Charleston Gazette Mail. October 17, 2023.
Editorial: PSC burns tax dollars to prop up coal, rate hikes
The powers that be in the Mountain State keep finding new ways to set other people’s money on fire to support the dwindling coal industry.
Not only has the West Virginia Public Service Commission repeatedly jacked up electricity rates for customers to keep coal-fired power alive, but the regulatory body also has paid hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to consultants for favorable reports on coal, according to a Gazette-Mail report from staff writer Mike Tony.
Invoices obtained by the Gazette-Mail show the PSC paid nearly $500,000 for “witness services” from Arizona consulting firm Critical Technological Consulting. In essence, the PSC paid the firm to issue a report saying coal-fired plants producing electricity in West Virginia should be running at nearly 70% fuel capacity. The energy companies that own the plants have argued it that makes no economic sense to operate at such a high capacity. Again, it’s someone else’s money, so the PSC likely doesn’t care if those plants buy more coal than they need and burn it for no reason.
The invoices also show the PSC paid the consulting firm to try and turn up what looks a lot like opposition research, in terms of information on executive salaries at American Electric Power — the parent company of most electricity providers in the region — and whether AEP was investing in power production technology that doesn’t rely on fossil fuels.
Coal once fueled the grid across the nation. Now, however, the industry provides only about 20% of electricity nationwide. In West Virginia, though, more than 90% of customers get their power from coal-fired plants.
That is by design.
With the coal lobby’s death grip on state policymakers, a coal magnate in the Governor’s Office and several industry cronies filling seats on authoritative bodies, like the PSC — which is supposed to protect consumers — West Virginians have seen their electric bills skyrocket in recent years. Time and again, the PSC has approved mind-blowing rate increases to keep antiquated coal-fired plants going past their economic shelf life.
While it’s true that the nation can’t simply flip a switch and go to an emissions-free grid, it’s also true that market forces have been pushing coal off the table for decades. West Virginia officials are rigging the game to prop up a dying industry, and pretty much getting away with it to everyone else’s detriment.
Yes, coal’s contribution to climate change has guided regulatory policies that have cracked down on emissions, but some of those policies have been overturned, with standards meant to protect public health and the environment rolled back. Such regressive actions haven’t produced a resurgence in coal-fired electricity, though. Depleted coal seams and the emergence of alternative energy sources, such as natural gas and renewables that are now operating at industrial scale, have made coal, once the cheapest source of energy in the United States, the most expensive.
While the free market is moving on, many West Virginia leaders don’t know how to do anything other than kowtow to King Coal. Others are trying to squeeze a few more dollars out of the industry while they still can.
Meanwhile, residents of one of the poorest states in the country are stuck with isolated communities, a terrible infrastructure, a 20th-century economy and ever-increasing utility bills.
Coal keeps the lights on in West Virginia, but it does so at a high cost to West Virginians.
Herald-Dispatch. October 13, 2023.
Editorial: Marshall budget deficit could take years to correct
At Wednesday’s Board of Governors meeting, Marshall President Brad D. Smith said Marshall has seen a 4.5% overall growth in enrollment this fall with an increase of 13.7% in first-time freshmen. He also pointed to an increase in student retention, double-digit growth in online students and increased alumni engagement.
That was good news, but challenges remain for the state’s second-largest public university.
Marshall’s student recruitment efforts are paying off. Through expanding its metro fee territory and other measures, it is succeeding in attracting people to campus as the pool of traditional college-age students is projected to shrink and as more young people question the return on investment of a college education.
That’s the good news. There’s also some not-so-good news. Smith and Matt Tidd, Marshall’s chief financial officer, talked about the school’s “structural” budget deficit, which won’t be solved this year or next.
Online sources say a “structural deficit” results from an imbalance between revenue and expenses. It’s not the result of a one-time event that throws the budget out of balance for a short time. It’s a long-term problem that must be addressed through changes increasing income, reducing spending, or both.
“Make no mistake, we have heavy lifting ahead of us,” Smith said during his update. “We started this year with a $28 million structural deficit. We’ve been talking about that openly since last spring. But all the early indications are our plan is working and its producing the results that we committed we would deliver. In fact, you heard Matt say, that in a period of months, we’ve reduced that (expected deficit amount) from $28 million to roughly $22 million, with the goal of returning to a net positive by 2027.”
That’s still a few years of structural deficits at Marshall that could require structural changes to overcome. That assumes there are no unexpected structural shocks to the budget.
Recent events at West Virginia University show what happens when changes are delayed. As with deferred maintenance on a building, sooner or later the basic problems must be addressed. The longer maintenance is deferred, the more expensive the solution becomes. WVU’s experience shows it works the same way with structural deficits in budgets.
Higher education faces significant changes in the next few years. Schools will find that these changes will be unpleasant for some constituents in their communities.
The Intelligencer. October 16, 2023.
Editorial: Making October a Better Month
It’s October, a time when pink is prevalent in our communities, making us aware it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
According to medical experts, one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer in her lifetime. The most significant risk factors for breast cancer are gender — being a woman — and growing older.
Early detection and treatment remain the best defense in how we can fight the disease.
When detected early, breast cancer has a five-year survival rate exceeding 90%. However, Black women are most likely to be diagnosed at a late stage, resulting in a higher rate of death — with only an 81% five-year survival rate, according to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
Mammograms are safe and the most effective screening tool used to find breast cancer, finding cancers at the earlier stages, according to Susan G. Komen For the Cure.
Approximately 297,790 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed this year — accounting for one in every three diagnoses of cancer in women — and more than 40,000 will die from the disease, according to statistics from the American Cancer Society. The numbers also show there will be 2,800 men who will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, and more than 500 will die.
Breast cancer death rates in this country continue to fall because determined and dedicated doctors, organizers and survivors are getting the word out: Early detection saves lives.
In fact, the mortality rate from breast cancer decreased by 40% from 1984 through 2017, statistics show.
We encourage women in the community to do regular — at least monthly — self checks and also to schedule a clinical breast exam and a mammogram. Make the appointment. The only thing you have to lose is your life.