EPA Rule Changes Results In Coal Producer Cutting Production And Elminating 1,200 Jobs In Virginia, West Virginia, And Pennsylvania

September 18, 2012

MORGANTOWN, WEST VIRGINIA – Coal producer Alpha Natural Resources said Tuesday it was cutting production by 16 million tons and eliminating 1,200 jobs companywide, laying off 400 workers immediately by closing mines in Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

The mine shutdowns start Tuesday, while the rest of the layoffs will be completed by the end of the first quarter after Alpha fulfills current sales obligations, Chief Executive Officer Kevin Crutchfield said. In all, the layoffs amount to nearly a tenth of Alpha’s 13,000-person workforce.

Alpha said it was closing four mines in West Virginia, three in Virginia and one in Pennsylvania. They are a mix of deep and surface mines, and all are non-union operations.

Alpha didn’t immediately name the mines because it wanted to inform all the workers first.

Company spokesman Ted Pile said most of the displaced workers may eventually be rehired, either assigned to new jobs in other locations or replacing outside contractors. Only 150 workers in West Virginia and three in Pennsylvania will not have any other employment opportunities with the company, he said.

Though some miners will stay on to seal the operations, most will either be reassigned or laid off immediately.

Support positions will also be cut proportionally as Alpha reduces its operating regions from four to two, Crutchfield said, and two executives will retire Nov. 1.

It wasn’t immediately what other states would be affected by the layoffs.

Crutchfield said the shutdowns and layoffs are a necessary part of ensuring Alpha survives in what has become a difficult U.S. market, where coal companies face a dual challenge: Power plants are shifting to cheap, abundant natural gas, while companies like his face “a regulatory environment that’s aggressively aimed at constraining the use of coal.”

“We think the actions we’re taking are aimed at getting ahead of this on a proactive basis and getting set up for 2013 going forward,” he said.

Bristol, Va.-based Alpha will cut production 16 million tons by early 2013 and reduce overhead by $150 million as it shifts away from thermal coal used in domestic power generation to concentrate on metallurgical coal used in steelmaking overseas.

Globally, “there remains a structural undersupply” of metallurgical coal, Crutchfield said, and Alpha expects to see demand grow by more than 100 million tons by the end of the decade.

Alpha’s $7.1 billion acquisition of Massey Energy helped create “one of the most valuable met coal franchises in the world,” Crutchfield said, effectively doubling its production potential. Alpha now has the world’s third-largest supply of coal.

Alpha has 25 million to 30 million tons of export capacity through the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico, giving it the ability to scale up exports quickly, he said. The global sales and marketing initiatives will be led by Brian Sullivan, the current president of Alpha Australia LLC. He’s transferring to the U.S. to fill the vacant post of chief commercial officer.

About 40 percent of Alpha’s production cuts will come from high-cost eastern mines “that are unlikely to be competitive for the foreseeable future,” Crutchfield said, while about half will occur in the Powder River Basin, the largest coal-producing region in the U.S. The basin is located in northeast Wyoming.

Alpha’s Wyoming operations, Alpha Coal West, consist of the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayre surface coal mines. Together, the mines have about 650 employees and produce about 50 million tons of coal a year, according to the Wyoming Mining Association. The number of layoffs that might occur there was unclear.

“We’re still trying to figure out, with the reduction in production, what our operations will look like,” said Mike Lepchitz, spokesman for the Belle Ayre Mine.

Crutchfield said “the elimination of jobs on this scale is something I take very seriously.”

“Unfortunately,” he said, “we think we have to do it to set the company on the right foot going forward.”

In the long run, the new strategy will create a leaner, more agile company that can readily adapt to changing market circumstances, he said.

Alpha will try to find openings for some of the laid off workers in other locations or in contractor positions, but that will take time.

Some politicians were quick to pounce on the announcement as further evidence that President Barack Obama’s administration is waging a “war on coal” through new air-pollution standards, but many U.S. power companies have long planned to close or convert some of their aging, inefficient coal-fired plants.

Crutchfield acknowledged that natural gas is currently a less expensive option for those utilities but predicted that will change. Eventually, the price of gas will rise, he said, and in the long term, so will Americans’ power bills.

“I absolutely, unequivocally believe that,” he said, citing coal prices that have been historically “relatively flat” and natural gas prices that have been “very volatile.”

Although Alpha stock had dropped more than 5 percent by midday, at least one analyst commended the new corporate strategy. Sterne Agee’s Michael Dudas said believes the market is underestimating Alpha’s value.

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Kanawha County West Virginia Judge James Stucky Says Man Who Stole And Sexually Assaulted Goat While Dressed In Womens Clothing And High On Bath Salts Not Criminally Responsible

September 18, 2012

CHARLESTON, WEST VIRGINIA – A judge says a West Virginia man will not be held criminally responsible for allegedly stealing, sexually assaulting and killing his neighbor’s pygmy goat while high on bath salts.

Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge James Stucky ruled Monday that Mark Lucas Thompson of Alum Creek is not competent for trial on the charges he faces for animal cruelty.

The Charleston Gazette reports that the decision comes after several mental evaluations. Stucky instead ordered that Thompson spend six and a half years in treatment at the William R. Sharpe Jr. Hospital in Weston.

Police arrested Thompson in May 2011 after neighbors found him in his room standing next to the dead goat and dressed in women’s clothing. He was indicted for animal cruelty and petit larceny.

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Retired Charleston West Virginia Police Officer David Wayne Reedy Arrested Dealing Drugs In Walmart Parking Lot

September 9, 2012

CHARLESTON, WEST VIRGINIA — A retired Charleston police officer faces a felony charge after he allegedly sold methamphetamine in a Walmart parking lot.

While responding to another call Tuesday at the Walmart at Nitro Marketplace, Nitro Police Officer D.S. Bays saw David Wayne Reedy, 40, walking through the store, according to a criminal complaint filed in Kanawha County Magistrate Court.

Reedy, of Plantation Drive in Nitro, retired from the Charleston Police Department’s patrol division in 2003.

Bays recognized Reedy from a previous incident in Putnam County in which Reedy had been arrested on a domestic-battery charge and then violated the conditions of his bail, according to the complaint.

Bays called Putnam County Magistrate Court, who said Reedy had an active state warrant for the bail violation, according to the complaint.

After Reedy left the store and went to his 2011 Ford F-150 pickup, Bays saw “what appeared to be a hand-to-hand transaction,” according to the complaint.

The police officer approached Reedy’s truck and asked him to get out, advising him of the active warrant for his arrest. Police then found a loaded firearm and a pipe used to smoke meth in Reedy’s pockets, according to the complaint.

A St. Albans police officer and dog came to the parking lot to help Bays search the outside of Reedy’s vehicle. After the dog detected something, police found a large amount of meth consistent with the distribution of a controlled substance, according to the complaint.

Reedy was arrested and faces a felony charge of possession with the intent to deliver a controlled substance. He also faces a misdemeanor charge stemming from violating a protective order in the previous incident in Putnam County.

In July, Reedy was arrested on a charge of domestic battery against his wife, according to a criminal complaint filed in Putnam County Magistrate Court. As a condition of his release on bail, he was ordered not to have any contact with his wife.

A few weeks later, on Aug. 20, Reedy allegedly went inside their home while his wife was sleeping and started to gather up some of his belongings. His wife told Nitro Police Officer H.R. Blake II that the estranged couple started to argue and that she told Reedy she had filed for divorce.

Reedy allegedly then went into the bedroom and cut up several articles of his wife’s clothes before leaving the residence, according to the complaint.

Reedy was being held Friday in the South Central Regional Jail on $5,000 pre-trial felony bail out of Kanawha County and $5,000 misdemeanor bail out of Putnam County.

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Mercer County West Virginia Home Confinement Officer Blaine Franklin Charged After Sex With An Inmate

August 31, 2012

PRINCETON, WEST VIRGINIA — A former Mercer County home confinement officer is facing a charge of sexual intruson of an inmate after allegedly having sexual relations with a woman in the home confinement program.

Mercer County Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ash said Tuesday that home confinement officer Blaine Franklin, 25, of the Bluefield area was arrested for having sexual relations with someone he was supervising.

“Once we got word of it, he was fired from the day report center almost immediately,” Ash said. A referral was made to the West Virginia State Police at that time, Ash said, and “within a week the investigation started.”

The investigating officer, Cpl. A.P. Christian, said Franklin was arrested Aug. 16.

“We received an anonymous tip that came through the home confinement office itself,” Christian said.

“The home confinement director contacted us and asked us to do an investigation into it,” he said.

Franklin was charged with sexual intrusion of an inmate, Christian said. He was released on a personal recognizance bond and is now awaiting trial.

The inmate was an adult female who was under Franklin’s care and control as a home confinement officer, Christian said. Christian declined to release her name

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BROKE: 16 States Now Rationing Prescription Drugs For Medicaid Patients

July 31, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – Sixteen states have set a limit on the number of prescription drugs they will cover for Medicaid patients, according to Kaiser Health News.

Seven of those states, according to Kaiser Health News, have enacted or tightened those limits in just the last two years.

Medicaid is a federal program that is carried out in partnership with state governments. It forms an important element of President Barack Obama’s health-care plan because under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act–AKA Obamcare–a larger number of people will be covered by Medicaid, as the income cap is raised for the program.

With both the expanded Medicaid program and the federal subsidy for health-care premiums that will be available to people earning up to 400 percent of the poverty level, a larger percentage of the population will be wholly or partially dependent on the government for their health care under Obamacare than are now.

In Alabama, Medicaid patients are now limited to one brand-name drug, and HIV and psychiatric drugs are excluded.

Illinois has limited Medicaid patients to just four prescription drugs as a cost-cutting move, and patients who need more than four must get permission from the state.

Speaking on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal on Monday, Phil Galewitz, staff writer for Kaiser Health News, said the move “only hurts a limited number of patients.”

“Drugs make up a fair amount of costs for Medicaid. A lot of states have said a lot of drugs are available in generics where they cost less, so they see this sort of another move to push patients to take generics instead of brand,” Galewitz said.

“It only hurts a limited number of patients, ‘cause obviously it hurts patients who are taking multiple brand name drugs in the case of Alabama, Illinois. Some of the states are putting the limits on all drugs. It’s another place to cut. It doesn’t hurt everybody, but it could hurt some,” he added.

Galewitz said the move also puts doctors and patients in a “difficult position.”

“Some doctors I talked to would work with patients with asthma and diabetes, and sometimes it’s tricky to get the right drugs and the right dosage to figure out how to control some of this disease, and just when they get it right, now the state is telling them that, ‘Hey, you’re not going to get all this coverage. You may have to switch to a generic or find another way,’” he said.

Arkansas, California, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and West Virginia have all placed caps on the number of prescription drugs Medicaid patients can get.

“Some people say it’s a matter of you know states are throwing things up against the wall to see what might work, so states have tried, they’ve also tried formularies where they’ll pick certain brand name drugs over other drugs. So states try a whole lot of different things. They’re trying different ways of paying providers to try to maybe slow the costs down,” Galewitz said.

“So it seems like Medicaid’s sort of been one big experiment over the last number of years for states to try to control costs, and it’s an ongoing battle, and I think drugs is just now one of the … latest issues. And it’s a relatively recent thing, only in the last 10 years have we really seen states put these limits on monthly drugs,” he added.

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Pedophile Concord University Police Officer Randy Keith Cordle Suspended And Arrested On Child Sex Charges

June 17, 2012

PRINCETON, WEST VIRGINIA — A Concord University police officer is behind bars after being arrested on multiple sexual abuse charges.

Randy Keith Cordle, 47, of Athens, was arrested Monday and charged with one count of third-degree sexual assault and five counts of sexual abuse by a parent, guardian or custodian.

Sgt. M.D. Clemons, of the West Virginia State Police Crimes Against Children Unit, said the victim was a family member. “It (the abuse) started when she was 15,” Clemons said. “He was in a caretaker role.”

Clemons said no inappropriate behavior was alleged to have occurred at the university. “It happened at his residence.”

A criminal complaint filed in Mercer County Magistrate Court states that the victim advised that she had sexual intercourse and engaged in other sexual acts with Cordle beginning in 2011 when she was 15. The victim said the last instance of sexual intercourse occurred at the Mercer County Airport in May of this year, while the previous incidents occurred at Cordle’s residence in the Lashmeet area, the complaint states.

Cordle admitted having intercourse with the victim, a teenage female, on multiple occasions when he was interviewed by Clemons, according to the criminal complaint.

The complaint also states that Cordle told Clemons the victim and another teenage family member (who was not abused) would stay with him on weekends and that “they (the victim’s parents) trusted him to take care of them, and that he loved the kids like they were his own.”

Clemons said Concord University officials cooperated with her in the investigation. “They took the appropriate actions,” she said.

Concord University Interim Vice President of Advancement Alicia Suka Besenyei said Cordle was placed on administrative leave with pay when university officials were advised of the investigation by the State Police.

Cordle was arraigned Monday, and is currently being held at the Southern Regional Jail in Beaver.

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West Virginia Pissed Away $24 Million In Stimulus Funds Purchasing 1,064 High Power Cisco Routers For Small Libraries, Schools, And Health Centers – Each Designed For 10’s Of Thousands Of Users, Some Serve Just A Single Computer

May 16, 2012

CHARLESTON, WEST VIRGINIA – Nobody told Hurricane librarian Rebecca Elliot that the $22,600 Internet router in the branch library’s storage closet was powerful enough to serve an entire college campus.

Nobody told Elliot how much the router cost or who paid for it. Workers just showed up and installed the device. They left behind no instructions, no user manual.

The high-end router serves four public computer terminals at the small library in Putnam County.

“I don’t know much about those kinds of things,” Elliot said last week, before politely leaving to help an elderly patron select books. “I just work here.”

The state of West Virginia is using $24 million in federal economic stimulus money to put high-powered Internet computer routers in small libraries, elementary schools and health clinics, even though the pricey equipment is designed to serve major research universities, medical centers and large corporations, a Gazette-Mail investigation has found.

The state purchased 1,064 routers two years ago, after receiving a $126 million federal stimulus grant to expand high-speed Internet across West Virginia.

The Cisco 3945 series routers, which cost $22,600 each, are built to serve “tens of thousands” of users or device connections, according to a Cisco sales agent. The routers are designed to serve a minimum of 500 users.

Yet state broadband project officials directed the installation of the stimulus-funded Cisco routers in West Virginia schools with fewer than a dozen computers and libraries that have only a single terminal for patrons.

“The routers have a lot of power,” said Karen Goff, executive secretary of the West Virginia Library Commission. “Because the routers are so big, our tech guys had to build shelves for them. The libraries had no other place to put them.”

Morgantown-based WVNET, the state government Internet services agency, uses six Cisco routers with similar capacity to serve all state agencies and public universities.

West Virginia Homeland Security chief Jimmy Gianato, who’s leading the state broadband project, defended the $24 million router purchase last week, saying the devices “could meet many different needs and be used for multiple applications.”

“Our main concerns were to not have something that would become obsolete in a couple of years,” Gianato said. “Looking at how technology evolves, we wanted something that was scalable, expandable and viable, five to 10 years out. We wanted to make sure every place had the same opportunity across the state.”

‘Grossly oversized’

In July 2010, a West Virginia Office of Technology administrator warned that the Cisco 3945 series routers “may be grossly oversized,” according to an email obtained by the Gazette-Mail.

The administrator asked state officials to postpone plans to spend $24 million on the routers so he would have time to evaluate the proposed purchase.

Five days later, state officials signed the $24 million contract with Verizon Network Integration to buy the Cisco routers.

Verizon delivered an additional 100 routers to the state for free. West Virginia officials never asked for the additional equipment — valued at more than $2.26 million.

Verizon spokesman Keith Irland said the company simply responded to router specifications detailed in the state’s bid posting.

“They specified the equipment they wanted,” Irland said. “That’s what they requested, that’s what we bid on. We had the lowest price, and we won the bid for the equipment and related maintenance.”

The Gazette-Mail contacted two Cisco sales agents last week, asking whether the 3945 series routers were appropriate for schools and libraries.

“The 3945 is our router solution for campus and large enterprises, so this is overkill for your network,” a Cisco representative responded.

The sales agents recommended a smaller router — with a list price of $487.

State Department of Education officials questioned the size of the routers before Gianato and the Office of Technology executed the $24 million purchase order.

It didn’t make sense to buy the same size routers for a 1,800-student high school and a 100-student elementary school, according to administrators in the Department of Education’s technology division. The state is distributing 471 of the high-priced routers to schools.

“The WVDE asked if the size of the routers could vary based on the needs of a school,” said Liza Cordeiro, spokeswoman for the Department of Education. “At that time, it is our understanding that, for consistency and future expansion, the plan was to buy all the same size.”

Gianato said putting the same size router in every school was about “equal opportunity.”

“We wanted to make sure a student in McDowell County had the same opportunities as a student in Kanawha County or anywhere else,” he said. “A student in a school of 200 students should have the same opportunity as a student in a school with 2,000 students.”

John Dunlap, operations director at the state Office of Technology, had similar concerns over the size of the routers.

“The Office of Technology is concerned that this equipment may be grossly oversized for several of the facilities in which it is currently slated to be installed,” Dunlap wrote in a July 12, 2010, email to Gianato. “As a result, the Office of Technology would like to evaluate these and make recommendations to deploy the 3,900 series router where it may be better utilized for this project.”

Last week, the Gazette-Mail asked Dunlap to explain his email. He referred questions to Gianato.

Gianato acknowledged that he didn’t heed Dunlap’s advice or wait for an evaluation.

“The routers already had been bid out,” Gianato said. “I think John was looking at our needs now, not looking at our needs into the future.”

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