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Combustible dust a safety issue

First it was going to be in the spring of 2011. Then the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration said November. That’s when they would convene a panel to consider a rule to protect workers from combustible dust and how any rules would affect small businesses. Now, OSHA says April 2014, maybe.

Unglamorous as it may be, controlling combustible dust, not just in coal mines, is a significant safety issue for workers across the country, whether workers realize it or not.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board has investigated numerous accidents and deaths that turned out to have combustible dust in common, even among different industries. A report from the Center for Public Integrity found that since 1980, dust has been involved in more than 450 accidents, killed almost 130 people and injured 800, and those numbers are probably underreported.

The Chemical Safety Board recommended that the federal government issue safety standards for general industry to prevent dust fires and explosions. The rule should be based on the National Fire Protection Association’s standards and cover hazard assessment, engineering controls, housekeeping, building design, explosion protection, operating procedures and worker training.

Of course, it’s hardly a surprise that this safety issue gets bumped down the Obama administration priority list. It seems every time the administration makes a move on something like worker safety or environmental protection, they get nothing but grief, even from places such as West Virginia, from the governor to lawmakers to union and business leaders. The president might expect a place so historically blue-collar as West Virginia would welcome efforts that protect workers, but he is probably not counting on it.

No one wants a rule that industry is unable to follow, or another death or injury from a preventable cause. That’s why OSHA should get this panel convened and sensible rules enacted.

— From the Dec. 16

The Charleston Gazette


High court should curb EPA’s powers

West Virginia and Ohio are among nine states targeted by our neighbors to the north and east in another attempt to burden our people with higher electric bills and our industries with job-killing new regulations.

Here we go again.

West Virginia and Ohio, along with Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, have the misfortune of being upwind — at least during prevailing air currents — of several states that have complained for years about air pollution from our region. The states, whose officials have filed a petition demanding action by the Environmental Protection Agency, are Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.

They object to ozone pollution emitted from our states’ industries and motor vehicles. They want the EPA to require that industries in our states comply with new limits on ozone emissions.

That will appeal to the EPA, which tried by itself to do what the complaining states want. The agency attempted to establish a new cross-state air pollution rule which would have hit many industries — including coal-fired power plants.

But earlier this year, a federal judge came down hard on the EPA. He ruled the agency had exceeded its authority by attempting to impose “massive emissions reductions requirements” on our states.

The judge was absolutely right, but the EPA under President Barack Obama has made a habit of implementing new, draconian regulations aimed primarily at shutting down coal-fired power plants. Allowing the agency to continue that campaign would increase electric bills by hundreds of dollars a year in our states.

EPA officials and the complaining states hope the Supreme Court will overturn the lower court’s ruling on cross-state air pollution. That would be devastating to our region, in many ways.

Supreme Court justices have indicated they will consider the issue. They should do just that — and back up the lower court judge. The EPA under Obama has been, in effect, creating new laws on its own. The nation’s highest court was established more than two centuries ago to prevent just such abuses.

— From the Dec. 15

News and Sentinel in Parkersburg



Adding counselors better than sending inmates out of state

As West Virginia officials weigh further steps to deal with overcrowded prisons and jails, they should give strong consideration to a proposal floated to legislators last week. It could well provide a more suitable alternative to another option now being pursued — placing some of the state’s inmates in an out-of-state prison run by a private corporation.

The plan, spelled out a week ago to members of the Legislative Oversight Committee on Regional Jails and Corrections, involves expanding programming to state inmates now being held in the state’s regional jails so that they can more quickly become eligible for parole. The proposal put forth by John Lopez, chief of operations for the state’s Regional Jail Authority, calls for hiring one to two additional full-time counselors at each of the 10 regional jails. The price tag for doing that would be about $700,000 a year for salaries and benefits, he said.

The regional jails now house about 1,300 Division of Corrections inmates that should be in the state-run prisons, but those prisons are already beyond capacity. One drawback of that situation is that the regional jails now do not offer adequate programming that could make those inmates eligible for parole consideration, so that slows the process of reducing inmate populations.

Adding the counselors could mean adding the programs — on such topics as domestic violence, life skills, anger management, and alcohol and substance abuse — that are needed.

Taking such a step should help speed up the parole process for many inmates, and possibly reduce the state’s overall inmate population, particularly at the regional jails. And it could keep West Virginia’s inmates housed within the state’s borders — unlike another plan being considered by the Division of Corrections.

Corrections officials earlier this year sought bids from contractors to house up to 400 of the state’s inmates at an out-of-state prison.

Even though the cost of that plan isn’t known yet, it’s unlikely to be a less expensive option than Lopez’s plan to hire more counselors. State officials say incarcerating an inmate can cost up to $25,000 a year. Even if Corrections Corporation of America’s bid comes in at half that cost per inmate, the sum would be $5 million a year.

At this point, the state is making headway on its efforts to reduce its prison and jail population, giving encouragement to officials that expensive steps such as building a new prison won’t be necessary. We think the same thinking should be applied before sending prisoners out of state.

The alternative proposed by the Regional Jail Authority appears to be a better option overall.

– From the Dec. 16

The Herald-Dispatch in Huntington


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