West Virginia to Pursue Research for Alternative Uses of Coal

West Virginia's coal industry has been in decline.

West Virginia's coal industry has been in decline. Shutterstock

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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | California may sell its own drugs to lower prescription costs … New York City will build a broadband network … Utah considers bill to require clergy to report child abuse.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced an agreement with a company that plans to open a research facility in the state to investigate alternative uses for coal, primarily the conversion of the substance into carbon fiber. Justice, a Republican and coal company owner, said that Ramaco Carbon, a company that specializes in carbon fiber technology, like coal gasification and liquefaction, has received more than $5 million in federal research grants. “They absolutely have a way to do things with coal that can be an alternative use for coal that it would be so perfect for us, it is unbelievable … We absolutely need to continue doing all we can to harness the power of coal in every way possible and having this facility to test new ways to convert this dynamic resource is a great opportunity for all,” Justice said. Carbon fiber is four times stronger than aluminum and twice as strong as steel, and is used in aerospace, car, bicycle, and wind turbine manufacturing. James Van Nostrand, director of the Center for Energy and Sustainable Development at West Virginia University, expressed concerns about the new research focus. "It's raising hopes and expectations that the coal industry is going to still be as prominent as it was in the past and that's—we know better. Even if this does prove to be successful, I fear it's just another example of 'here's another silver bullet that's going to bring the coal industry back,’” he said. Some state lawmakers also showed skepticism, including Democratic state Rep. Mike Caputo, a retired United Mine Workers of America official. "First of all, I would certainly welcome any new facilities in West Virginia that would utilize our natural resource of coal. I've also been around a long time, and I've heard a lot of promises made about alternative uses of coal that I have never seen come to fruition,” he said. [The Register Herald; Associated Press; WSAV]

LOWER DRUG COSTS | California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a plan to lower prescription drug costs by having the state government contract with generic drug companies to make prescription medications. The proposal would make California the first state to sell its own medication. Generic drug prices rose by 37.6% in the state since 2017, a rate of increase higher than any other drug category. "It's time to take the power out of the hands of greedy pharmaceutical companies," said Newsom. Jon Roth, CEO of the California Pharmacists Association, said that the state might not be able to sell drugs much cheaper than private companies because of things like raw material shortages. "There are other factors in the actual manufacturing that the state may not be able to escape," he said. Anthony Wright, the executive director of Health Access California, said that the program would be beneficial. "Consumers would directly benefit if California contracted on its own to manufacture much-needed generic medications like insulin—a drug that has been around for a century yet the price has gone up over tenfold in the last few decades," Wright said. [Associated Press; Los Angeles Times]

BROADBAND | New York City unveiled a proposal to create a citywide open access broadband network. The Office of the city’s Chief Technology Officer released a study that found 29% of households in the city don’t have broadband access and 46% of families living below the poverty line lack high-speed internet access. “This significant portion of the city’s residents face barriers to education, employment, banking, healthcare, social networks, and government services in ways that other residents do not … The private market has failed to deliver the internet in a way that works for all New Yorkers,” the report reads. Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city will invest $2.1 billion to build a fiber and wireless network in conjunction with private partners. "Every New Yorker deserves easy, affordable access to the internet. With the Internet Master Plan, we are giving notice to corporations that the days of creating a digital divide in our city are over,” de Blasio said. Former FCC lawyer Gigi Sohn said the plan was a good idea. “The federal government has failed to meet the broadband needs of tens of millions of Americans. It is therefore incumbent upon states, cities and municipalities to step up where the federal government has stood down,” Sohn said. [Vice; ArsTechnica]

CLERGY | A Utah lawmaker has introduced a bill to the state legislature that would remove a portion of state law that exempts religious officials from the mandatory reporting requirements for child abuse. Utah currently requires anyone who has reason to believe that a child has been abused must report the incident to law enforcement, but clergy are exempt. State Rep. Angela Romero said that the bill would be “in the best interest” of all state residents. “For me, this is really about protecting children. Children are some of our most vulnerable members of society … It’s just the right thing to do,” Romero said. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said that they “will need time to review the bill and its implications before taking a position.” A California lawmaker introduced a similar bill last year but withdrew it after opposition from the Catholic Church. [Salt Lake Tribune; Daily Herald]

‘RED FLAG’ LAW | The New Mexico legislature will consider a ‘red flag’ law that would allow the state to seize firearms from people deemed to be a risk to themselves or others. The bill is sponsored by state Rep. Joy Garratt, a Democrat who said that allowing family and law enforcement to ask a judge to order weapons to be removed from someone’s possession would save lives. “This law gives law enforcement and our courts an additional tool to prevent crime in New Mexico and reduce firearm-related homicides and suicide deaths. It's time we pass common-sense legislation that addresses the scourge that is gun violence in our communities,” Garratt said. The bill was introduced by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat who has pursued a red flag law in the past. “Surely we can all agree that if someone is making threats of harm, we must act to prevent it. The alternative is to leave New Mexicans at risk—and that is flatly unacceptable. An extreme-risk protection order is exactly that: A temporary, proactive check on an individual who is confirmed to constitute an extreme risk to themselves, their family members or others,” Lujan Grisham said. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have similar red flag laws. [KRWG; Las Cruces Sun News]

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.

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