- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

Sept. 16

Bluefield (W.Va.) Daily Telegraph on shameful comments from Kessler, Miley:

House Speaker Tim Miley and Senate President Jeff Kessler apparently do not see much of a future for coal in West Virginia. They more or less said so in a recent Associated Press article slamming the state’s embattled coal industry. What in the world were these two prominent Mountain State Democrats thinking?

Miley, speaking on Viewpoint radio show in West Virginia on Sept. 5, says candidates running for federal office should spend less time talking about coal … “because I don’t know whether coal is ever coming back.”

Kessler, a Marshall County Democrat, says it is counterproductive for candidates vying for federal office to focus on coal. He added that he doesn’t “have his head in the sand about global warming.”

“I wish political rhetoric could turn back the clock. It’s not going to happen,” Kessler told The AP. “Just because (coal is) all we know doesn’t mean it’s all there is.”

Miley and Kessler say they aren’t writing off coal completely and want additional research into burning coal more cleanly. But they say the fossil fuel industry is becoming a shadow of what it once was. Really? These are sad and shameful comments from the state’s top legislative leaders.

Instead of trashing coal, Kessler and Miley should be vocally defending the state’s coal industry. In fact, they should be as outspoken in support of coal - if not more so - than those same Republican candidates that they are instead criticizing.

Kessler and Miley also should be reminded of the fact that it was the metallurgical coal mined deep under the mountains of Appalachia that powered our nation for nearly a generation. And it was coal - much of which was mined from West Virginia - that helped to construct the nation’s skyscrapers.

While Miley and Kessler may come from the northern part of the state - an area that is currently reaping benefits from natural gas extraction - they are still expected to represent the entire state in their leadership posts. And that includes the coalfields of southern West Virginia.

Considering that it will only take a four-seat swing this November to flip the Democratic House to Republican control for the first time in 85 years, one must wonder what Kessler and Miley were thinking with their anti-coal comments. Blasting coal certainly won’t help their political party’s chances this November. And it adds further fuel to the argument that legislative leaders in Charleston are out of touch with the great needs of southern West Virginia.




Sept. 17

Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail on black lung:

No man should die from coal mining, be it from a methane explosion, a roof collapse or black lung — coal-miner’s pneumoconiosis.

The Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, among other things, set standards to reduce dust and created the Black Lung Disability Trust to compensate miners who contracted this disease.

The law worked. Over time there was a 90 percent reduction in miners with this ailment. What was accepted by some people as an occupational hazard became unacceptable and companies changed their practices.

But since the 1990s, black lung has rebounded, researchers with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health say.

The numbers are still well below the level 45 years ago, when the law passed, but the numbers don’t matter. The number of incidences must go down until it is eradicated like smallpox.

Progressive massive fibrosis - one form of black lung - is at its highest rate since the early 1970s for miners in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia, according to the research.

The numbers for that form of the disease are 10 times higher than they were in the 1990s.

“When we sat down and looked at this data, we were shocked. It was a much bigger resurgence than we were expecting,” David Blackley with the agency’s office in Morgantown, told the Daily Mail’s Dave Boucher. Blackley is an epidemic intelligence service officer.

Blackley said it is hard to pinpoint the exact cause of this resurgence.

“At the absolute most basic level, the bottom line is these miners, especially in these three states, are breathing in way too much dust,” Blackley said.

Coal companies must do better to protect their workers. If this means better training, do so. If this means better enforcement of safety rules, do so. If that means earlier testing and treatment, do so.

Better self-policing is the best way to avoid government intervention.




Sept. 15

Herald-Dispatch, Huntington, West Virginia, on childcare programs:

Whenever possible, smart consumers make it a habit to check quality ratings for all kinds of goods and services, ranging from kitchen appliances to plumbers to big-ticket items such as cars.

In West Virginia, however, parents looking for a guide to the quality of childcare programs where they might place their children have limited options - a shortcoming that warrants a remedy.

On paper, at least, the Mountain State should have a quality rating and improvement system in place, just like at least 42 other states do. Five years ago, the legislature approved a bill to establish a childcare rating and improvement system. The trouble, however, is that money was never allocated specifically for the program, and the state’s Department of Health and Human Resources hasn’t found the means otherwise to make it happen.

The good news is that the issue came up for discussion last week during legislative interim meetings in Charleston, so the need to act further hasn’t been completely forgotten. Jessica Dianellos, a DHHR early childhood education specialist, told lawmakers that funding is an issue, as well as revised evaluation standards. Both aspects are vital for implementing a quality rating system and pushing for improvements to childcare in the state — and to make quality ratings available for the public’s consideration in making childcare choices, according to a report in The Charleston Gazette. And both require action by the legislature, she said.

West Virginia currently has a three-tiered reimbursement system for licensed childcare centers, with higher state and federal reimbursements going to childcare centers in the upper tier. New centers are put in the first tier. Second-tier programs must submit documents showing they meet higher quality standards, while programs in the third tier are day care centers having national accreditation.

Unfortunately for consumers, only about 7 percent of the state’s 361 licensed childcare centers have national accreditation. That leaves parents wondering where the vast majority of centers rate in terms of quality.

To fill that gap, DHHR officials hope to put in place the standards and mechanisms to use something like a five-star rating system for parents to consider when they look for childcare options. Such an approach, with reimbursement rates tied to the quality ratings, has been adopted by many other states.

The National Conference of State Legislatures says quality rating systems like the one being sought by the DHHR have been a key component in efforts to improve children’s development and learning in childcare centers. Such an approach gives providers an incentive to improve, allows parents to more easily identify higher-quality settings for their children and gives policymakers a way to measure improvements.

Fully implementing the system sought by the DHHR won’t necessarily be cheap; a Marshall University study concluded in 2011 that a high-quality childcare rating system might cost as much as $82 million. However, children are one of the state’s most important assets for the future, and strategies for improving the quality of their care and development merit the investment. Lawmakers, the governor and the DHHR should come up with a way to accomplish this.



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