West Virginia editorial roundup
Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
The Charleston Gazette-Mail on the impact of clean energy plan on West Virginia’s coal mining industry:
Could eliminating all coal-fired electricity plants by 2030 “single-handedly” destroy West Virginia, as Gov. Jim Justice stated in a news conference on Monday?
Justice was responding to former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s pledge of $500 million to the Beyond Carbon Initiative, which does, in fact, aim to create a 100% clean energy economy by 2030 to combat climate change.
Would such a policy help stop devastating global warming that some reports suggest will be a multi-billion dollar problem impacting every aspect of human existence by 2050? Yes. Would it, as Justice said, reduce West Virginia to nothing but a memory? Unlikely, though it would hurt. Will such a plan actually go into effect? Reply hazy. Ask again later.
Climate change is a real problem and a real threat, whether Justice believes it or not. West Virginia’s economy is also a real problem, and hard-working miners deserve financial stability.
So it goes back to the old argument of whether to wring every last burnable rock out of the dying coal industry, or try to embrace economic diversification that is so often talked about, though examples are lacking.
Of course, this isn’t the “either-or” scenario some make it out to be. There’s also a third element at play, natural gas, which has probably done more to hurt West Virginia’s coal industry than any other single factor over the past 15 years or so. That industry would also be threatened somewhat by a 100 percent clean energy plan.
It’s difficult to picture the coal industry being more prosperous than it is now 11 years down the road. Coal seams in the state certainly won’t be less depleted in 2030, and many energy companies have already shuttered or are planning to close more coal-fired plants as they turn to other sources for providing electricity. In other words, this is already happening, with or without Bloomberg’s $500 million and with or without President Donald Trump’s pledge three years ago to revive coal in West Virginia.
The instinct to protect the coal industry is understandable, especially as it pertains to the workers in that industry. It also certainly matters what other countries do when it comes to coal, but that can’t be America’s excuse for not taking the climate threat seriously. Does that mean shutting down every coal plant in the U.S. tomorrow or in five years? No.
Some realities are inescapable, though. To use a favorite phrase of politicians in this region: This can’t be kicked down the road much longer.
The Herald-Dispatch on an investigation into the Huntington Fire Department:
It’s been four months since the public learned the Huntington Fire Department has had major problems with maintaining and repairing its equipment. Mayor Steve Williams promised an investigation. Now one is about to begin, but as it does, new questions emerge.
Williams’ spokesman says the mayor has chosen an outside investigator, but he will not say who that is yet. The investigator must first receive clearance to disclose his or her participation in the investigation, spokesman Bryan Chambers told The Herald-Dispatch reporter Travis Crum.
It’s been a long story. The department had been placed on a 180-day probation period beginning in January after fire marshal inspectors found five deficiencies requiring correction, Crum reported. However, the fact that the department has been placed on probation never came up during City Council meetings in February or after while there were mayor and council discussions over reported equipment deficiencies in the fire department. You might think that the mayor would have informed the council publicly of the probation since the fire department’s operations were under scrutiny. However, that did not happen. Whether the council had been informed privately of the probation action against the department is unknown.
Fire marshal commissioners allowed Huntington Fire Chief Jan Rader to correct those deficiencies and make a presentation during the Fire Commission’s April 25 meeting. Fire commissioners agreed to re-certify the department after finding Rader corrected the deficiencies within a 90-day time frame.
Among the deficiencies corrected in the fire marshal’s report was the need for a required aerial apparatus inspection and the need for required self-contained breathing apparatus testing. The report also noted fire engine 2, engine 5, engine 10 and fire tower 2 needed required motor vehicle inspections.
Rader’s correction of those deficiencies followed a March budget hearing before Huntington City Council in which she took responsibility for any problems associated with the fire department’s fleet and equipment.
“I take full responsibility as the chief for any issues we have had on the fleet, but I can reassure you we have taken steps already to fix those problems with the fleet,” Rader told council members.
The episode has been an embarrassment for the Tri-State’s largest city and its largest paid fire department. In early January, one of the department’s ladder trucks broke down because of electrical issues. On Feb. 7, a second ladder truck broke down, and a maintenance crew determined it was 14 quarts low on oil, causing its engine to lock up. This left the city without ladder trucks. Huntington had to rely on mutual aid agreements with volunteer fire departments in Cabell and Wayne counties.
The fire department’s water rescue boat, Marine Co. 1, has been out of service since May 2018 — more than a year ago — when a pump failure caused it to take on water. Equipment on the boat also was damaged during a vehicle transport.
Rader said since problems with the department’s vehicles and equipment surfaced, Assistant Fire Chief Ray Canafax was assigned to oversee the department’s fleet management program. Canafax will develop an apparatus replacement cycle to help with fleet management, she said.
The department is also partnering with the city’s Public Works Department to ensure the fleet is being routinely inspected and repaired.
Without knowing who the investigator is and what time frame he or she has to work with, it’s difficult for the public to know when it will learn what went wrong in the fire department and what it will take to make things right.
As this process begins, transparency and communication will be vital to restoring the public’s confidence in knowing that when bad things happen, the city’s emergency services will be prepared to respond adequately, if not better, and that the people answering the call will have the best protection available.
The Journal of Martinsburg on a two-year program providing skilled workers for industries experiencing employee shortages:
On a recent visit to the Eastern Panhandle, West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee remarked on the jobs situation in the state.
There’s over 20,000 jobs in this state that we do not have skilled workers for. We don’t have a jobs problem, we have a skills problem,” Gee said. “Opioid addiction is a matter of hopelessness and despair because jobs are not available to them. So we need to connect those jobs and make sure it’s available.”
Gee, of course, is right. Thankfully, the state Legislature is taking steps to help increase the number of skilled workers in West Virginia
West Virginia Invests, which was approved by lawmakers during the 2019 session, provides a pathway for students to attend the state’s community colleges where they’ll receive training for careers with noted worker shortages. These students will need to meet certain criteria to qualify, but will receive tuition assistance.
Officials at Blue Ridge Community and Technical College this week expressed enthusiasm for the program and its positive influence on the state and the region.
“It’s an enrollment manager’s dream to have such a program to offer to students,” said Leslie See, vice president of enrollment at BRCTC, in a Journal story published earlier this week.
The program is described on its website as a “state-funded grant program that covers the full cost of basic tuition and fees for select certificate and associate degree programs at a West Virginia public two- and four-year institution.”
For many years, much focus has been on students obtaining four-year degrees in order to be successful. While this is perhaps true of many fields, there are other very lucrative fields requiring only a two-year degree. Forcing every student down one path is not only illogical, but has also created a gap between the number of jobs and skilled workers needed to fill them.
Programs such as West Virginia Invests will help close this gap, and because of a requirement that students in the program must live in the state for a number of years post-graduation, it will also help keep talented young adults in the state.
During Gee’s visit, much talk also focused on battling the opioid epidemic. Joblessness — and therefore hopelessness — has been identified as one root cause of the disease of addiction.
West Virginia Invests provides opportunities for individuals — an alternative to hopelessness.
Another statewide initiative — the COAT program, or Comprehensive Opioid Addiction Treatment program — offers another pathway.
According to Dr. Clay B. Marsh, vice president and executive dean of WVU Health Sciences, the program is based on medication-assisted therapy with counseling and case management. It’s also now looking at ways to get those in recovery back into the workforce or into an educational pathway.
Though in its early stages, the program is promising. The part of the program focused on matching potential workers with company owners and CEOs looking for workers is underway in four counties — Wayne, McDowell, Monongalia and Braxton.
Such programs are visionary and they provide a piece of the puzzle often missing in the battle against the opioid epidemic — hope.