid for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to do. And most of those exceeded the $100,000 cost threshold used by the Interior Department to stop the mining study.
What’s also troubling is that $600,000 toward the mining study already had been spent. Was this money simply thrown down the drain without any results to show for it?
President Trump received strong support from West Virginia and Kentucky in last year’s election, at least partly because he said he was an advocate for the coal industry. But did his advocacy only extend to the industry itself? What about the people, many of them who worked in coal mines, who live near the surface mining sites? Does their welfare not matter?
The president, as well as members of Congress from this region, should answer those questions.
Let’s hope the Interior Department reconsiders its decision and lets this study move forward.
The Intelligencer on the possibility of adding a work requirement for West Virginians who are covered by Medicaid under the Obamacare expansion:
Officials are looking at the possibility of adding a work requirement for the 170,000 West Virginians covered by Medicaid under the Obamacare expansion. According to Jeremiah Samples, deputy secretary of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, this would affect about 30 percent of Medicaid-expansion households.
“At the end of the day, the best thing we can do at DHHR for our able-bodied population is to get them into the workforce, without question,” Samples told a reporter.
It seems like common sense. If a person is able, he or she should be working — contributing, rather than remaining stuck in the poverty cycle that has been supported by ever-increasing government entitlements for generations. In fact, Samples says the hope would be that resources could be pooled so that work requirements for Medicaid fall in line with food stamps, unemployment and other programs administered by the DHHR.
Predictably, the opposition ran along these lines:
“If health care is a human right, how can you say we’re not going to give you health care if you’re not working?”
“A lot of people just have a mental or physical weakness that keeps them from being as responsible as we all would like them to be,” and;
Work requirements would mean “lots of extra paperwork.”
Those complaints came from health policy advocate Renate Pore, who also said, “I think work is important for people, but I don’t think we should be doing it by withholding health insurance.”
But no one is suggesting withholding health insurance from those who are truly unable to work.
State officials are right to be looking for ways to get more people back into the workforce, and away from the cycle of dependence on government. Let us hope the correct mix of ideas can be found to put such a plan in place.