West Virginia editorial roundup
Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
The Intelligencer Wheeling News-Register on the governor’s veto of a medical marijuana business bill:
Giving a tax break to big marijuana businesses that allegedly have a financial advantage over small ones makes absolutely no sense. Yet a bill passed by the West Virginia Legislature would have done just that.
Gov. Jim Justice was right to veto the measure. Any attempt to resurrect it ought to be rejected, too.
With the state’s medicinal marijuana program far behind schedule, lawmakers this year were told they needed to enact corrections to overcome some obstacles. They did.
Justice signed one of those bills, on how those involved in the industry can conduct banking business. But he vetoed another measure, House Bill 2079.
Current law prohibits growers and processors of the marijuana product permitted by law from also owning dispensaries where the product is sold. The still-new state law continues a ban on sale of marijuana for smoking, but permits those with legitimate medical needs to buy products containing the plant’s active ingredient, THC.
Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, was lead sponsor of HB 2079. It would allow vertical integration — that is, the same company owning marijuana growing, processing and dispensary facilities. Pushkin insists that without vertical integration, dispensaries cannot make profits.
He may or may not be right about that. Some states allow vertical integration in the marijuana industry and some do not, according to Marijuana Business Daily (yes, the industry has grown to the point that it has a trade publication). There is even some argument over whether integration or ownership solely of retail sales outlets is wiser.
In Washington state, where there are about 430 marijuana dispensaries and the product is legal for recreational use, the law bans vertical integration.
Still, perhaps because the market would be far smaller in West Virginia, Pushkin may be right.
But the bill sent to Justice not only permitted vertical integration, it gave it a big tax break.
Under current law, marijuana growers and processors selling to unaffiliated dispensaries must pay a 10 percent tax on gross receipts. HB 2079 would have kept that in place — but the tax would have dropped to 5 percent for integrated businesses.
It would have given big marijuana businesses a tax break over small ones.
Pushkin insists the veto will set the medicinal marijuana business in West Virginia back a full year. Nonsense. Legislators are to hold a special session later this spring. They can send an acceptable version of HB 2079, minus the tax break, to the governor then.
Justice was right to veto the existing bill — and not let big marijuana business pull a fast one on Mountain State residents.
The Herald-Dispatch on Murray Energy Corp.’s purchase of three metallurgical coal mine complexes:
West Virginia’s largest producer of coal for power plants is moving into the metallurgical coal market.
If that’s not an indication of change in the industry, what is?
Last week, Murray Energy Corp., which is based in St. Clairsville, Ohio, announced it was the successful bidder for three met coal mine complexes in West Virginia and Alabama formerly owned by Mission Coal Co.
Murray has formed a new subsidiary company called Murray Metallurgical Holdings LLC with Javelin Global Commodities to own and operate the mines. Murray will be the majority owners of the LLC. The sale must be approved by the bankruptcy court handling the Mission bankruptcy.
“Murray Energy’s acquisition of the Mission Assets provides a significant entrance into the metallurgical coal market, allowing for diversification of its portfolio of quality mining assets,” Murray Energy said in a statement announcing the acquisition. “The Mission Assets will benefit from Murray Energy’s best-in-class longwall mining and operational expertise that will further enhance the value of these high quality metallurgical coal properties. Additionally, this acquisition leverages Javelin’s existing global marketing platform, bringing further value to these newly acquired assets.”
Murray Energy was founded on the strategy of acquiring coal mines near power plants. As coal has fallen out of favor for generating power, Murray has had to change its strategy.
Figures released recently by the Energy Information Administration show how much coal’s share of the energy market has diminished. In 2008, power plants purchased about 463.9 million tons of bituminous coal, the kind mined in West Virginia. By 2018, that amount had fallen to 205.1 million.
The price has likewise fallen for thermal bituminous coal, from $59.92 per ton in 2008 to $39.27 in 2017. Numbers for 2018 were not available, according to the EIA.
Meanwhile, power plants’ use of natural gas increased from 7.8 trillion cubic feet to 10 trillion in that same time, with the price dropping from $9.26 per thousand cubic feet in 2008 to $3.49 in 2017. Industry analysts say gas is more competitive than coal for power generation when it’s in the $3 to $3.50 range, which is where it’s been since 2015. Perhaps by coincidence, 2015 saw a large number of older, smaller, less-efficient coal-fired power plant retirements.
In West Virginia, coal still dominates the power generation market, but it’s the exception in this region. All five of our neighboring states have seen the amount of electricity generated by coal decrease by 50 percent or more while they have increased their generation from natural gas.
Although West Virginia has increased its electricity production from natural gas in the past decade, the state produces more power from hydroelectric plants and wind farms than it does from gas, despite the amount of gas produced in the Marcellus shale fields in the northern part of the state.
West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio have increased their production of power from wind, while Maryland, Virginia and Kentucky lag behind. None of these states produces significant amounts of power from solar sources, although North Carolina does. This goes back to the weather and topological features of the states, among other things.
It’s been known for years that thermal coal is not the future of the coal industry. The met coal market can change, but right now it’s where the action is. Murray Energy’s shift in strategy should let us know where the money is going.
People who expect thermal coal to carry the state in the future should plan accordingly.
The Journal on finding compassion and love in people addicted to drugs:
A Spring Mill’s English teacher has launched a new campaign — More than Addiction.
“I am an English teacher; I believe stories are powerful,” Karla Hilliard said in a Journal article last week. “I think for me, there is something with having this need and this desire to help people tell their stories.”
Hilliard is spot on. As we grapple with the grim reality of the opioid epidemic, it’s important to remember more than the statistics.
For each and every statistic there is a story — and these stories will help end the harmful stigma that surrounds addiction.
Hilliard lost her younger brother to addiction. In The Journal’s story this week she described her brother, Bradley Atkins, as someone who “was this gregarious, adventurous, hilarious person and was a very spirited individual.”
For Hilliard and every individual out there who has lost someone to the epidemic, it’s important to remember the individual, not the disease.
For others who do not understand addiction, or who incorrectly believe it’s a lifestyle choice or a struggle of willpower, they wrongly see only statistics — or junkies.
But those suffering from addiction — a mental illness — are people with individual stories, some of which include a lot of pain and suffering.
No one chooses to be addict. By concentrating on the stories of the individuals we’ve lost we can help bring an end to the stigma and make it easier for those who want help to get it — help for loved ones who are lost sometimes in a matter of minutes.
“I talked to my brother at mile marker 94 on Interstate 79,” Hilliard said. “At mile marker 34 on Interstate 64, about 60 miles later, my dad called and said, ‘Come to the emergency room, Bradley has had an accident.’ I was thinking a motorcycle accident. He and my dad both ride bikes and it was a beautiful sunny day. He told me, ‘he overdosed.’”
Hilliard said that addiction creates ripples — but so do compassion and love.
Her desire is to create the latter.
A parent with a child suffering from addiction may read the story of someone else, which could spur them to reach back out to their child for example.
Or maybe someone will read a story of hope and feel less shame and be moved to seek treatment, she said.
For Hilliard it’s all about remembering there is more than addiction.
“You constantly hear stories that contain all of the darkness and none of the light. I hope by highlighting what people are in addition to this illness and some of the darkness that comes with it, we can share the light.”
Let’s help Hilliard spread that light.