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West Virginia editorial roundup

November 22, 2017
Associated Press

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:


Nov. 21

The Charleston Gazette on the Mountain Valley Pipeline:

West Virginia's Department of Environmental Protection has essentially admitted the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline could not be legally permitted under environmental protection laws. So instead of sending the plans back for revision and improvements until they comply, DEP just threw the rules away.

This is not going to be good for anyone. Let's review:

—Several firms, including EQT Midstream Partners LP; NextEra US Gas Assets, LLC; Con Edison Transmission, Inc.; WGL Midstream; and RGC Midstream, propose building the $3.7 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline, among several to move natural gas out of the region. This pipeline would run 300 miles from Wetzel County to Pittsylvania County, Virginia. The 42-inch pipe would have a 125-foot-wide construction corridor and a permanent right of way of 50 feet. It would require more than 600 stream crossings and 400 wetlands crossings. Construction would disturb nearly 4,300 acres of land in its path across Harrison, Doddridge, Lewis, Braxton, Webster, Nicholas, Greenbrier, Fayette, Summers and Monroe counties.

—Potential effects on water and wildlife, to say nothing of people, are obvious. Naturally, pipeline builders must submit to various evaluations and permit processes at both the state and federal levels. One, called a 401 Water Quality Certification after its section of the Federal Clean Water Act, is required for projects permitted by a federal agency. The 401 certification process is West Virginia's opportunity to make sure a federally permitted project will not violate the state's water quality or stream standards.

—West Virginia's Department of Environmental Protection quickly granted this certification, despite much testimony from West Virginians that the project as proposed would harm water and streams.

—In August, the Sierra Club, West Virginia Rivers Coalition, Indian Creek Watershed Association, Appalachian Voices and Chesapeake Climate Action Network filed a suit in federal court asking the court to vacate DEP's hasty certification and send the matter back to the agency for a thorough evaluation.

—In September, West Virginia's DEP responded to the suit, acknowledging that the application did indeed require further review. DEP also asked the judge to send it back.

—In October, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sent the issue back to the state DEP for further review, as requested.

—By November, DEP just declared that the pipeline project could be built without harm. Furthermore, West Virginia would waive its right to even conduct the 401 Certification.

That's right. Gov. Justice's DEP has ducked its responsibility. They just threw the rules away, and gave away the people's authority in the bargain. This course is especially rich coming from people who like to run around and whine about federal overreach.

Water quality is too important for people to let it go. These counties are home to households, farms and other businesses. Lifetimes or even generations of work, improvement and memories live there. They are home to people who see the lessons of the past and do not want to sacrifice their livelihoods and property for the next wave of out-of-state resource extraction profit.

It is unlikely that West Virginians who care about and understand the quality of water and streams will give up because of this cheap trick. It is more likely that they will dig in and prepare for a longer dispute that will turn out to be more costly than if West Virginia's elected and appointed leaders simply required pipeline developers to tread more carefully from the start.



Nov. 21

The Herald-Dispatch on West Virginia's handling of a substance known as kratom:

Members of the West Virginia Legislature should know better than to rely solely on the word of an industry lobbyist when making its decisions.

A case in point occurred during this year's regular legislative session, when a bill was amended to keep legal a substance known as kratom, derived from a plant originating in Southeast Asia. As submitted originally, House Bill 2526 would have added kratom to a list of Schedule I controlled substances, which includes such things as heroin and LSD as having no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse, according to a report by The Charleston Gazette. The Drug Identification Section of the West Virginia State Police Forensic Laboratory had asked that kratom, as well as other drugs, be added to the list.

As it turned out, the bill was amended by the House of Delegates' Committee on Health and Human Resources to take kratom and its main active component chemicals from the controlled substances list, the newspaper reported.

However, this month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an advisory saying the substance produces effects similar to such narcotics as opioids with similar risks of abuse, addiction or death. The FDA said people use kratom for recreational purposes and as a self-prescribed treatment for some disorders.

In describing kratom as deadly, the FDA said it is aware of 36 deaths associated with the use of products containing kratom. Calls to U.S. poison control centers regarding kratom have increased tenfold from 2010 to 2015, the Gazette-Mail reported, citing FDA data. The agency said there is no evidence to support the use of kratom as treatment for opioid use disorder, and people are using it without dependable instructions and without consultation with healthcare providers.

So what prompted the House committee in February to amend the bill and keep it off the controlled substances list? They made the switch after listening from a lobbyist from the American Kratom Association, which maintains that no deaths have been proven to be caused by kratom, that it is not addictive and can be used to treat minor pain and to promote a sense of health and well-being.

Some members of the committee told the Gazette-Mail that they knew little or nothing about kratom. However, since no one from any state agencies testified at the hearing, it seems the committee chose to accept the lobbyist's word without seeking more information from state police. The bill was amended.

Considering the recent history of irresponsible promotion of dangerous drugs, more due diligence was clearly called for on the part of the legislators. They should rectify this error in next year's legislative session as soon as possible. Let's hope the legislature doesn't make simply following lobbyists' pleas a habit.



Nov. 21

Parkersburg News and Sentinel on protecting children from abuse:

Most West Virginians would do just about anything to prevent a child being harmed, yet child abuse may be increasing in our state.

During the 2017 fiscal year, which ended June 30, the state's 21 advocacy centers for children provided services to 3,914 youngsters, according to a published report. That was an increase of more than 400 from the preceding 12-month period.

And the actual number of child abuse victims undoubtedly is much higher than the figure reported. The 21 centers cover just 40 of our 55 counties. And a substantial number of abuse situations are never brought to the attention of people who may be able to help.

One reason for that is that the abusers often are parents. Forty percent of the 3,914 cases reported involved biological fathers and sometimes, mothers. Nearly ALL of the abuse reported was committed by someone the child knew.

Child advocates are not certain whether the higher numbers reflect more abuse, or more children coming forward to report it.

Discussing abuse with a child can be a challenge, but it is a conversation parents, guardians or other adults close to those children must have. No child should have to suffer silently.

We know some abuse stems from the drug epidemic in West Virginia. We also know that among the most distressing aspects of the problem is that those guilty of harming children often escape punishment — and sometimes retain custody of their victims.

Of the 3,914 victims cited in a recent report, criminal charges were filed in only 548 cases. Convictions were obtained in just 242 situations.

It can be exceedingly difficult to even obtain enough evidence to charge a child abuser, much less to convict him or her. Still, we have to do better.

If that requires devoting more resources to the problem, so be it. Our children deserve the best we can do to keep them safe.




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