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The Free Press WV

►  Most coalfield counties still losing jobs

WorkForce West Virginia reported the jobless rate in West Virginia has dropped to a seasonally adjusted 4.9 percent.

The state has experience a relatively quick decline in unemployment during the beginning of 2017 falling by seven tenths of a percent.

To put that into perspective, in all of 2016, West Virginia’s jobless rate fell only by four tenths of a percent.
This time last year, the state’s unemployment figure stood at 6.2 percent.

However, when diving more deeply into the latest county data available from WorkForce West Virginia (February 2017), the uneven nature of West Virginia’s job market becomes apparent.

Calhoun County, in the center of the state, had the highest unemployment rate in the state registering at 13.9 percent and Jefferson County in the eastern panhandle registered 3.4 percent.

In the coalfields, Mingo County’s unemployment rate was 10.3 percent, McDowell County was 10.2 percent, Logan County was 8.4 percent, Lincoln County was 8.2 percent, Wyoming County was eight percent and Boone County was seven percent.

Total employment (the number of people who are employed) in Mingo County in February 2017 was 5,650, but in February 2016, the number stood at 5,870

Total employment in Logan County was 9,870 clocking a decrease of 60 jobs from this time last year.

In Wyoming county, the figure dropped 290 jobs to 6,520.

Boone County added 40 jobs for a total employment of 7,300 in February 2017.


►  More than 300 students learn about environment at DEP’s Earth Day

Students from across West Virginia were in Charleston Thursday to learn about the environment.

The state Department of Environmental Protection hosted its annual Earth Day celebration at the Clay Center. More than 300 kids were on hand.

Earth Day is this Saturday, but the DEP typically holds the event at an earlier date. Terry Carrington, coordinator of the DEP’s Make It Shine program, said they want students to know how important it is to take care of the world around us.

“The environment takes care of us. It provides us with food, oxygen and water. I think it doesn’t hurt to remind kids particularly at an early age that the environment that takes care of us also needs taken care of,” Carrington said.

There were 13 exhibits representing the DEP’s Division of Air Quality, Watershed Assessment Branch, Youth Environmental Program, the REAP Recycling Program, the state Department of Agriculture, West Virginia American Water Company, the Three Rivers Avian Center and more.

“The main draw is the Three Rivers Avian Center,” Carrington said. “They’ve come in with their birds of prey — their bald eagle and their various raptors.”

Kids were given the opportunity to learn about turtles, frogs and snakes at the Watershed Assessment Branch exhibit.

“This little guy is a red-eared slider,” said Kim Smith, a DEP field biologist, describing one of the turtles. “She is probably about 15-20 years old. She is really good with the kids. She lets them pet her.”

Smith said she likes to teach kids the difference between reptiles and amphibians.

“She’s a reptile,” Smith said of the turtle. “I’ll ask them what do they think she is. We’ll talk about the frogs next door which are amphibians and what the differences are so that they can start to see that when they take science classes.”

West Virginians have so much to learn about in terms of plants and animals in the state, Carrington said.

“There’s a really diverse population of plants and animal species. We have overlap of northern and southern species. Really it’s a biologist’s paradise,” he said.

The DEP’s Earth Day celebration has been around for more than 30 years.


►  Work Begins on 2nd Tesla Charging Station in West Virginia

Construction has begun for a Tesla Supercharger station in Charleston, making it the second in West Virginia.

News outlets report the station, which will be exclusively for Model S and X cars, will occupy eight parking spaces of the Courtyard by Marriot hotel.

Property owner Charlie Wendell says construction will be finished in May. He says the “Supercharger” classification means it can replenish up to 170 miles of range for Tesla vehicles in 30 minutes.

Wendell says there is one Supercharger in the Northern Panhandle, but there isn’t one in the body of the state.

Tesla vehicles can’t be purchased in the Mountain State. Direct-to-consumer car companies are unable to open stores in West Virginia, following the passage of a 2015 Senate bill.


►  Secretary Warner announces the elimination of more than 47,000 outdated voter files

Secretary of State Mac Warner announced today that working with county clerks in all 55 counties they have now removed more than 47,000 outdated or ineligible voter files from the state’s voter registration system.

“In just 93 days, we’ve proven that we can make great strides in cleaning up our voter files when we work together with our county clerks. We still have a lot of work to do and I’m confident that we’ll get the job done,” Warner said.

Since taking office, Warner has encouraged his Elections Division staff to explore reliable and accurate ways to eliminate outdated files from the county voter rolls. One such strategy is working with the state Division of Corrections (DOC) to eliminate convicted felons who are ineligible to be registered vote while incarcerated. Over the last three weeks, county clerks have eliminated 1,170 felons from voter files.

Warner said the list of felons was long for the first round of eliminations. Moving forward, county clerks will receive a monthly report from the DOC delivered in the Statewide Voter Registration System where the list is convenient to manage by the clerk and their staff. Future lists should be smaller, and may have just two or three names per county per month.

“Once we start, it’s much easier to stay on top of the list and to keep every county voter file up-to-date. That’s one of the best ways to instill confidence into our elections,” Warner continued.

Other strategies include using previously unavailable data comparisons of voters in-state as well as out-of-state to eliminating those who are deceased, have duplicate registrations due to name variations, or those who are filed in more than one county.

“Being mistakenly registered in more than one county is not illegal. The additional registrations are problematic because they create the opportunity for voting errors and unnecessarily clutters the rolls. Voting in more than one county is illegal,” Warner said.

The next step for the Secretary of State’s Office will be to do a national review of deceased voters whose death records have not have been accessible to county clerks with prior technology. The Office has a long term goal to work with other states to eliminate duplicate registrations. People who used to live and were registered in West Virginia but moved to other states without notifying their county clerk to cancel their registrations could number in the tens of thousands.


►  Whole Lotta Love: Volunteer West Virginia News Letter

Click HERE  for the Newsletter.


►  Authorities: Crime Stopper Starting a New Cold Case Effort

Authorities say Crime Stoppers of West Virginia are starting a new initiative that would offer up to $10,000 to help solve cold cases.

Beckley Police Sgt. Morgan Bragg says Crime Stoppers will be made up of several different southern West Virginia law enforcement agencies. The tasks force will work toward solving decades-old cases. Officials say they’ll begin working on their first case by the end of the month.

Sgt. Bragg says they were able to compile records of cold cases from the agencies and are currently in the process of evaluating those cases based on solvability factors.

Authorities say this initiative will help bring closure to families of missing people in the area.


►  Officials: Huntington Fire Retirees Have Been Overpaid

A Huntington audit has uncovered the city’s fire pension board failed to properly calculate retirees’ pensions, resulting in overpayments for over 25 years.

City Manager Cathy Burns says the city overpaid about 50 fire department retirees. Burns says miscalculations started in 1990 when the city moved to a “confusing” state formula.

Burns says an auditor randomly selected three 2015 retirees and found they’ve been overpaid $300 to 1,000 a month.

Huntington announced a nearly $5 million deficit in January due to multiple factors including increases in the city’s fire and police pension contributions.

Officials say the Municipal Pensions Oversight Board implemented the correct formula; however the incorrect one is being used on the identified accounts.

Burns says a bill awaiting the governor’s signature will help rectify errors.


►  Federal Utility CEO: Coal Plants Not Reopening Under Trump

The CEO of the nation’s biggest public utility said Tuesday that the agency isn’t going to reopen coal-fired power plants under Donald Trump, who has promised a comeback for the downtrodden coal industry.

Tennessee Valley Authority CEO Bill Johnson said he thinks very little will actually change for the federal utility under Trump.

TVA has said it’s on track to cut its carbon emissions by 60 percent by 2020, compared with 2005 levels. By the end of 2018, the utility will have retired five of its original 11 coal-fired power plants.

Trump, meanwhile, has begun repealing President Barack Obama-era environmental regulations aimed at reducing pollution from mining and burning coal. He has promised to repeal and already ordered a review of the Clean Power Plan, Obama’s centerpiece push to curb climate change by limiting carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants.

Johnson said the retirement of many of TVA’s coal plants was the cheapest way to serve customers, which include more than 9 million people in seven southeastern states. Natural gas prices, not regulation, caused the recent downturn for coal, Johnson said.

“Our statutory duty is to produce electricity at the lowest feasible rate,” Johnson said in an interview with The Associated Press. “And when we decided to close the coal plants, that was the math we were doing. We weren’t trying to comply with the Clean Power Plan or anything else. What’s the cheapest way to serve the customer? It turned out to be retiring those coal plants.”

Johnson acknowledged that Trump could try to change the direction of the agency. By May, Trump can fill five of nine TVA board slots to establish a new majority. The U.S. Senate confirms them.

TVA hasn’t had direct discussions with the administration about the agency’s direction or been invited to meet top administration officials yet, Johnson said.

As a federal employee, Johnson said that he cannot comment on Trump’s efforts to peel back U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other coal-related regulations.

Among those, Trump has moved to end a moratorium on the sale of coal mining leases on federal lands, and he signed a measure to block an Obama-era regulation that aimed to prevent coal mining debris from being dumped into nearby streams.

Johnson said he recalls “cinders falling from the sky” and not being able to see across the street when he lived in Pittsburgh in his younger years.

“If we look at the history of the environment in this country, and whether it’s improved or not since the creation of the EPA, I believe that we can say that it has improved dramatically,” Johnson said.


►  New West Virginia law boosts penalties for fatal child abuse

Parents or guardians who cause the death of a child in West Virginia will face tougher penalties under a law signed by the governor.

Media outlets report Governor Jim Justice signed Senate Bill 288, known as “Emmaleigh’s Law,“ into law Wednesday. It sets a sentence of 15 years to life for fatal child abuse caused by a parent, guardian, custodian or other person allowed by the parent to commit the abuse.

The law is named after 10-month-old Emmaleigh Barringer, who died October 05 while under the care of her mother’s boyfriend, Benjamin Ryan Taylor. He’s accused of sexually assaulting and killing the girl.

Senator Mitch Carmichael says the baby’s death prompted petitions to lawmakers to increase the penalties for similar crimes.

Taylor is scheduled to go to trial August 08.

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