Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
The Charleston Gazette-Mail on West Virginia voting against the Clean Power Plan:
All of West Virginia's members of Congress voted to "defend pollution," a group called the Evangelical Environmental Network says. All five voted to kill the administration's Clean Power Plan, which will limit power plant fumes, starting in 2022.
Although the effort passed the Republican-controlled Congress, "President Obama will simply veto this political stunt," the evangelical organization said.
It noted that three coal-state senators — Republican Mark Kirk of Illinois and Democrats Mark Warner of Virginia and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania — had enough courage to support the pollution-control plan, even though it will crimp the coal industry in their states.
America's struggle over carbon emissions from coal is a long, painful battle — but the outcome seems certain: All modern nations eventually will reduce smokestack fumes which form a "greenhouse" layer in the sky and heat Earth's surface, causing violent storms, ocean rise, droughts, wildfires, floods and other evils.
Writing in The New York Times, Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., said conservatives in Congress "like to blame what they call President Obama's 'war on coal'" for the relentless decline of the U.S. coal industry — but that's a false premise.
"Coal companies are struggling, largely because domestic coal is not economically competitive with the country's cheap and abundant natural gas," Grijalva said. "That would be true no matter who was president or what climate quality standards we had in place. The 'blame Obama' argument essentially boils down to ignoring economics ."
The representative continued:
"For all their sound and fury on the importance of American coal mining, some of my colleagues have boxed themselves in so tightly by denying the science of climate change that any solution is impossible for them to support."
For example, he wrote, Congress can't pass "clean coal" efforts because conservative members won't admit that air pollution is a problem. "We can't have that discussion as long as climate change is treated as a hoax."
It's time to face reality. America's energy economy is shifting. Killing pollution controls wouldn't restore the coal industry to health — and it certainly wouldn't solve the growing menace of global warming.
The Journal on West Virginia prison population:
A recent report released by the nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative compared the incarceration rates of each state with those of countries around the world. It found West Virginia, were it to be viewed as a sovereign nation, has a higher rate of women in prison than anywhere else in the world. Of course, every state in the country has a higher rate of female inmates than the international average.
"The female inmate population is our fastest growing segment in West Virginia," Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin acknowledged.
It is true, the numbers are surprising. West Virginia incarcerates 273 women per 100,000 residents. By comparison, China incarcerates 71 per 100,000; and the United Arab Emirates incarcerates 51. That is a problem, according to the folks at Prison Policy Initiative.
"The statistics revealed by this report are simple and staggering" PPI officials wrote in their report. "They suggest that states cannot remain complacent about how many women they incarcerate. Women should be a mainstay of any state policy discussions on the economical and effective use of incarceration if we hope to incarcerate fewer women."
Why? Why single out women? Why not simply hope to incarcerate fewer human beings?
It may be true there are more women committing crimes for which they are convicted in West Virginia. And our justice system deals with those convictions by sending them to prison. If the problem is the manner in which our justice system handles those who have committed crimes, fine. That is most certainly a discussion worth having.
Meanwhile, in some of the countries noted by the Prison Policy Initiative for having such low rates of incarcerated women, the reasons may be that those countries do not judge women as full members of society capable of committing crimes. And, of course, some of those countries do not have a lot of women in prisons because they march women out to be beheaded for adultery, and they are in the ground rather than in prison.
Yes, it is a problem that the Mountain State's prison population — both men and women — is so large. But addressing that problem should not begin with breaking down the population into groups more deserving of attention than others.
The Herald-Dispatch on updating West Virginia laws to improve properties:
Dilapidated and abandoned buildings are still a huge problem across West Virginia.
All of the state's cities have a problem with streets and whole neighborhoods lined with structures no longer in use and deteriorating. These properties are not only eyesores, but they also pull down property values and serve as a haven for crime and mischief. It is a problem in small and rural areas as well.
At first blush, it might seem that the marketplace should solve this problem — just fix up the property and sell it. But an unfortunate mix of low property values, rising renovation costs, lack of capital and low demand means that too often that does not happen. The property sits and continues to deteriorate.
During the state's first home rule pilot program, the city of Huntington developed several new policies and strategies to help with the problem, including a local land bank that began in 2009. Operating under the umbrella of the Huntington Urban Renewal Authority, the land bank works to acquire delinquent properties and help return them to some productive use.
The process takes a little time, because first the land bank must purchase a property's tax lien at auction, then wait 18 months to see if the original owner comes forward to pay the taxes and interest. Meanwhile the city secures the property, boards it up if necessary and reduces the hazards it might cause for the neighborhood.
If the owner does not redeem the property, the city can take possession of the title and sell it or repurpose it in some way that hopefully improves the property. So far, that has happened with 135 properties, and the land bank holds the titles to another 110 properties.
So slowly but surely, the effort is making a difference. But more could be done with legislation that would give entities such as the land bank the right of first refusal at the county's annual tax lien auction.
Too often liens go to higher bids from private speculators, who are motivated by the interest money they can make by holding the lien. Many of these bidders have no interest in renovating and improving the property, and the properties continue to deteriorate.
Sadly, this fall the land bank was able to acquire only 53 liens, the smallest number since it began in 2009.
Representatives of Huntington's land bank explained the problem to a joint legislative committee this summer, and we hope legislators will take action to amend the West Virginia Land Reuse Agency Authorization Act to make it easier for cities to acquire these troubled properties.
Archaic tax laws have played a significant role in creating the backlog of dilapidated properties, and it is time to update these laws to improve properties for the good of the state and its communities.