West Virginia editorial roundup
The Associated Press
Aug. 22, 2018
Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
The Charleston Gazette on the coal industry's past and future:
Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas once wrote that West Virginia is a colony — a place where outside exploiters bleed away mineral wealth, leaving poverty behind when the minerals become exhausted.
That theme was expanded in a treatise titled "The Resource Curse of Appalachia," by researcher Eliza Griswold. She said the mineral wealth of the mountains provides scant benefit to mountain families, after extraction jobs end. She wrote:
"Over the past several decades, as market forces and dwindling supplies have pushed coal companies into bankruptcy, they've abandoned towns, leaving behind the ravages of slag heaps and thousands of miles of streams and rivers polluted by acid mine drainage. Drive along the border between Pennsylvania and West Virginia and you'll see waterways that are the bright orange of hunters' vests. Neither the state nor the towns can afford to pay the cleanup costs."
Better late than never, a new generation of West Virginians pushed for and got something their great-great-grandparents should have created — a "future fund," a collection of special mineral taxes as an interest-bearing reserve to pump new life into mined-out regions. A watered-down plan was enacted in 2014 but, as Statehouse correspondent Phil Kabler wrote:
"Even the Future Fund, in the version that finally passed, has so many triggers that must be met before any severance taxes go into the fund, it will take a heck of an economic boom for any money to be set aside for future economic development ... ."
Meanwhile, as usual, there is an audible squelch of the past pulling at West Virginia, distracting residents from planning and building the future on the promise that some idyllic, rose-tinted yesteryear can be resurrected.
You could hear it earlier this summer in President Donald Trump's announcement of a "national security emergency" to justify keeping coal-fired plants open, even if market forces favor cheaper renewables or natural gas. Most coal-state politicians reflexively like anything that buoys the profits and dividends of coal companies facing tough competition from evolving solar and wind and natural gas.
You can hear it in discussions of letting states set their own (presumably more permissive) standards for carbon dioxide emissions. Relaxed standards would make it easier to keep those remaining coal-fired plants open, prolonging the demand for coal, so the thinking goes. Of course, more carbon dioxide also fuels climate change and all the floods, fires, sea level rise, desertification and other developments human civilization is not built to withstand.
No one can blame West Virginians who long for good jobs for themselves or their communities for wanting the means to make a decent, honest living now, today, this month, not in some distant hypothetical future.
But are those deserving souls the ones who would benefit from policies like these? Don't count on it. Decades of experience suggest that, even if there is a temporary uptick in a few coal jobs, they won't last long. Most of the benefit will go to coal operators while the message to work-hungry West Virginians is clear though: Get your mind off inventing a new future for yourself. Your place is in the past.
Daily Mail of Charleston on improving state parks:
West Virginia's state parks and forests are set to receive a thorough shine-up through up to $80 million in bonds authorized Thursday by the state Economic Development Authority, the Gazette-Mail's Max Garland reported Friday.
The EDA approved a plan to issue excess lottery revenue bonds for the state Division of Natural Resources. The agency will use the bonds for various improvement projects at state parks and recreational areas of state forests, with a focus on infrastructure.
"This is a significant step forward for state parks," said West Virginia State Parks Chief Sam England.
The bond sale will fund about $25 million to $30 million behind-the-scenes structural facility repairs and infrastructure for water supply and wastewater, England said.
But plenty of other improvements will be visible, like redecorating cabins and lodge rooms.
Projects financed through the bonds may also go toward:
Improvements and repairs to new and existing recreation facilities
Providing Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility needs for certain visitor centers, campgrounds, restrooms and other facilities at state parks and forests
Electrical service upgrades and replacements
Buying internet connectivity equipment to be purchased for the State Parks system at certain locations.
"Every one of West Virginia's 35 state parks, seven state forests and two rail trails will see improvements from this bond sale," a news release from the Governor's Office said.
The improvements will also help tourism efforts, public perception of the parks system and the activity nearby communities see, England said.
"We've been working for quite some time to figure out a solution, and we believe that this is going to be impactful."
It's great that state parks and other natural areas that bring tourists and preserve our state's beauty get the upgrades they need. But the DNR had already figured out a solution — one that would not have required bond indebtedness.
In April of last year, DNR Director Steve McDaniel announced that seven West Virginia state parks and forests would begin charging a $2 per vehicle admission fee, with more facilities added as the state got experience with user fee.
"Credit the administration of Gov. Jim Justice for making a smart move to help alleviate the state's problem of spending more money than its taxpayers can afford," the Daily Mail opined on April 25 2017, hours before Gov. Jim Justice rescinded the plan.
The plan was simple, and cheap — a meager $2 per vehicle entry fee. Sure, taxpayers, through general revenue appropriations, are already funding state parks and natural areas, but not adequately.
"Most of our parks and lodges are around 50 years old," McDaniel said on MetroNews Talkline at the time. "There has never been any major investment in infrastructure. ... I think the people who visit our parks will have no problem paying $2." Annual passes also would have been available.
It was not a new idea. Thirty-five states charge fees for at least some of their parks. Rates range from $1 to $10 per person and $2 to $10 per vehicle. New Hampshire funds its entire state parks system through entry and other fees.
While it is great that West Virginia's state parks and forests will see millions of additional dollars in maintenance, it would be greater if the state did it as a pay-as-you-go plan instead of going into debt.
Let those excess lottery funds go to other deserving programs and pay off this debt, or avoid it altogether, by implementing reasonable park user fees.
The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington on a federal rule change being considered for new uses of asbestos:
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's changing approach to gauging the dangers of asbestos going forward has triggered some alarm bells with many health and environmental advocates and officials.
In essence, government regulators appeared on course to ban any new uses of asbestos in a movement toward phasing out asbestos from the environment. Now, however, under the Trump administration's EPA, a rule change is being considered that could open the door to allow new uses of the substance.
As reporter Bishop Nash reported in Sunday's The Herald-Dispatch, asbestos is a natural mineral fiber that has been documented as a carcinogen known to cause lung cancer; mesothelioma, which is cancer in the inner lining of the chest; and asbestosis, which is scarring in the lungs from inhaling airborne particulates. Between 1999 and 2013, 530 West Virginians died from mesothelioma and asbestosis, according to The Mesothelioma Center.
Asbestos was commonly used in many types of building materials and insulation until the 1970s for its heat resistance and durability. But new uses have been limited since the dangers carried by the substance became known.
However, that could change with the rule under consideration.
It's important to note than any currently banned uses of asbestos will remain prohibited. But rather than continuing on the path toward banning new uses for asbestos, the EPA is proposing that potential new uses can be allowed after the agency reviews them with "risk evaluation, select studies, and use the best available science."
Simply entertaining the thought of allowing new uses has sparked criticism. But concerns also have been raised about the EPA's planned method of conducting such reviews of those new uses. In May 2018, the EPA published a document establishing the scientific approach it will take in evaluating these new uses. That approach will not include information from existing, or "legacy" uses of asbestos, despite the significant body of work around health risks stemming from those uses that could be insightful going forward.
Those questioning that change fear any analyses of new uses or products will be flawed if they don't take into consideration that wealth of information from the past.
It's not really clear why the EPA is in a sense inviting new uses of asbestos because there seems to be no controversy about the dangers stemming from the materials, which remain a threat in many households today.
Even with this possible window for new uses for asbestos, many are doubtful there will be few takers. West Virginia Del. Matt Rohrbach, R-Cabell and a physician, told The Herald-Dispatch that he couldn't imagine anyone choosing to use the substance anymore. "There is no question it has a lot of health risks, so to lesson any requirements to make a building safe doesn't seem to be in the interest of public health," he said.
We agree with him. The EPA would better protect the public if it continued on a course toward banning any further use of asbestos — like dozens of nations already have — rather than pursuing its recent proposals.