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Kroger Is Launching A Blue Apron Killer

The Free Press WV

Kroger is diving into the fast-growing meal-kit business.

The supermarket chain is offering meal kits — or packages that contain recipes and accompanying ingredients — at a handful of stores and launching them nationwide over the next year, Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen said in a letter to shareholders.

The $1.5 billion meal-kit market is currently dominated by Blue Apron, a subscription service that now delivers more than 8 million meals a month — up from about 1 million meals per month two years ago. Blue Apron costs $20 for a meal that services two people.

But Kroger has two major advantages compared to Blue Apron.

First of all, Kroger’s boxes are cheaper, costing about $14 for a meal that feeds two people.

Kroger also goes a step further than Blue Apron by doing most of the food prep for customers. No chopping, slicing, dicing, grating, or other work is necessary — all the ingredients are ready to be cooked.

This means the meals can take a lot less time to make. Kroger says its meals take about 20 minutes to prepare “from kit to fork,“ whereas Blue Apron meals tend to require about 45 minutes of prep and cooking time.

Customers can select from a variety of different meals at Kroger stores where the kits are currently offered. Soon, they will be available nationwide. 

McMullen says meal kits are one of many “megatrends” that Kroger is hoping to tap into this year.

“Our culinary team has developed delicious meal kits that are available in pilot stores today, and we have plans to quickly make them available at scale over the course of the next year,“ he said. “Meal kits are one of many offerings designed to meet our customers’ changing definition of convenience.“

The meal-kit business is rapidly growing, and getting increasingly crowded along the way.

More than 100 companies now offer the kits, including Plated, HelloFresh, Sun Basket, and Amazon (in limited cities).  Supermarkets including Publix, Fresh Market, and Whole Foods are also testing the kits in some stores.

Opinion: Natural Gas —  A Solution for WV

The Free Press WV

As a lawyer and lobbyist for IOGA of WV I read with interest the text of a recent article on the WV Metronews website discussing the state’s revenue and budget posture.  As a past president of IOGA of WV years ago when my career was more exclusively grounded in oil and gas law, I took note of comments therein regarding potential new or increased taxation of oil and gas production activities.

Any analysis of the impact of new or increased taxation must begin with the fundamental appreciation that there is an oversupply of natural gas waiting on pipeline construction to move at least some of that gas to waiting markets nationally and to international export outlets.  That oversupply factor has resulted in a very low commodity price for natural gas.  This has worked a severe hardship on West Virginia producers.

Without going into detail, the fact is that most producers in our state are realizing a very minimal net revenue on a per unit basis for the natural gas they are producing.  Due to the market dynamics of having a price per unit established at an indexing point in Louisiana and the distant location of the prolific shale gas fields of our region of the country (which are now the dominant force in supplying the nation with natural gas), there is something called negative basis applied to the price realized at the wellhead in West Virginia which very significantly reduces the price at the West Virginia wellhead.  Additionally, there are very significant natural gas gathering and transportation charges associated with moving gas from the wellhead to market, which a WV producer is obligated to pay to owners and operators of those interstate pipelines. As a result, most producers realize far less than $1 per unit of gas produced, and in many cases not even $0.25, from which they must pay their operational costs. Operating costs many times far exceed the revenue realized by the operator.

In other words, they are upside down from the get go, yet due to the pipeline transportation contracts under which they are obligated, they have no logical choice other than to continue to produce and generate as much revenue as they can, if for no other reason than to avoid paying for pipeline transportation they must pay, regardless of whether they actually transport any gas or not.

It is for this reason that an increase in the severance tax under any format – tiered severance tax or otherwise – or for that matter any tax increase imposed on natural gas producers is an impediment to future natural gas drilling and industry investment in West Virginia.  In fact, any additional cost burden to natural gas producers at this time is an anti-competitive force in terms of attracting drilling capital to West Virginia.  Our state need not make it more difficult from a financial perspective to conduct business at a time when we need all the investment and legitimate, high wage jobs we can get.

Natural gas can be a solution. The capacity to generate revenue for West Virginia through the efforts of the natural gas industry should not be bypassed.  There are other ways of achieving revenue and value from the industry which do not involve increased costs to producers.  There can be progressive policies which foster the development of the industry and thereby stimulate investment and job creation.  Actually, these ways are fairly simple and not difficult to understand.

First, we must recognize natural gas as a solution and not a problem.  It is the only reliable energy source for electric power generation with a very recognizable reduction in carbon emissions as our nation transitions from coal as a fuel to natural gas as a fuel for electric power generation.  It is the lowest cost new baseload fuel source for electric generation we have in our country.  This translates into lower power costs for American manufacturers and helps keep America competitive.  For those who prefer wind and solar power – which are intermittent sources of power – natural gas balances very well and assures us of a reliable source of electric power with a reduced carbon emission level.

One should note that there are no new coal fueled electric power plants which have been permitted and being readied for construction in the U.S. at this time.  Economically, it does not make sense to utilize coal as a base fuel for power generation.  With natural gas being so cheap, generating substantially less carbon emissions and with an abundant long term supply available for many decades, it only makes sense.  Moreover, gas fueled power generation facilities also enjoy the lowest cost of operation.

Next, we need to recognize that with the shale gas revolution has come considerable and evolving technology to make natural gas more cost efficient to develop.  Unfortunately, West Virginia has not accepted this proposition and denied modern policies which reflect the use of such technologies to maximize investment and production.  Extended lateral drilling, consisting of drilling horizontally for 3 or more miles, and utilizing a technology known as “geo-steering” to modify the direction of the horizontal lateral from time to time to keep the lateral line in the “sweet spot” of the geologic formation, enables enhanced cost efficient production.  This allows for increased production creating more investment dollars, jobs and severance tax revenue for West Virginia.

Adoption of policies to facilitate contemporary drilling and production of natural gas in West Virginia to produce clean burning, cost efficient natural gas, taking advantage of the riches of the shale gas formations underlying our state is just one answer to help stimulate the investment essential to help revitalize our economy and produce additional revenues for our state.  Increasing taxes on an industry that is in a daily fight for survival is a counterproductive response to those objectives.

West Virginia, unfortunately, does not have a plethora of industries with known growth potential.  However, natural gas is one which does and we need to focus on building value rather than diminishing value.

~~  Phil Reale - Attorney Charleston, WV ~~


05.18.2017
Financial & Economy | G-Fin™ | GrantsBusinessNewsWest VirginiaOpinions | Commentary | G-LtE™ | G-Comm™ | G-OpEd™(1) Comments

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~~~ Readers' Comments ~~~

Mr. Reale.  Nice reading, but little substance.  I understand those writing your paycheck want something in return.

On one hand you claim producers cannot make a profit and on the other, there is enough money to save West Virginia?  Which?

You say increasing taxes on an industry that is in a daily fight for survival makes oil and gas lobbying a lost cause?  Or is a new lobby needed?

By Harold W.  on  05.18.2017

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Progress Report on $160M Settlement with Frontier

The Free Press WV

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced Frontier Communications has increased internet speeds for approximately 36 percent of customers impacted by its estimated $160 million settlement with West Virginia.

Frontier Communications entered into the settlement to resolve complaints about internet speeds provided to its customers. The agreement, announced in December 2015, marked the largest, independently negotiated consumer protection settlement in West Virginia history.

“My office continues to closely monitor Frontier’s compliance with our settlement,” Attorney General Morrisey said. “This agreement improves connectivity for thousands in West Virginia. It’s also crucial to helping the state compete in this ever evolving world of digital technology.”

The multi-faceted agreement requires Frontier to invest at least $150 million in capital expenditures to increase internet speeds across West Virginia and lower monthly rates for affected consumers.

Frontier, to date, has spent $72.6 million in capital expenditures, funds which the company reports has increased internet speeds to 9,910 customers throughout West Virginia, according to the company’s most recent quarterly report filed with the Attorney General’s Office.

The Attorney General’s Office, between 2013 and 2015, received multiple complaints from customers paying for Frontier’s high-speed service, which advertised internet speeds up to 6 megabits per second.

Many consumers advised their Frontier service was slow or did not meet expectations. The subsequent investigation found many customers expecting internet speeds “up to 6 Mbps” frequently received speeds 1.5 Mbps or lower.

Frontier denied any allegation of wrongdoing and entered into the settlement to resolve disputed claims without the necessity of protracted and expensive litigation.

The settlement specifically required Frontier to invest $150 million, in addition to its $180 million in planned upgrades as part of the federal government’s Connect America Fund II program.

The discounted monthly rate set bills for approximately 27,500 affected customers at $9.99 – a reduction expected to cost Frontier $6.25 million per year, which will shrink with time as the discount remains in effect until mandated improvements allow Frontier to increase existing download speeds.

Deplaning of United Passenger Shows Why We Need Corporate Regulation

In a democracy, We the People are in charge. We are the boss of the corporations. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work.

Apparently, that isn’t so much the way it is anymore. The United States used to regulate corporations to protect people from concentrated power. Now concentrated power has taken over our government, which fights the people for the benefit of corporate profits.

Or, to paraphrase John Kenneth Galbraith: In democracy, We the People regulate corporations. In deregulated America it’s the other way around.


The Face Of Deregulation

This is what can happen to you now in the United States if you get in the way of something a corporation wants:

We’ve all seen the videos. A guy gets beaten and dragged from his paid seat on a United Airlines flight because, in essence, he was interfering with corporate profits just by being in the seat. The airplane was full, the corporation decided it could make more money by moving some employees to another town, and a passenger was in the way.


Airline Deregulation

Airlines used to be regulated in the U.S. as a public utility that served citizens. They competed with each other by offering better service.

Then in 1978, airlines were deregulated and passengers were considered consumers instead of citizens. The airlines argued that more competition would bring benefits. Instead, as time passed, airlines did what corporations tend to do.

They consolidated, reducing competition. They reduced and reduced and reduced service to reduce costs. They cut employee wages and benefits. They changed routes to “hubs” for their convenience, causing passengers to have to wait hours in crowded airports. And they write contracts that said you can’t use their (essential) service without signing away every right you have.

Since deregulation, airlines intentionally overbook many flights. They scrunch as many people into smaller and smaller seats just inches from the next, and sell you more legroom. Instead of serving food, they sell it. They charge you if you travel a suitcase. They charge you to bring a travel bag on the plane.

Soon, they will put a large spike in the seat and charge you to shorten it.

And you can’t do anything about it. You can’t even complain without risking being considered “disruptive” and dragged from the airplane and jailed. And be careful how you dress.


Not Just Airlines

It’s not just airlines. All kinds of corporate deregulation have been harming We the People. There used to be regulations requiring broadcast media to act in the public interest in exchange for use of publicly-owned broadcast frequencies. Now, obviously, there isn’t.

Pollution rules are being deregulated. Pesticides that harm children are being deregulated. The list is long.

“Arbitration clauses” are now used in all kinds of contracts and agreements to keep you from being able to take corporations to court. “Tort reform” laws also restrict access to courts when people are harmed by corporations.

You get the idea.


“Burdensome” Regulations

Corporations complain that regulations are “burdensome.” They complain that regulations cost them money.

Of course, regulations that stop corporations from polluting streams place a “burden” on them to properly dispose of waste. Of course it costs money to require them to not just dump waste into rivers, streams, and the air we breath.

Carmakers used to complain that rules requiring seat belts in cars were a “burden.” Tobacco companies used to complain that stopping them from selling cigarettes to kids “cost money.” So far, government regulation has protected us from these abuses-for-profit. But for how long?


Who Is Our Country FOR?

Americans have lost our understanding of the meaning of democracy and of the powers democracy brings us and duties it places on us. We have become consumers instead of citizens and we think that markets should make decisions for us instead of our votes.

In a democracy, We the People are supposed to be in charge. In a democracy, our government by definition exists to serve us, protect us, and do things for us that make our lives better.

A democracy regulates corporations to protect people from concentrated power. If we let concentrated power make decisions for us, we end up getting dragged off of airplanes because the corporation decided the seat we paid for would make them a bit more profit.

Corporations should be regulated to serve the public interest. Why else would We the People want to allow these things called corporations to exist at all?

~~  Dave Johnson ~~

New Taxes Could Also Be Part Of The Budget Fix

The Free Press WV

With a budget shortfall of as much as $500 million looming next fiscal year, much of the talk among state leaders has been where and how to cut between 10 to 15 percent of the General Revenue budget. However, there are also discussions about finding new revenue through tax increases.

Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso (D-Marion) is a former chair of the finance committee and he knows how difficult it will be to make cuts that deep. “I don’t think it’s realistic,” he told me on Talkline Thursday. “You’re going to have to get into situations you just don’t want to get into.”

And that leads Prezioso to believe new taxes have to be part of the solution. “I don’t think you have any other choices,” he said.

If there is a tax increase proposal, one of the likely targets is the six percent consumer sales tax. It’s a broad tax that brings in a lot of money — between $1.2 and $1.3 billion this year — and it’s easy to collect. Raising it to seven percent would bring another $180-$190 million annually.

However, the seven percent rate would be higher than any of the five surrounding states. Additionally, a number of municipalities have added their own sales tax, meaning their rate would be pushed even higher.

Another potential revenue target is the goods and services that are exempt from the state consumer sales tax, and there are dozens of them.  A few are so small — like the sales tax exemption for U.S. and West Virginia flags — that they are inconsequential, but others represent substantial amounts of money.

Food for home consumption is exempt. Reinstituting the six percent sales tax on groceries would generate about $170 million annually. Taxing lawyers, accountants and other professional services would bring in about $150 million. Removing the exemption on certain media advertising would raise an estimated $27 million. Taxing prescription drugs could, theoretically, raises tens of millions of dollars.

The list goes on and on, but you get the idea. Every exemption was added to the tax code because it had a constituency group that fought to get it there, so removing it would generate a political battle. And can you imagine the outcry if the state tried to tax grandma’s medicine?

There is another option that’s being talked about — removing most of the sales tax exemptions, but lowering the rate. Members of the state Senate are considering that idea, but that’s a heavy lift to try to accomplish in the upcoming session and it likely would not generate additional revenue in the short term to help plug the massive budget hole.

As we’ve said before, given the magnitude of the state’s budget shortfall, there are no good options.  Neither the new Governor nor most lawmakers want to raise taxes. However, as Prezioso said, “When legislators look at the magnitude of what needs to be cut and how it affects certain areas, they may change their mind.”

~~  Hoppy Kercheval ~~

The 10 Best Jobs That Don’t Require A Bachelor’s Degree

The Free Press WV

If you think you need a bachelor’s degree to have a respectable career, think again.

There are plenty of well-paying jobs with good prospects you can get that merely require some formal post-secondary training, or even just a high-school diploma.

According to US News & World Report’s 2017 Best Jobs rankings — which determines the best occupations in the US based on median salary, employment rate, growth, job prospects, stress level, and work-life balance — you could earn upwards of $70,000 with some of these jobs.

Read on to see the 10 best jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree in the US according to US News, with salary data and projected job growth included from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

10. Optician

Average annual salary: $36,820

Projected growth (2014 to 2024): 24%

Typical education needed: High school diploma or equivalent

Overall 2017 Best Jobs rank (out of 100): No. 54

9. Cardiovascular Technologist

Average annual salary: $56,100

Projected growth (2014 to 2024): 22%

Typical education needed: Associate’s degree

Overall 2017 Best Jobs rank (out of 100): No. 50

8. Occupational Therapy Aide

Average annual salary: $31,090

Projected growth (2014 to 2024): 31%

Typical education needed: High school diploma or equivalent

Overall 2017 Best Jobs rank (out of 100):  No. 43

7. Massage Therapist

Average annual salary: $43,170

Projected growth (2014 to 2024): 22%

Typical education needed: Post-secondary non-degree award

Overall 2017 Best Jobs rank (out of 100):  No. 42

6. Physical Therapist Assistant

Average annual salary: $55,250

Projected growth (2014 to 2024): 41%

Typical education needed: Associate’s degree

Overall 2017 Best Jobs rank (out of 100): No. 38

5. Respiratory Therapist

Average annual salary: $59,640

Projected growth (2014 to 2024): 12%

Typical education needed: Associate’s degree

Overall 2017 Best Jobs rank (out of 100): No. 36

4. Dental Hygienist

Average annual salary: $72,720

Projected growth (2014 to 2024): 19%

Typical education needed: Associate’s degree

Overall 2017 Best Jobs rank (out of 100): No. 32

3. Web Developer

Average annual salary: $70,660

Projected growth (2014 to 2024): 27%

Typical education needed: Associate’s degree

Overall 2017 Best Jobs rank (out of 100): No. 31

2. Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

Average annual salary: $70,880

Projected growth (2014 to 2024): 26%

Typical education needed: Associate’s degree

Overall 2017 Best Jobs rank (out of 100):  No. 24

1. Occupational Therapy Assistant

Average annual salary: $58,340

Projected growth (2014 to 2024): 43%

Typical education needed: Associate’s degree

Overall 2017 Best Jobs rank (out of 100):  No. 12

WV Secretary of State Annual Report Filing Notice

The Free Press WV

It is time again to file your annual report, annual notice, or attorney-in-fact filing. Annual filings for Corporations, Limited Liability Companies, Limited Partnerships, Business Trusts, and Voluntary Associations, are required yearly per West Virginia Code §59-1-2a; for Insurance Companies per West Virginia Code §33-4-12; and Limited Liability Partnerships per §47B-l 0-1.

Annual reports are easier than ever to file online! No username, password or account is needed which makes the filing easier and quicker. Go to www.Business4wv.com and follow the instructions highlighted in red on the page. If you are already a registered user, you may continue to use your account to file online.

If you filed online last year we want to thank you, and if not we please ask that you give it a try as future filings may be required to be filed online.

The filing deadline is July 01, 2017. Reports filed after this date will be assessed a late fee.

The filing fee for an organization is $25, if paid by July 01, 2017, except for a Limited Liability Partnership for which the filing fee is $500.

Please note that Limited Liability Partnerships and Insurance attorney-in-fact filings are not assessed late fees.

Filing online saves time, allows for credit card or electronic check payment, and provides email confirmation of the filing. If you choose to file by mail, the processing time may take longer.

While the Secretary of State’s Office is very proud of its online services, we know that sometimes there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction. We have opened a regional office at 416 Adams Street, 4th Floor Fairmont, WV 26554 to make it easier for those in that region to visit our office.

If you have any questions regarding this online process please contact our office at 1.877.826.2954.

Natural Gas Industry A Foundation Of West Virginia’s Economy

The Free Press WV

Whether heating your home, fueling your car, providing jobs or creating so many of the items we use daily, oil and natural gas play an integral role in all of our lives. These resources make our world go ‘round and West Virginia sits at the epicenter of the shale revolution.

It’s for these reasons that I applied for the job of executive director of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association. And, I feel privileged to have been hired for the position.

By way of background, I was a transplant to West Virginia at an early age. I graduated from high school in Greenbrier County and from undergraduate and graduate schools at Marshall University. I made the choice to remain in West Virginia and to establish and grow my career here. I am an environmental and regulatory lawyer and have represented the oil and gas industry in private practice for 15 years. I have been involved in the creation of policy, laws and regulations that affect the industry and have helped clients understand and comply with these laws and regulations for many years.

WVONGA, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2015, serves the entire oil and natural gas industry, and includes companies involved in construction, environmental services, drilling, completion, gathering, transportation, distribution and processing.

Our members have a cumulative investment of nearly $10 billion in West Virginia, account for 80 percent of the state’s oil and natural gas production, operate more than 20,000 miles of pipeline across the state and provide product to more than 300,000 West Virginia homes and businesses.

Our positive economic contributions are undeniable. In 2016, the industry paid over $134 million in state and local severance taxes. We will pay approximately $135 million in local, production-based property taxes to county governments based on 2016 assessments. But perhaps most importantly, the industry employs thousands of state residents, pays over $1.5 billion in total wages and offers a median annual salary surpassing $65,000.

This is an impactful industry and a foundation of our state’s economy. And, we believe our best days are ahead of us. West Virginia and the Appalachian Basin sit atop the second-largest gas field in the world. To make the most of this opportunity, the industry needs policies in place that allow for the responsible production of these resources as well as the ability to move the product to market.

For example, West Virginia is one of only three mineral-producing states in the U.S. that does not have a rational legal framework regarding land issues for the development of the Marcellus Shale, which prevents us from reaching the industry’s maximum potential. We need such frameworks in place to fully develop our resources, whether that be through pooling, co-tenancy law reform, joint development/lease integration or reasonable tax guidelines for valuation of natural resource properties.

The other critical component is the approval and construction of pipeline infrastructure. If we can’t transport the product to market, we can’t fully develop it. It’s that simple. There are a number of pipeline projects proposed to be built in and through the state. These projects represent one of the single largest private sector infrastructure investments in the state’s history. However, they must first be approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission before construction can begin.

Collectively, these projects represent more than $5 billion in economic impact, tens of thousands of jobs and significant tax receipts for local government and the state. Once constructed, these lines provide the incentive and opportunity for more gas development in West Virginia, which will equate to more local and state jobs and taxes. The industry needs more tools, like pipeline infrastructure and pro-development land policies, in the toolbox to make the most of the opportunity in front us. We will work with all stakeholders to make sure that is done in a responsible fashion.

In my new role, I recognize I have big shoes to fill. Corky DeMarco, former director of WVONGA, was a dogged advocate for the natural gas industry and I can only hope to live up to the legacy he leaves behind. Not only was he a well-respected expert and advocate in this field, he was a great person everyone enjoyed being around. I am honored to be given this opportunity to continue to grow an industry that he led for many years — in the state that he loved.

Creating jobs and growing our economy. That’s the opportunity this industry offers West Virginians and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.

Anne Blankenship - Executive Director of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association.

Exxon Mobil Is Fighting to Keep Its Dangerous Chemicals in Children’s Toys

Exxon Mobil Is Fighting to Keep Its Dangerous Chemicals in Children’s Toys
The Free Press WV

Most of us know Exxon Mobil Corp. as an energy giant, which makes sense given that it is the world’s largest publicly held oil and gas company. Rex Tillerson, the company’s CEO, has spent his entire professional life prioritizing Exxon Mobil’s corporate interests over human rights, the environment, and the diplomatic interests of the U.S., all of which has prompted many journalists and commentators to point out that his appointment as secretary of state is not just a terrible idea but a joke seemingly ripped from the pages of a Marxist comic book.

What’s less well known is that Exxon Mobil is also one of the world’s biggest chemical companies, and that its chemical interests also sometimes run counter to those of people in the U.S. and beyond. Petrochemicals accounted for more than a quarter of Exxon Mobil’s $16 billion in net profits last year and wound up in wide range of consumer products such as plastics, tires, batteries, detergents, adhesives, synthetic fibers, and household detergents.

Among Exxon Mobil’s chemical products are phthalates, a family of chemicals widely used to make plastic pliable. Phthalates are in everything from food containers and plastic wrap to rattles, pacifiers, bottle nipples, and teething toys for babies. More than 75 percent of Americans have at least five of the chemicals in their body, according to a 2000 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Exxon Mobil insists its products pose no harm. In response to inquiries for this story, the company emailed a statement to The Intercept saying that “Exxon Mobil phthalates have been thoroughly tested, and evaluations by multiple government agencies in the U.S., EU, and Australia show they are safe in their current applications.” (The email also included a link to the company’s webpage on the health and environmental impacts of phthalates.) But numerous independent studies have linked the chemicals to health problems, including cancer, neurodevelopmental effects, endocrine disruption, and adverse harm to the male reproductive system.

Given the risks, Congress permanently banned several phthalates in 2008, temporarily banned a few others, and directed the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) to study whether several other phthalates should also be removed from kids’ products. The law required the CPSC to act within 180 days of its final decision.

An expert committee appointed by the CPSC came out with its final report on phthalates in 2014. After years of meetings, public comments, and peer review, the panel of scientists decided that eight phthalates should be banned from use in children’s toys. The report cited studies showing that babies who were exposed to higher levels of some phthalates in utero tended to have smaller “anogenital distances” and other reproductive tract problems, effects that were also seen in animals exposed to phthalates.

Despite the clear directive of the scientific experts and the Congress-mandated timeframe, the CPSC has yet to finalize its ban. During the almost two years since the deadline passed, Exxon Mobil has been working hard to slow and reverse the commission’s decision, drafting at least one legislative rider designed to keep some of their phthalates on the market and submitting lengthy comments and objections to the ban.

“Exxon has been sending letters, having meetings, they’re just constantly in CPSC’s face in a way designed to suggest that, if you go the wrong way on this, we’re going to sue you,” said Eve Gartner, an attorney with Earthjustice. Gartner and a few other environmental advocates try to attend these meetings whenever possible, but they describe being outgunned by the big company’s lobbying efforts.

“I don’t have the time to attend all Exxon’s meetings, but they have the time to attend all of ours,” said Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist at Natural Resources Defense Council. “There’s a lot more of them and they have a lot more resources.”

As a political force, kids are no match for one of the world’s biggest chemical companies, and they’ll suffer for the lack of clout. While the CPSC fails to finalize its own rule, more and more kids are exposed to phthalates. The inaction “speaks to the power of Exxon to frighten federal agencies away from doing their jobs,” as Earthjustice’s Gartner put it. And that was before the company’s CEO had a top government job.

Who Is Responsible for Soaring EpiPen Costs

The EpiPen maker’s CEO knows who is responsible for soaring drug costs
— and it’s not her

The Free Press WV

Heather Bresch, the CEO of EpiPen maker Mylan, knows who to blame for soaring drug prices — and it’s not her company.  

“EpiPen had to be the catalyst to show this window into what hard-working families are facing in the rapid rise of high deductible plan,“ Bresch said at the Forbes Healthcare Summit on Thursday.

It’s true. High deductible insurance plans are on the rise, and they leave patients on the hook for a greater portion of medications like insulin or EpiPen, which is used to used in extreme allergic reactions.

It is worth pointing out that the only reason she’s talking about this is that Mylan was called out in August for raising the price of EpiPen from $93.88 to $608.61 over the last decade. It caught the nation’s attention because parents were re-filling their kids’ prescriptions, and some found that they were on the hook for hundreds of dollars for the device.

The fury didn’t end there. Her compensation became an issue, as did her parents’ political connections (her father is a Senator and her mother was head of the National Association of State Boards of Education). Around the same time, it was also revealed that Mylan was being accused of overcharging of government programs for the device.

To Bresch, its clear that Mylan hasn’t done anything wrong though. In fact, she said all this “will have been worth it,“ if it gets the US to address what’s really causing people to pay high prices at the pharmacy counter.

During her conversation with Forbes senior editor Matthew Herper, Bresch spoke of the complexity of the EpiPen autoinjector and Mylan’s efforts to increase access and awareness for severe allergic reactions.  Bresch said Mylan’s been able to reach 80% more patients since the company acquired the EpiPen, to which Herper countered that Mylan would then be able to make money off both volume and the price increases.

Bresch responded by saying that the price increases allowed for “reasonable profit.“

Bresch, who has a background in lobbying, was also asked why she didn’t see all this outrage coming. She said that has to do with the rapid exposure patients are getting to healthcare costs.

“The pharma pricing system was not built on the idea of consumer engagement,“ she said. “It was built ... on market efficiencies. It was not built on the premise of consumerism.“

West Virginians Are Encouraged To Shop Small This Saturday

Small Business Saturday is November 26
The Free Press WV

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) today encouraged West Virginians to shop at West Virginia small businesses this Saturday, November 26th in celebration of the seventh annual Small Business Saturday.

“Whether it’s a local coffee shop, a family owned bakery or a tech start-up, these small businesses are what fuels our economy,” Senator Manchin said. “Small businesses are the fiber of our communities and they are critical to our state’s economic success. West Virginia’s more than 120,000 small businesses make up an estimated 96 percent of our state’s economy. When these businesses succeed, our state sees additional jobs and community development. As a small businessman myself, I value the important contributions West Virginia’s small businesses make to our state, and I appreciate the many challenges they face. Small Business Saturday is an opportunity for all West Virginians to show support for our small businesses. I encourage all West Virginians to remember to shop at our small businesses not just this Saturday, but for the entire holiday season and throughout the year.”

Small Business Saturday was launched in 2010. It is celebrated every year on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, to promote shopping at small businesses throughout the country.

To promote #smallbizsat, Senator Manchin visited a locally owned restaurant in Charleston last week and shops in downtown Spencer earlier this week.

To find small businesses in your community to support this Saturday, please click here.

25 Pipelines Proposed for the East

Coal may be declining, but fracking is booming.

Over two dozen natural gas pipelines are planned for the region, many of which cross our favorite outdoor playgrounds. Other pipelines will use eminent domain to traverse private property. All of them will affect the future of energy, health, and recreation in the East.

Dominion Power stands behind their Atlantic Coast Pipeline as a necessary means to meet energy needs throughout the region. “Demand is expected to increase by 165% over the next two decades,” Dominion spokesperson Aaron Ruby says. “Our existing infrastructure is simply not capable of meeting these needs.” As communities grow and businesses expand, energy demands also increase within those developments, Ruby says.

Touting natural gas as a “bridge fuel,” Dominion and other energy companies are hoping to build a massive pipeline infrastructure that could extend fossil fuel dependence for another century or more. Currently 34 percent of our energy comes from natural gas.

19 pipelines are proposed for Appalachia. If built, we would blow past our climate change commitments made in Paris, according to Oil Change International.  And a recent report by Synapse Economics shows that gas pipelines aren’t needed to feed electrical demand. They conclude: “Given existing pipeline capacity [and] existing natural gas storage…the supply capacity of the Virginia‐Carolinas region’s existing natural gas infrastructure is more than sufficient to meet expected future peak demand.”

Each individual pipeline costs upwards of $50 million, with several reaching into the billion-dollar price range. The Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline comes with an estimated price tag of $3 billion, while the Atlantic Coast and Northeast Energy Direct lines ring up at over $5 billion. Such high costs will force the region and the nation to commit to fossil fuels for many more decades. More pipeline infrastructure also means more drilling and fracking in order to supply the lines with enough gas.

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But the multibillion dollar investment in a natural gas infrastructure—including massive subsidies from the federal government—is taking away from investment in renewable energy. If the U.S. had given the same subsidies to solar and wind as it has to oil and gas, we could meet most of our energy needs today with renewables.

Solar and wind power now make up over 75 percent of new electric capacity additions in the United States—representing over $70 billion in new capital investment in 2016 alone.

So why aren’t we building a renewable energy infrastructure instead of a fossil-fueled pipeline network?

No one is claiming that renewables can provide all of our electricity overnight. Massive hurdles in energy storage still need to be cleared, and the better battery grail remains elusive. But a smart grid of renewable technologies seems like a better long-term investment than thousands of miles of fracked-gas pipelines.


Is Natural Gas Better Than Coal?

Ruby argues that natural gas provides a vast improvement over the coal. “Natural gas produces half the carbon emissions as coal,” Ruby claims. “Our project will help the region reduce carbon emissions and meet the regulations of the new Federal Clean Power Plan.”

Natural gas companies also claim that access to local shale gas supplies in Pennsylvania and West Virginia will prove more cost-effective than transporting the gas from the Gulf Coast. Pending their completion, pipelines like the Atlantic Coast project could save the consumer base hundreds of millions of dollars in energy costs. “Cheap energy options lead an improved economic competitiveness of the region,” says Ruby.

But is the environmental and public health cost worth it? “The pipelines in and of themselves are devastating for the communities that they pass through,” says Maya van Rossum, spokesperson for the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. “They cut through wetlands, creeks, rivers, and inflict an immense amount of ecological harm that cannot be undone.”

And according to Ramon Alvarez of the Environmental Defense Fund, natural gas is only better than coal if leakage in the gas pipelines and extraction is less than 3.2 percent. Leakages regularly soar above this limit. Methane—the leaked gas—is an even more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Fracking, a drilling method that involves injecting high-pressure toxic fluids into the ground, has been linked to increased earthquakes and groundwater contamination. It uses mercury, lead, methanol, uranium, and formaldehyde to blast through the ground, and many of these chemicals end up in communities’ drinking water.

Pipeline construction itself causes air pollution and acid rain that harms the surrounding soil and vegetation, invades natural wildlife habitats, and contaminates water supplies. Once completed, pipelines continue to cause disruption by maintaining rights-of-way that permanently splinter natural landscapes and block regular animal movement, while also emitting air pollution from compressor stations that jeopardize public and environmental health.

Many local landowners and environmentalists believe that this money would be better spent investing in a renewable energy infrastructure that would set us on a path toward cleaner energy and healthier, more sustainable communities.

Joanna Hanes-Lahr, a resident in Annapolis, Md., worries about pipeline safety amid increased rates of leakage and rupture. She is concerned about drinking water, gas explosions, and increased air and water pollution. She and others believe that a renewable energy infrastructure makes more sense ecologically and economically.

“We don’t need the fracked gas,” she says. “Clean energy is here today.”

What about jobs?

The pipeline industry promises to create new jobs, but they neglect to mention the expenses that accompany them. Pipeline construction often threatens the status of community projects, tourism, and scenic viewsheds which attract many more jobs and visitors. Wintergreen and Nelson County may encounter a loss of $80 million and 250 jobs as a result of two large projects—a new resort hotel and marketplace—that would be postponed or canceled due to pipeline construction.

Already, solar and wind industries employ more workers than oil and gas. The solar industry has hired more veterans than any other industry, retrained coal workers, and has created one out of 80 jobs in the U.S. since the Great Depression. And wind is not far behind. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, wind technician is the fastest growing job category.

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network has also found that the clean energy sector provides more jobs and a better quality of employment than natural gas jobs. Natural gas employees “spend six months to build something and then [they’re] out,” says van Rossum. “For every million invested in clean, renewable energy versus fossil fuels, you get 3 to 5 times the number of direct jobs created. You also get a lot more long-term jobs.”


Where are the pipelines proposed?

Some of the outdoor community’s most treasured sites may be destroyed by pipeline implementation, including the beloved backbone of the Blue Ridge: the Appalachian Trail. The proposed PennEast, Atlantic Coast, and Mountain Valley pipelines cross the Appalachian Trail on several occasions, which will cause permanent disruptions to the trail and surrounding forest.

“The natural gas companies have not done a good job articulating a plan that will not have an impact on hikers [because] they are looking at boring under the trail, which is not compatible with the trail experience,” says Director of Conservation Laura Belleville.

Pipelines have also been proposed through Delaware State Forest in Pennsylvania and High Point State Park in New Jersey, the latter of which boasts the highest point in New Jersey. “Now, when you go to look from that high point, what you’ll see is just a swath of denuded forest with a pipeline cut through it,” says van Rossum.

In West Virginia and Virginia, Monongahela and George Washington National Forests and the Blue Ridge Parkway will be permanently marred by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which will require regular clearcutting along its entire length.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline similarly endangers Virginia’s Jefferson National Forest, while the Leach Xpress Pipeline moves within 2 short miles of The Wilds Preservation Area and Wayne National Forest in Ohio. Farther south, the Dalton Expansion Project will cross the Etowah River and has already poisoned the waterway after an oil spill during the preparatory construction process. The Sabal Trail Pipeline that winds through Alabama, Georgia, and Florida crosses above the Falmouth Cathedral Cave System, parts of which lie only 30 feet below the earth’s surface and are liable to collapse as a result of the pipeline’s intended path.

The Sierra Club has already opened cases against pipelines where “environmental effects have not been adequately addressed in public areas,” says Thomas Au, the Oil and Gas Chair of the Pennsylvania chapter. Right now, the Constitution Pipeline and Atlantic Sunrise Pipelines worry Au the most. These proposed pipelines pass through Ricketts Glen State Park and across the Lehigh, Susquehanna, and Conestoga Rivers.

Private landowners are also in jeopardy. Pipeline companies are frequently given permission by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to use eminent domain to construct and maintain pipelines across private property. Even if property owners refuse to sell their land, the companies can seize the land anyway.

That’s what happened to the North Harford Maple Farm in New Milford, Pennsylvania, where the Holleran family runs their maple syrup business. But the Constitution Pipeline will run straight through the Holleran’s property and take down the maple trees that they and their loyal customers depend on.

Even worse: most people who will lose their land to pipelines will not receive any energy benefits in return. Eminent domain seizures mostly accommodate the interests of those on either end of the pipeline while taking resources from the communities in between.

Many of the proposed pipelines will take new paths rather than follow existing rights-of-way, like highways and electric lines. Choosing to use pre-established pipeline routes reduces waste by conserving the amount of land in use—a perk that appeals to environmentalists and landowners alike.

“When we saw what Dominion had crafted for its pipeline route, we were a little horrified,” says Jon Ansell, Chairman of the Friends of Wintergreen. “There are better choices using the principle of co-location.” The Nelson County, Va., organization hopes to protect Wintergreen Resort from the Atlantic Coast Pipeline by examining alternative routes that use more existing rights-of-way.

Pipelines ultimately inflict lasting wounds but provide only a short-term energy fix. Together, these pipelines will cut across 3,500 miles of Appalachia and beyond.

~~  Duane Nichols ~~

Foodland in Grantsville with Empty Shelves

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Community grocers in rural areas struggling to keep shelves stocked

For shoppers at a Foodland in central West Virginia, getting every item on their grocery list is a sign of good luck. Each aisle has its share of bare shelves. Employees guide customers to possible alternative items. Produce and meat remain well-stocked, but everything else is slim pickings.

“I can’t find everything I need for the week here,” said local shopper Dana Shimer. “I have to go out of my way to the Wal-Mart. Here I can only get any essentials that I forget.”

The only grocery store in Grantsville, where the population hovers around 650, is the Foodland. Outside of convenience stores scattered throughout Calhoun County, with limited options outside of snack foods, the closest alternative is a Wal-Mart in Spencer. That’s a 40-minute drive from Grantsville.

“[Foodland] is the only grocery store within 25 miles,” said Grantsville Mayor Zach Hupp. “I would imagine a lot of people rely on it.”

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Facemire Foods, the Gassaway-based company that owns and operates the Foodland, hasn’t been able to adequately supply the store for months, according to residents.

Corey Facemire, vice president of the company, said Thursday that the Grantsville Foodland is short in supplies because of the economic struggles in West Virginia adversely affecting sales. With the workforce in the state still adjusting to the loss in coal jobs and natural gas prices taking a hit, locals don’t have enough disposable income to buy as much food and keep the store afloat, he said.

“We’re in pretty rough shape in the state, and two of the biggest companies, Wal-Mart and Kroger, are opening up new places that we have to compete with,” he said. “We’re doing our best to get through this, and I think we’re just about over the hump.”

Facemire said the company would have a delivery come in Friday, the first in weeks. He expects that delivery to be the start of the Grantsville Foodland recovery and return to normal operations.

Facemire Foods’ struggles aren’t unique, however. SuperValu, Facemire Foods’ wholesaler and franchiser, is undergoing major changes of its own. The company announced the sale of its successful Save-A-Lot chain for $1.37 billion to a private-equity firm. Much of that will be used to reduce the company’s debt.

Facemire said SuperValu is evaluating the state of the current Foodland program, but he isn’t sure if the sale will impact his company immediately.

Three West Virginia Foodlands have already been converted to the Piggly Wiggly brand this year, leaving just 11 Foodland locations left, 10 of which are in West Virginia.

While SuperValu and Facemire Foods are taking a look at the current state of their business, massive retail competitors like Kroger are in good enough shape to take losses even when customers aren’t buying as much, according to Facemire.

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“It’s tough competing with the Krogers and the big guys in the industry,” he said. “They are able to take some hits and still function.”

In Grantsville, Foodland and other businesses don’t have a large customer base to work with. The town’s population has been declining since the 1940s. Its income per capita is $16,616, well below West Virginia’s average of $23,237. Nearly 30 percent of people in Grantsville are below the poverty line.

Hupp said the limited number of nearby job opportunities means many residents go out of town for work.

“Any business that could come into the area the people would benefit from,” Hupp said. “I know with us being a small town it would be tough, but the people would definitely try to help out a new business.”

The lack of viable alternatives to Foodland in the area lead to an increased food insecurity rate for its residents. In Calhoun County, 16.7 percent of people do not have reliable access to healthy foods, according to a 2014 study by the hunger-relief organization Feeding America. Healthy foods are often found in groceries but are an uncommon sight in convenience stores. The rate was higher than the state’s average of 15.3 percent.

Grocery stores in rural areas across the United States have encountered difficulties in recent years. Populations continue to migrate toward the cities and retail chains keep adding more locations in driving distance, making it difficult for rural stores to stay afloat, according to a 2010 study done by Jon Bailey of the Center for Rural Affairs.

“Not only does the local grocery store provide the sustenance of life, it fills the roles of economic driver, community builder, employer and meeting place,” the study reads. “Unfortunately, many rural communities across the nation are losing local grocery stores, and residents are forced to leave their communities to purchase food, often at great expense due to great distance.”

Another study done by the University of Minnesota this year said roughly two-thirds of rural grocers in the state plan to leave the business within a decade. A nearby grocery store is a benefit to rural and disadvantaged areas, but Facemire said the business only goes as its customers go.

“We’re going through what many other businesses are going through right now,” he said. “If people don’t have the money, they can’t buy the groceries.”

~~  Max Garland - GM ~~

Natural Gas Industry Energizing Education in West Virginia

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West Virginia’s natural gas industry is providing significant financial and in-kind support to a variety of educational and youth-focused initiatives in the areas of STEM programming, workforce development, youth athletics, teacher training and general student needs.

“With school in full swing across the Mountain State, West Virginia’s natural gas industry is committed to improving and enhancing educational opportunities for state children,” said Steve Perdue, Interim Director of the West Virginia Oil & Natural Gas Association (WVONGA).

Perdue said programming focused on educating students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is a priority for many WVONGA members. Recent initiatives include:

–    Chevron and Southwestern Energy’s support of the STEM Network Schools program through the Education Alliance.

–    Chevron’s support of the Oglebay Institute effort to align science curriculum in grades 1-8 in Marshall County and professional development training for teachers at Sherrard Middle School.

–    EQT’s support of the Clay Center’s Power Your Future mobile STEM exhibit.

–    XTO Energy’s Mickelson ExxonMobil Teacher’s Academy support for professional development for Union Elementary School teacher in Upshur County.

–    Antero, MarkWest Energy, XTO Energy and EQT’s support for the Challenge Program in Doddridge, Marion, and Harrison Counties.

–    Dominion’s K-12 and Higher Education Partnership grants will engage students in a variety of energy- and environmental-focused science, math and technology programs.

WVONGA members are involved in myriad ways with schools in their operating region.

Rick Coffman, superintendent of Ritchie County Schools and former Superintendent of Doddridge County Schools, said, “I’ve witnessed firsthand the tremendous impact the natural gas industry continues to have on our education system. Property tax revenues generated by industry activities are providing needed funding for our schools, while ongoing and direct company involvement with local schools is helping to enhance the educational experience for all students.”

Other examples of natural gas industry support with West Virginia schools and students include:

–    Noble Energy’s support for the Energizing Our Youth after-school wellness program in Marshall County.

–    Antero’s Oil & Gas Dodgeball Tournament, which raised funds for Harrison County summer reading and nutrition programming, among other initiatives, and, separately, the company provides monetary contributions to high school athletic departments across northcentral West Virginia.

–    XTO Energy’s scholarship support for students attending the Department of Environmental Protection’s Junior Conservation Camp in Jackson County.

–    Dominion’s contribution of 5,000 pairs of tennis shoes to school students in flood impacted regions of the state.

–    EQT’s support of literacy programs for elementary students in McDowell County through Operation Outreach.

–    MarkWest Energy’s support for the construction of an outdoor classroom in Doddridge County.

–    Chevron and Noble Energy’s support for local back-to-school fairs, providing backpacks, school supplies and other materials for students.

Perdue said the industry’s educational involvement isn’t limited to K-12.

EQT will award 60 $1,000 scholarships to students across the state (one from each of WV’s 55 counties + 5 ad hoc), as well as six full-ride scholarships to students looking to study a field relative to the natural gas industry.

“We recognize the need to prepare our children for the jobs of tomorrow,” Perdue said. “Our members support workforce development and career-readiness programs at our institutions of higher education across the state.”

Perdue cited the industry’s support for the establishment of the Energy Land Management Program at WVU.  One of only 10 such programs accredited by the American Association of Professional Landmen in the country, this program now has more than 100 students enrolled and on their way to careers in the oil and natural gas industry.

Additionally, Noble Energy and XTO Energy’s significant commitment to the Petroleum Technology Program at Pierpont Community & Technical College and West Virginia Northern Community College is facilitating the knowledge, skills and attitudes that are required for success in technician-level jobs within the upstream petroleum production industry.

“These are just small snapshots of the involvement our members have with the education community in the state,” Perdue said.  “The industry is very committed to doing all we can to help Mountain State youth grow and prosper.”

For additional information, contact Steve Perdue at 304.343.1609.

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