Charleston Gazette-Mail. January 31, 2024.
Editorial: PSC shouldn’t punt on gas outage investigation
No one wants to be in the middle of a flurry of lawsuits. Citing that possibility, the West Virginia Public Service Commission has decided to close its investigation into what caused a massive gas service outage in Charleston’s West Side for three fairly frigid days in November.
Multiple class-action lawsuits have emerged over the incident, which reportedly was caused by a high-pressure main break that sent water pouring into gas lines, leaving at least 1,100 people without natural gas to heat their homes or operate appliances (although that estimate might be low).
Since the incident occurred, and after the PSC ordered an investigation into the cause, three class-action lawsuits have been filed against Mountaineer Gas and West Virginia American Water. Mountaineer also has filed suit against West Virginia American, alleging the latter’s water main break caused serious damage to the former’s infrastructure.
Even before the lawsuits, the PSC’s own staff and Consumer Advocate Division were seeking the broader agency’s help, claiming West Virginia American was not complying with the investigation. Officials with West Virginia American claimed the company was being treated unfairly, and was under disproportionate scrutiny from the PSC in comparison to Mountaineer Gas.
Why West Virginia American found that so egregious is a bit puzzling, considering this began with a water main break. Perhaps, infrastructure problems on Mountaineer Gas’ end made the problem worse, but when one agency is more than willing to cooperate with an investigation and the other is stonewalling, it sends a certain message.
Regardless, customers of both utilities deserve to know what went wrong, as do policymakers, and not merely to assign blame but to see where else whatever caused this might be a problem and prevent it from happening again. That’s why it’s so disappointing that the PSC is closing its own investigation.
Exactly what happened might come out during these lawsuits — the PSC cited redundancy as one of the reasons for bowing out — but there’s no guarantee of that. The lawsuits could be settled well before they go to trial. Further information might become available during the discovery phase of these lawsuits, but whether that becomes public knowledge also isn’t certain. Plus, the lawsuits could drag on for years, even if they are eventually settled.
West Side residents, policymakers and, really, anyone who is a customer of Mountaineer Gas and West Virginia American Water — which is a substantial portion of the state’s population — need answers in a much shorter order, so this incident doesn’t recur.
Officials with the PSC said they are turning their focus to how West Virginia American and Mountaineer Gas responded to the incident. There’s nothing wrong with that. Analyzing the response might find mistakes made or ways to improve dealing with another such event. But, really, that’s just as natural a part of an investigation as examining the cause. One would hope the PSC was already planning on looking at both of those aspects surrounding the incident.
The PSC could have served as a useful, impartial observer in this case. The agency might have been dragged into litigation, but the PSC shouldn’t punt its consumer advocate duties because of such a concern.
The Intelligencer. January 29, 2024.
Editorial: Protecting a West Virginia Treasure
Twelve years is a long time when it comes to the bureaucracy. And even after that long, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is just now getting around to deciding it should propose the West Virginia spring salamander be listed as endangered.
According to a report by WBOY, scientists and researchers have been trying for all this time to protect one of our state’s unique treasures. It lives nowhere else but a 2.2-mile cave and stream system in Greenbrier County. That tiny area is not yet even designated as critical habitat, though the Center for Biological Diversity says only about 300 of the salamanders remain.
It is not unusual only because of its chosen home. It is also one of the few cave salamanders to undergo complete metamorphosis from aquatic larvae to land-dwelling adult. Threats to the species include logging, which causes sediment runoff that is clogging the salamanders’ stream. Should the salamander make it to the endangered species list and the area be named critical habitat, the stream and surrounding forest would be protected.
Again, we’re talking about a cave and stream system only a little more than 2 miles in size.
“Safeguarding West Virginia spring salamanders will also help protect drinking water for West Virginians, along with some of the most important aquatic diversity on the planet,” senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity Will Harlan said. “By protecting this salamander, we’re protecting ourselves too.”
It seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it?
But even after all this time, the USFWS still needs to gather comments and more information from stakeholders before it can make a decision.
Here’s hoping that process won’t take long. No doubt federal officials do not want to wait another 12 years to find out whether the West Virginia spring salamander can hang on, on its own.
Parkersburg News and Sentinel. January 27, 2024.
Editorial: Infrastructure: EV charging stations are a vital investment
While officials in other states jumped at the chance to use federal money to boost their electric vehicle charging offerings (look to Ohio, for example), West Virginia’s officials appear downright embarrassed to have to figure out how to spend the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act money.
According to a report by WV MetroNews, state Department of Highways Chief Economic Development Officer Perry Keller felt compelled to tell Mountain State residents the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure plan is mandatory and not something the DOH necessarily would have gone out and embraced on its own accord, but they are now going to make the most of the initiative.
What a shame.
West Virginia is supposed to get $46 million over the next five years to implement this plan in a way that serves both interstate travelers and local residents who have made the transition to EVs. State officials are talking as though they are being forced into something that is unpleasant at best.
Social media memes about coal trains full of “electric vehicle fuel” notwithstanding, no one would argue that it is a win all around for West Virginia to have federal help meeting the needs of all drivers. Imagine the consequences if we were left to our own devices and some of the travelers and potential new residents our lawmakers pretend they want to attract and convince to stay are unable even to do something as simple as refuel their means of transportation.
“This is a priority within the Federal Highway Administration and we are prepared to put these things up for the traveling public, for their use, and we hope to do it as quickly as possible,” Keller eventually conceded, according to MetroNews.
One suspects the bit about working quickly might have more to do with West Virginia’s reputation as a slow and untrustworthy spender of federal dollars than any desire to get all these EV charging stations in place.
In any case, surely DOH workers will be more on the ball than the bureaucrats who felt as though they needed to indulge in a little political theater during the meeting MetroNews covered. Drivers across the country are making the switch. Drivers here in West Virginia are making the switch. Bureaucrats and politicians aside, the rest of us want those drivers to know — these country roads are for everyone.