Follow along: Candidates for 36th District House of Delegates

September 30, 2014 by Brad McElhinny

Candidates for the West Virginia House of Delegates, 36th District, are meeting with the Charleston Daily Mail editorial board.

Democratic candidates include Nancy Guthrie, Larry Rowe and Danny Wells. Republican candidates include Vaughn Sizemore, Stevie Thaxton and Brad White.

They’ll be meeting with Charleston Daily Mail editors including Brad McElhinny, Philip Maramba and Kelly Merritt along with columnist and editorial writer Don Surber. Business editor Jared Hunt is providing today’s coverage:

Follow along: Candidates for 35th Distict WV House of Delegates

September 24, 2014 by Brad McElhinny

Candidates for the 35th District of the WV House of Delegates are meeting with editors of the Charleston Daily Mail. Follow along with our livestream and liveblog to learn more about the race:

Follow along: Candidates for WV House District 22 meet with editors

September 23, 2014 by Brad McElhinny

Live blog: Candidates in House of Delegates Districts 13, 14 and 15

September 17, 2014 by Dave Boucher

The Daily Mail editorial board is meeting this afternoon with candidates to represent parts of Jackson, Putnam and Mason counties in House Districts 13, 14 and 15. Follow along with video and real time updates the discussion here:

Study: Black lung at historically high levels in Appalachia

September 15, 2014 by Dave Boucher

Coal miners in West Virginia and other parts of Appalachia are suffering from black lung at some of the highest rates in decades, according to new information released by federal health officials.

TOM HINDMAN/DAILY MAIL A federal rule released earlier this year would reduce the amount of breathable coal dust allowed in mines.

A federal rule released earlier this year would reduce the amount of breathable coal dust allowed in mines.

The prevalence of “progressive massive fibrosis,” a debilitating and lethal form of black lung, is at it’s highest rates since the early 1970s for West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia, according to new research. Experts with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a department under the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, summarized their study in a letter published today in a scientific journal.

“Excessive inhalation of coal mine dust is the sole cause of (progressive massive fibrosis) in working coal miners, so this increase can only be the result of overexposures and/or increased toxicity stemming from changes in dust composition,” the study states.

From 1974 to 2012 researchers tracked the prevalence of black lung in miners with 25 years or more of experience in underground mining. Miners who reported suffering from the disease dropped as low as a third of one percent in the late 1990s. In the last 15 years though the number of cases continue to increase, affecting 3.23 percent of veteran workers by 2012.

“Each of these cases is a tragedy and represents a failure among all those responsible for preventing this severe disease,” the letter to the journal states.

After years of debate federal officials in April revealed stricter standards for the amount of coal dust allowed in the air in mines. The rule calls for a 25 percent decrease in the amount of dust allowed in the air  over the next two years.

While federal labor and health officials, along with U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, championed the change, the National Mining Association and coal giant Murray Energy Corp. blasted the rule as a “drastic” attack on the industry.

West Virginia received about $1.2 million in federal funding for state-run black lung clinics earlier this year, compared to $1.4 million last year. The state’s 18 clinics served about 8,500 coal miners last year, and state health officials believe that number could increase this year.

This is a developing story. Check throughout the day as more information becomes available.


DEP rule significantly weakens tank inspections for some tanks

September 9, 2014 by Dave Boucher

State environmental regulators will allow pretty much anyone to inspect the majority of aboveground storage tanks covered by a law created after the massive chemical leak and water contamination earlier this year, according to a new rule released today.

DEP Secretary Randy Huffman, committee attorney Robert Williams and Delegate Barbara Fleischuaer, D-Monongalia, talk Sunday evening during a marathon committee meeting.

DEP Secretary Randy Huffman, House Judiciary Committee attorney Robert Williams and Delegate Barbara Fleischuaer, D-Monongalia, talk about Senate Bill 373 during a marathon committee meeting earlier this year.

They must abide by “industry standards” and a checklist provided by the state, but there is no auditing or impartial process in place that actually ensures that’s happening.

The state Department of Environmental Protection announced Monday it would create an “interpretive rule” that would ease the inspection burden that oil, natural gas and other industries complained lawmakers created by issuing Senate Bill 373.

The rule creates a three-tiered system for tanks. Tanks that fall in “Level 1″ must be inspected by a registered professional engineer. Here’s the definition for “Level 1″ tanks, where “AST” means “aboveground storage tank”:

Level 1 AST” means an AST that is determined by the Secretary to have the potential for high risk of harm to public health or the environment due to its contents, size or location, except for ASTs containing potable water, filtered surface water, demineralized water, noncontact cooling water or water stored for fire or emergency purposes, food or food-grade materials, or hazardous waste tanks subject to regulation under (state law).”

Any tanks that’s located in a “zone of critical concern” (as defined in the bill), that contains “hazardous” materials, a tank that can hold 50,000 gallons or more and any other tank the head of DEP deems relevant also fall under the “Level 1″ category.

(Just to emphasize the last part of the “Level 1″ definition, it doesn’t include tanks that hold hazardous waste. They’re considered “Level 3″ tanks, the lowest level in this system, because they are already subject to a different set of regulatory requirements.)

The rule provides drastically different inspection requirements for tanks in the second two levels. The law outlines who can conduct an inspection, but also says it can be done by “a person holding certification under another program approved by the secretary.”

According to the interpretive rule, that really does mean anyone for the initial inspection of tanks in levels 2 and 3. The rule states professional engineers can inspect the tanks, but inspections can also be done by “the owner or operator of the AST; or by any person designated by the owner or operator of the AST.”

If the owner or his designee does the inspection, then only the owner of the tanks needs to certify the inspection, according to the rule.

The rule does state all inspections for all tanks “shall be conducted in accordance with the industry standard appropriate to the tank or tank facility” and should conform to a checklist included in the rule. The checklist includes eight items, with several subsections that could be included in the inspection.

However, the rule doesn’t include anyway for the DEP to verify the inspection actually happened. That includes inspections conducted by the registered professional engineers as well, but these inspectors are subject to well-defined training standards that a tank owner or his friend conducting the inspection may not meet.

All inspections still need to be completed–and proof of inspections submitted to the state–by Jan. 1, 2015.

The rule also allows people who own tanks that fall in levels 2 and 3 to submit information they are already supposed to have pertaining to groundwater and site protection, instead of the Spill Prevention Resource Plan outlined in the new law. “Level 1″ tank owners still need to submit the plan. All spill prevention paperwork is still due Dec. 3.

Definitions for each tank level, more information about inspections and the prevention plans is available in the rule.

In a statement this morning, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin commended the rule:

The proposed rule released today provides guidance to owners and operators of aboveground storage tanks for complying with two key parts of Senate Bill 373: inspection and certification of tanks, and spill prevention response plans. It protects the health and safety of all West Virginians, and our environment, from the risks of leaks of hazardous materials from above ground storage tanks.

All affected aboveground storage tanks still must be registered by October 1, 2014. This rule establishes a risk assessment approach to inspecting aboveground storage tanks in West Virginia and requires all aboveground tanks located within zones of critical concern, wellhead protection areas or groundwater intake areas to be professionally inspected and certified by the January 1, 2015, deadline.

Interpretive rules don’t need legislative approval, unlike emergency or traditional administrative rules. They essentially show how an agency will interpret the law.

The rule will be out for public comment for 30 days and a public hearing will be held on Oct. 9 at 6:30 p.m. at the DEP’s headquarters in Kanawha City, according to a DEP news release.

This is a developing story. Check back in throughout the day as more information becomes available.



Quiz: Are you coal enough?

September 3, 2014 by Dave Boucher

Both the Democrat and Republican congressional candidates for the seat representing West Virginia’s coalfields released new campaign ads Tuesday that, again, tout coal.

The new ads for Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va. and Republican state Sen. Evan Jenkins (the National Republican Congressional Committee created the Jenkins ad) each use coal miners from small towns in southern West Virginia to blast their opponents while highlighting their own candidate’s promise to support coal.

Although likely voters recently polled didn’t list the future of coal as a top issue affecting their votes, political campaigns throughout the state continue to hammer away with coal-centric ads.

With many similar ads likely on the horizon for West Virginia TV viewers, we thought the campaigns wanted to know the answer to the (hypothetical and obviously satirical) question: Are YOU coal enough?

You can find out by taking the Daily Mail’s quick and easy “Are you coal enough?” quiz. It’s only 4 questions, based entirely off of statements made in the latest ads released in the 3rd Congressional District.

See how you fare!

State: GOP must file suit in 35th District dispute

September 2, 2014 by Dave Boucher

Local Republicans need to actually file a lawsuit they’ve threatened to really get the ball rolling in the case to replace Delegate Suzette Raines on the ballot , state elections officials determined today.

Secretary of State Natalie Tennant

Secretary of State Natalie Tennant

The State Election Commission voted today to accept the notice of intent to sue from the Kanawha County Republican Executive Committee and pledged to act “expeditiously” if the lawsuit is ever filed. The commission can’t “waive” the 30-day heads up required by law for any group planning to sue a state entity, said Secretary of State Natalie Tennant.

“We don’t have the authorioty to do that, only the Supreme Court can do it,” Tennant said this afternoon.

Raines announced in August she would not seek re-election to her seat in the House of Delegates representing the 35th District. (She noted personal issues, but Democrats also filed legal action accusing her of breaking elections law). The Kanawha County Republican Executive Committee asked the election commission to allow them to pick a replacement for Raines on the ballot. Deciding Raines’ reasons didn’t amount to “extenuating personal circumstances” as outlined in state law the commission opted against letting the GOP pick a replacement.

The local GOP still chose Marie Sprouse-McDavid–who came in 5th out of six candidates in the GOP primary for the 35th District–as its favored candidate to replace Raines. Sprouse-McDavid filed to run as a candidate, but the Secretary of State’s office cited the recent election commission decision in rejecting to accept the candidacy.

The GOP sent the Secretary of State a notice Aug. 22 that it planned to sue. State law says anyone planning to sue the state needs to give the particular agency a 30-day notice of intent to file a lawsuit. The GOP asked the Secretary of State to “waive” that requirement, but the office doesn’t have the authority to do that, according to a Aug. 26 letter from the office’s attorneys.

“We recognize the desirability and practical necessity of reaching a swift resolution of these claims, as they impact an upcoming election that is only 70 days away,” writes Katherine A. Schultz and Jennifer S. Greenlief, attorneys with the Office of the state Attorney General.

“While our clients share your clients’ interest in expedited review, we must respect the law while remaining mindful that parties cannot confer jurisdiction on the court.”

Delegate Suzette Raines, R-Kanawha, cited the reason death of her mother and the end of a long romantic relationship as to why she cannot run for re-election. Republicans are filing legal action to replace her on the ballot.

Delegate Suzette Raines, R-Kanawha, cited the reason death of her mother and the end of a long romantic relationship as to why she cannot run for re-election. Republicans are filing legal action to replace her on the ballot.

Essentially, the lack of a lawsuit puts the election commission in a “holding pattern,” Tennant said. The commission will move to ask for a quick resolution to a case, but it can’t do so unless a case is actually filed.

All ballots need to be printed by Sept. 19, in order to get the ballots to absentee or military voters, Tennant said. Right now the applicable ballots would offer the four names of the Democrats in the 35th District, names for three Republicans and “no candidate” instead of Raines or Sprouse-McDavid.

Republicans control three of the four seats in the 35th District. Democrats were optimistic they could win at least two seats before Raines withdrew.

The general election is Nov. 4.

Live coverage: Capito-Tennant forum at WV Business Summit

August 28, 2014 by Brad McElhinny

Democrat Natalie Tennant and Republican Shelley Moore Capito are due to attend a U.S. Senate candidate forum.
The forum is set for 11 a.m. Thursday at The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs as part of the state Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting.
Third-party candidates won’t be involved.
The forum will be streamed online at .
Tennant and Capito are vying for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Democrat Jay Rockefeller. Capito is a seven-term congresswoman and Tennant is West Virginia’s secretary of state.
Tennant and Capito will also debate Oct. 7 in Charleston. The West Virginia Press Association, West Virginia Public Broadcasting and AARP are organizing that debate.

Live Blog Capito-Tennant forum at WV Business Summit

Mooney releases first ad

August 26, 2014 by Dave Boucher

GOP nominee Alex Mooney touts his ability to stop the “war on coal” and repeal “Obamacare” in his first television advertisement of the general election cycle, released today.

Alex Mooney, the GOP nominee in the 2nd Congressional District, released his first TV ad today.

Alex Mooney, the GOP nominee in the 2nd Congressional District, released his first TV ad today.

The 30-second spot, entitled “Working for West Virginia,” is airing in the Charleston TV market, said campaign spokesman Nick Clemons. He wouldn’t give an exact amount for the size of the ad buy, but said it was “just under six figures.”

Mooney and Democrat Nick Casey are vying to succeed Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., as representative for the 2nd Congressional District. Capito is leaving the seat in a bid for the U.S. Senate.

The spot shows five different people heralding Mooney’s work and vision (the campaign made sure to point out each person lives in West Virginia.) They say Mooney has a “record of standing up to” President Barack Obama and a “perfect record” voting for lower government spending or against tax increases while serving as a state senator.

“I will fight for West Virginia jobs and values in Congress,” Mooney said, in a statement announcing the new ad.

“No one will fight harder to end Obama’s War On Coal, repeal Obamacare, and protect our values which are being trampled on by President Obama and his liberal allies in Congress.”

(Republicans, who have the majority in the U.S. House, have voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act more than 50 times. It’s never gone anywhere in the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate and would be vetoed by Obama even if a repeal measure did make it out of Congress.)

The people in the ad don’t point out Mooney’s votes and service as a senator took place in Maryland. Mooney, who also served as the Maryland GOP party chairman, moved to the Eastern Panhandle in 2013 and announced his candidacy shortly thereafter.

His residency is a consistent attacking point for Democrats, and Casey bashed him this morning for not mentioning the move in the ad. Casey’s campaign manager Derek Scarbro says the ad is “misleading.”

“Mooney introduces himself to voters but conveniently forgot to mention that he just moved here from Maryland last year to run for Congress,” Scarbro said in a campaign statement.

“Mooney calls himself a ‘senator’ and talks about his legislative experience in his new ad just like he did during the primary, but he never says that he was a State Senator in Maryland.”

The Casey camp recently released it’s own ad, called “Cheap,” championing the argument Casey is fiscally responsibile. The Mooney campaign said the ad was disingenuous, pointing to Casey’s support of a massive federal stimulus package while Casey served as chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party.

Mooney’s campaign recently released a poll (from a Republican pollster) that said the GOP nominee leads Casey by 12 percentage points. The Casey campaign said they don’t think the poll is credible.

The general election is Nov. 4.