- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

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Sept. 10

The Charleston Gazette on prospects growing for West Virginia from the large supply of Marcellus Shale natural gas in northern counties:

Brighter prospects for West Virginia are growing from the gigantic supply of Marcellus Shale natural gas in northern counties.

U.S. Methanol just held a ceremony to mark the establishment of an Institute plant promising 300 temporary construction jobs, followed by 50 permanent jobs, turning gas into feedstock for chemicals. Production is projected to start by the middle of next year. It’s a boost for the Kanawha Valley.

Meanwhile, researchers at West Virginia University are pushing an Appalachian Storage Hub that would save vast amounts of gas in vacant underground cavities, to be extracted for chemical manufacturing or fuel.

And thousands of jobs can be gained in building pipelines to carry West Virginia gas to East Coast markets.

Doddridge County Assessor David Sponaugle said gas drilling mostly caused his county’s assessed property valuation to triple from $457 million in 2010 to nearly $1.4 billion in 2017.

West Virginia needs all the new jobs and prosperity it can find.

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Of course, the natural gas boom contributes to the decline of coal sales, as cheap natural gas makes West Virginia coal less attractive to big customers, such as power generators. (But everyone likes it when their fuel bills go down, right?)

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And on a different day, we fret about methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide, which can escape during the process of getting natural gas to the market. Climate change caused by warmth trapped on Earth’s surface by those gases, like heat in a greenhouse, contributes to worsening weather extremes - droughts, floods, hurricanes.

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Images of these back-to-back hurricanes is terrifying, and inspires a sense of awe, and possibly a sense of safety and shelter in the security of the West Virginia’s tranquil green hills.

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Meanwhile, 58 percent of new jobs in West Virginia will require some college-level technical training, says a brochure from West Virginia’s Community and Technical College System.

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Happy Labor Day from President Donald Trump, who chose David G. Zatezalo, of Wheeling, to nominate to lead the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration. Zatezalo is the former CEO of Rhino Resources and known for pushing back against Obama-era improved enforcement of mine safety rules, pesky regulations intended to keep what coal miners are left from dying prematurely on the job or afterward.

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The special election to decide whether West Virginia should borrow up to $1.6 billion for road construction and maintenance is Oct. 7. Polls are open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. On the Secretary of State’s Office website, voters can verify their registration.

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West Virginia’s tourism industry draws $4.5 billion in direct spending in the state, includes 46,000 jobs, generates $527 million in taxes and attracts 15.9 million overnight visitors, according to a flyer from the state Tourism Office.

In addition to 36 state parks, West Virginia has 1,000 historic sites, 164,000 acres of public lands, 25 craft breweries, 600 miles of ATV trails, more than 130 golf courses, six major ski areas and five casinos. Tourism encourages people to continue to sing it: #AlmostHeaven.

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Turning to political registration, historically, Democrats outnumbered Republicans 2 to 1 in West Virginia - but the Mountain State has undergone a “red shift.” New figures from the secretary of state office say Democratic registration remains largest, but it dropped 115,717 since 2007 and now totals 536,298.

During that period, Republicans gained a bit: up about 40,000 to 389,647. The biggest change was the 115,717-person growth in independents, who now total 259,357. If this trend continues, independents may outnumber Republicans someday.

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Bearing arms in West Virginia: Marcus Benn from Tennessee is charged with shooting a Martinsburg man to death during a suspected robbery. Benn was caught by Maryland police.

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Attorney General Patrick Morrisey will visit Wheeling Jesuit University in his effort to use religion to combat the horrible opioid epidemic. So far, nothing else is succeeding, so we wish him well.

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Tragically, West Virginia apparently still leads the nation in opioid overdose deaths. A new report says 279 Mountain State users died in the first half of 2017. Cabell County was worst with 58 fatalities. Kanawha was second with 34. A horror is gripping America, worse than gun killings, highway deaths, natural disaster deaths and many other evils.

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Bearing arms in West Virginia: Bobby Gene Hall and Misty Ann Rucker are charged with shooting a couple to death in their home on Charleston’s Garrison Avenue.

Online: https://www.wvgazettemail.com/

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Sept. 8

Charleston Daily Mail on officials touting breaking ground at US Methanol’s Liberty One plant as a sign of economic advancement in West Virginia:

A funny thing is happening here in the Kanawha Valley. A chemical manufacturing company is disassembling a plant at a foreign location and moving it here.

It’s the reverse of a process that began in our area, then known as “Chemical Valley,” in the late 1970s. At the time, many of our region’s chemical plants started to shut down or reduce operations and moved to other locales along the U.S. Gulf Coast and in other countries.

As the Gazette-Mail’s Max Garland reported Thursday, chemical manufacturing startup US Methanol broke ground Wednesday for its Liberty One methanol plant in Institute. Company representatives and state and local officials touted the event as a sign of economic advancement in West Virginia.

And they are right. US Methanol’s relocation of the existing plant from Brazil to Institute is very much a sign of better times ahead and possible rebirth of the chemical industry in the same Valley into which it was born more than a century ago.

And, US Methanol is locating the plant here for many of the same reasons that the petro-chemical industry located in the Kanawha Valley 100 years ago: access to abundant natural resources - namely natural gas - access to river, rail and highway transportation, and access to a skilled and ready workforce.

US Methanol moved its base to Charleston after being founded in California in 2014. The plant’s re-construction here creates approximately 300 temporary construction jobs, Garland reported. Most of the workers hired will be within a 200-mile radius of Institute.

US Methanol expects production to start in mid-2018 and says the plant, located at the Dow Chemical Facility, will have the capacity to produce approximately 200,000 metric tons of methanol per year. The plant will create approximately 50 permanent jobs,

Methanol is obtained from natural gas and is used in the production of fuel, LED and LCD screens, pharmaceuticals and more.

“Methanol is used in all sorts of fancy technology, like silicone and gasoline,” US Methanol CEO Frank Bakker said during Wednesday’s groundbreaking event. “Everyone uses it in their daily lives.”

US Methanol’s relationship with West Virginia is expected to expand beyond the Institute plant. Bakker said the company also will relocate a Slovenia methanol plant to the Mountain State. That location has yet to be determined.

The relocation of the Institute plant and the next one to West Virginia - and the jobs and economic boost they will provide - is in response to the huge natural gas reserves in the area, centered around the tristate area of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

In a July Daily Mail Opinion column, the Chemical Alliance Zone’s Kevin DiGregorio talked about the region’s shale opportunity.

“The shale boom is indeed more of a marathon than a sprint,” DiGregorio wrote. “But even then it’s not just a really long race. Instead, it’s a steeplechase marathon full of pits and hurdles that we must - and will - overcome.”

US Methanol’s construction here locally is an early, successful hurdle in the region’s long race to better compete in the global economy. Here’s hoping that many more pits and hurdles are successfully overcome in the coming years.

Online: https://www.wvgazettemail.com/

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Sept. 10

The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington on West Virginia smoking rates compared to the country and their costs:

Smoking rates are dropping around the country. But they still remain high in our region, and the overall costs are staggering.

Some may view smoking as an individual - “it’s my life - kind of decision. But the financial impact of tobacco use is actually something that affects everyone.

The Center for Disease Control estimates the cost of smoking-related illness in the United States at more than $300 billion a year. That’s nearly $170 billion in direct medical care for adults and more than $156 billion in lost productivity.

The costs are particularly high in West Virginia and Kentucky, because our region continues to have some of the highest smoking rates in the country. While nationally rates have fallen to about 15 percent of the adult population, in West Virginia and Kentucky more than 25 percent of adults still smoke.

The rates in area counties are even higher. In Wyoming, Boone, Logan and Mingo counties about 1 in 3 adults smoke, and in Cabell and Wayne the rates are about 30 percent.

Sadly, the higher rates in our region reflect a growing socio-economic divide when it comes to smoking. In a nutshell, smoking rates are dramatically higher among poorer, less-educated and rural populations, according to the CDC. The impact can be deadly, with rural residents diagnosed with lung cancer at rates 18 to 20 percent higher than city residents.

There is plenty of debate on how to explain that, with some blaming cultural attitudes and the stresses of tough times. Anti-smoking groups also contend that that tobacco companies target marketing to their rural strongholds and spend big money to fight tobacco tax increases in those areas.

But regardless of the underlying causes, it does not help that rural residents have less access to health care and smoking cessation programs.

West Virginia took an even more disturbing step backward on that front this year, when lawmakers eliminated a $3 million annual appropriation to the state Division of Tobacco Prevention. The staff of eight has been cut to just one person to hopefully keep the state tobacco-cessation hotline and the teen education program going.

For a state already struggling with poor health and mounting health care costs, those cuts are simply foolish.

High smoking rates are costly and deadly, and our states need to recommit to aggressive cessation and prevention efforts.

Online: https://www.herald-dispatch.com/

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