Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
The Herald-Dispatch on an anti-drug law:
Lawmakers in Washington are exclaiming they took major action this week to combat the opioid drug abuse problem plaguing the nation, but they haven’t earned a hearty slap on the back just yet. They may have taken a step toward a meaningful response to the epidemic that in 2014 killed 47,000 people across the country, but it fell well short of a full one.
The U.S. Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly added its stamp of approval to the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, marking the final legislative action needed to send the compromise legislation to President Obama for his signature. The White House said the president would sign it.
The legislation creates grants and other programs aimed at addressing drug abuse, especially heroin and opioids contained in powerful pain-killing prescription drugs. Among the bill’s components are more resources for addiction treatment, prevention and education, alternative sentencing options such as drug courts, expanded availability of the overdose-reversing drug naloxone, and development of new guidelines for prescribing opiates.
Any response at all is of keen interest to West Virginia, which has been hit hard by drug addiction and has the nation’s highest overdose death rate. It’s worth noting that U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia had a significant hand in helping to shape the legislation, including a “consumer education” amendment from Manchin to better inform the public of the dangers or powerful prescription drugs. Also contributing was U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins of Huntington, whose Nurturing and Supporting Healthy Babies Act was included in the final legislation. It is aimed at improving care for babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome because of exposure to drugs during pregnancy.
At this point, though, the legislation amounts to little more than a game plan, albeit a sound one. The bill sent to Obama provides $181 million in new funding. That equates to less than $75 for each of the estimated 2.5 million Americans with opioid abuse problems and addiction to heroin. That won’t get it done.
Democrats in Congress criticized what they called a lack of funding contained in the bill, as has Obama. But the expectation apparently is that lawmakers will approve nearly $500 million for opioid programs in the next budget year, according to U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. And Jenkins, also a Republican, said Thursday that he will be working in the U.S. House to allocate “billions” into addiction recovery efforts called for in the act.
Considering the magnitude of the problem and the millions of live affected, “billions” is what it will take. Let’s hope lawmakers take the next big step to provide adequate resources so that they truly do deserve credit for this legislation.
The Bluefield Daily Telegraph on an energy bill that includes a renewed focus on clean-coal technology:
For the first time in more than a decade, Congress is considering a common sense, all-of-the-above energy bill that includes a renewed focus on clean-coal technology.
Area lawmakers argue that the comprehensive legislation will lead to more jobs and revenue in energy-producing states like West Virginia and Virginia.
The Senate’s Energy and Policy Modernization Act was advanced last week to a House-Senate conference committee.
The bill includes several provisions that U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., have been fighting for, including research and development for Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage (CCUS) technologies and pipeline modernization.
The U.S. Senate voted by an impressive margin of 84 to 3 last week to conference with the U.S. House of Representatives on the measure. Following the vote, Capito predicted that lawmakers are “one step closer to getting the bill across the finish line and signed into law” this year.
In addition to Capito, Manchin worked to secure several key clean-coal technology amendments into the proposed legislation.
“We have not had a major energy bill since 2005, so I am pleased that Congress is moving this process forward and sending this comprehensive energy bill to conference committee,” Manchin added. “I encourage all of my colleagues to support the critical measures I included in the Senate bill that ensure it is truly comprehensive. It is crucial for America’s continued success that we establish an all-of-the-above energy portfolio that utilizes all of our domestic resources and we must face the fact that coal will play an integral role in producing our electricity for decades to come.”
Those amendments that were added to the Energy Policy Modernization Act by Manchin include:
– Raising and continuing the Coal Technology Program budget authorization to $632 million per year through fiscal year 2020 and $582 million in fiscal year 2021. Specifically, $275 million for fossil energy R&D program; $285 million for large scale pilot demonstration programs; and $50 million for demonstration project programs.
– “Improving the conversion, use and storage of carbon dioxide produced from fossil fuels” as an objective to the Fossil Energy program of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to ensure a refocus on carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) of CO2 at the Department of Energy’s Fossil Energy program.
– Establishing a $22 million authorization for engineering net negative CO2 emission large-scale pilot projects from fiscal year 2017 through fiscal 2021 that covers bituminous, sub-bituminous and lignite coals.
Mandating a GAO study on fossil loan guarantee incentive programs to ensure that the loan guarantee program is effective and evaluate the impact and costs of implementing the recommendations in the January 2015 National Coal Council report entitled “Fossil Forward: Revitalizing CCS, Bringing Scale and Speed to CCS Deployment” on the effectiveness of the advanced fossil loan guarantee program.
Such an all-of-the-above energy bill is something that is long overdue. While the current measure is not perfect, it is still an improvement from the job-killing, anti-fossil fuel, anti-coal policies of the Obama administration. Our nation will never achieve true energy independence if we fail to make proper use of our still abundant supply of fossil fuels.
And yes, coal will still continue to play an important role in producing our electricity for years to come.
The renewed focus this legislation puts on clean-coal technology is certainly a step in the right direction. Lawmakers in both the Senate and the House should proceed with vigor on the Energy and Policy Modernization Act. The sooner this common sense energy bill can clear both houses of Congress the better.
The (Parkersburg) News and Sentinel on higher education funding:
Budget woes are affecting West Virginia’s institutions of higher learning, perhaps more than many residents realized. In fact, one analysis, by the Higher Education Policy Commission showed the state’s four-year colleges are financially very weak.
For example, the commission recommends schools have at least six months worth of cash on hand to be considered healthy, and a minimum of two months worth, just to have a small cushion in place. Many schools in the Mountain State have less than two months of cash on which to fall back.
Glenville State College is in the shakiest position, with only 13 days of cash in reserve, according to the commission.
Meanwhile, of course, the community and technical colleges that serve so many students in our state are also struggling. West Virginia University at Parkersburg was just asked to come up with another plan, after the state Council for Community and Technical Colleges rejected its request to increase tuition 9 to 15 percent. School officials say they will go back to the drawing board and request a 5 percent increase, but that may not be enough to cover even basic maintenance needs.
As the well is running dry – state funding is shrinking all the time; and federal funding is harder and harder to come by – the institutions that may bear responsibility for training the generation that revitalizes West Virginia must find another way.
Those of us living outside academia know that means cutting costs, perhaps deeply. However, schools must not follow the example of West Virginia’s Division of Forestry, where 37 people who do the real, necessary work of the agency were laid off, while management and bureacratic ranks remained as swollen as ever.
From the community and technical colleges all the way to our state’s flagship institution of higher learning, administrators will have to take a hard look at excess that must be trimmed – and they will have to start by acknowledging just how much excess they are carrying around. The rest of West Virginia has to face reality. It is time for academia to do so, too.
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