State Computer Consultants Run Up Gigantic Bills

The Free Press WV

West Virginia government officials had a good idea back in 2010—create software that would link all state department computer systems to dramatically improve business functions and the payroll system while also providing more transparency for the public.

Seven years later the system, called wvOASIS, is mostly, but not entirely in place, and the estimated cost has skyrocketed from $90 million to approximately $150 million. The delays and cost overruns are bad enough, but a new report by the West Virginia Legislature’s Post Audit Division reveals the state has spent millions on consultants from Information Services Group (ISG) to provide “project oversight” for wvOASIS.

“Over the life of the consultant relationship with ISG, from May 2010 to January 2017, a total of 31 consultants have billed over $24 million for services rendered,” the report said. “This equates to an average monthly invoice of $299,115 over 81 months.”

Some of the consultants ran up huge bills.  “Since 2010, there have been 29 instances where an individual consultant billed in excess of $40,000 in one month.”  Nine consultants billed the state for over $1 million during the contract. Making matters worse, the auditors could not find any specific details “about times clocked in and out, nor a summary of the work conducted during these hours.”

Let that sink in.  The state spends $150 million on a new computer system and pays $24 million of taxpayer dollars to consultants to run it?  Most damaging is the report’s finding that even after all that time and all that money, the state is still dependent on consultants to process the state payroll.

IT, software support and upgrades are absolutely critical to keep a complicated system operating, so it’s understandable that the state would need continuing help. However, it looks like the taxpayers have been taken for an expensive ride here.

“Due to the size, scope and cost of this project, the inability to verify the accuracy of over $24 million invoiced for 134,867 consulting hours worked is a concerning hindrance to ensuring the state is being invoiced correctly,” the report said.

Well, that’s an understatement.

The Enterprise Resource Planning Board, which is made up of representatives from the offices of the Governor, Auditor and Treasurer, was created to implement wvOASIS, and it’s evident this massive project got away from them. Newly elected Auditor J.B. McCuskey is trying to right the ship.

The state did not renew the contract with ISG and instead has cut a one-year deal with Dataview to finish the wvOASIS installation and train state workers to operate the system. “There was not a real push to train,” McCuskey said, adding that his office is now shifting emphasis from “consultants forever to consultants training state workers.”

The timing of the audit report is significant; it comes as the Governor and state lawmakers are struggling to balance next year’s budget. The concept of cutting government spending further has lost momentum, but this report reveals an area where poor management has cost the taxpayers millions.

UHC Pharmacist is Preceptor of the Year

Carlton “Sonny” Hoskinson Jr., Class of 1986, spends much of his time in his role as a clinical pharmacist helping educate future pharmacy professionals. He has been a pharmacist at United Hospital Center (UHC) in Bridgeport for 30 years and has been working with WVU student pharmacists almost the entirety of his career.

“I really enjoy helping students with these educational experiences because I feel it is an interesting way to help foster the learning process,” Hoskinson said.

Hoskinson is the director of Camp Catch Your Breath—a camp for children ages 8-13 with asthma—and has been involved with the organization for approximately 25 years. The specialty camp is staffed by medical professionals, such as nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists and a physician, and annually gives 70 children with asthma a summer camp experience that they might otherwise not be able to have.

The Free Press WV

Our student pharmacists have the opportunity to complete a rotation at the camp with Hoskinson as their preceptor each summer. During this rotation, our students build their clinical skills through completing medication profiles, showing the children how to properly use their inhalers and nebulizers and answering any questions the children might have.

“By participating in Camp Catch Your Breath, the students get to see the outcomes that we as pharmacists might not see in outpatient settings,” Hoskinson said. “It’s really great when you listen and hear someone’s breathing clear up after a treatment and know that you were able to help them. I tell the students that, more than likely, they will not see the children again after camp, but you don’t know what kind of impact you are going to have on someone.

In pharmacy, we provide medication treatments, and we may not always see it, but we are helping a patient feel better and are giving them more quality time with their families.”

Hoskinson has received numerous positive responses from students about the uniqueness of the rotation. Several students have been inspired to further their education and complete hospital pharmacy residency programs, and some have even completed programs to become certified asthma educators.

In a rotation evaluation, one student stated, “Sonny demonstrates his commitment to our school and profession by consistently volunteering to accept students on rotation at both UHC and through his Asthma Camp rotation at Camp Catch Your Breath. Camp Catch Your Breath is a prominent example to Sonny’s willingness to lead and further our profession.”

Hoskinson hopes that student pharmacists see a more diverse picture of the profession of pharmacy when they complete rotations at Camp Catch Your Breath. He strives to provide students with memorable learning experiences and encourages them to get “hands-on” and involved in all aspects of the rotation.

Tiered Severance Tax Could Destroy Oil and Gas Industry

The Free Press WV

The Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia (IOGAWV) provides a voice for West Virginia’s oil and natural gas industry — including producers who live, work, contribute to and cast their votes in West Virginia.

Despite what people may think or hear, producers in this state are experiencing the lowest natural gas pricing environment we have seen in generations. Combine that with increasing gas transportation and processing costs, regulatory compliance costs, operating costs, severance taxes and a flawed property tax formula, and many producers are operating in the red.

While producers are struggling to thrive, Governor Jim Justice now has proposed a tiered severance tax on natural gas that consists entirely of increases, beginning with a floor that matches the current 5 percent rate. This proposal provides absolutely no relief to an industry facing hard times and essentially “kicks us while we are down.”

Natural gas development poses the best short-term fix to our state’s current economic situation. Instead of creating jobs and improving the economy, as was the basis of Governor Justice’s campaign, this bill discourages growth, kills jobs and could crush an entire industry. This will drive investment for mineral development to surrounding states with more reasonable severance taxes and reduce the likelihood of royalty owners seeing any income from new wells being drilled.

Independent producers are strong-willed and resilient during tough times. Producers have done their part by cutting down drastically and becoming more economically efficient. The natural gas pipeline companies have done their part, seeking approvals of new projects and installing new infrastructure to get our natural gas to better markets. And just when forecasts are optimistic about the future of the industry, this bill comes into play, eliminating any potential gains achieved from the efforts of producers and pipeline companies. Proposing a tiered severance tax system during a time of historically low natural gas pricing proves that some of our elected officials do not understand the energy market. West Virginia producers are attempting to dig themselves out of an incredibly deep hole, but the governor is trying to take away the shovel.

It’s time for our legislators to do their part. I strongly urge the House of Delegates and Senate to reject the tiered severance tax proposal on natural gas.

Charlie Burd is executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia.

The Free Press WV

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 ~~

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 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.

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