Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Beshear leading trade mission to Canada

(AP) — Gov. Steve Beshear is leading a trade mission to Canada, which is Kentucky's largest trade partner.

The governor's office says more than a dozen Kentucky small businesses will be matched with Canadian businesses and distribution networks during the trip. The Kentucky companies represent a variety of industries.

The meetings are aimed at allowing Kentucky companies to form partnerships and begin selling products to Canada.

The Kentucky delegation will make stops in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto. The group is scheduled to return to Kentucky on May 30.

State officials say Kentucky exported more than $7.6 billion in products and services to Canada last year. Top exports include motor vehicles, auto parts and aerospace products.

High concerns in Wayne County following miner layoff announcement

State Delegate Don Perdue said Wayne County’s future is in peril following the announcement of more than 400 coal-mining layoffs during the Memorial Day weekend.
“Those layoffs have an extraordinary impact on Wayne County, not only from the point of view that many of those employees are Wayne County citizens, but also from the loss in tax base that our county will accrue from these layoffs and from the shut down of that mine,” said Perdue (D-Wayne, 19).
Nearly 1,800 West Virginia miners learned Friday they will face unemployment within 60 days, according to the state’s two largest coal producers, Alpha Natural Resources and Murray Energy.
Alpha Natural Resources blamed the layoffs at its Camp Creek operation near East Lynne on a low demand for coal and federal EPA regulations.
Touting the need to establishing new job opportunities, Perdue said, “Now it’s becoming even more critical for the benefit of all those folks that are going to be laid off at least at that mine that we are able to do that.”
The outward impact of the layoffs will be huge, Perdue said, with suppliers, support services and retailers such as grocery stores and gas stations feeling the pinch.
“As that employment becomes non-existent, than so do those revenues in retail.”
Calling West Virginia’s biggest problem a “lack of diversification,” Perdue said he hopes jobs will spring from the newly completed Heartland Intermodal Gateway in Prichard, a truck-rail transfer terminal that provides most of the state with a link to international markets. He said the transportation industry is “in our future” and that they need to accelerate this outlet.

“These are people that are out of work now. They’re going to have to respond to being out of work now, so we have to respond to the business of trying to create new jobs now.”

Appalachian Power granted double-digit residential rate increase

The state Public Service Commission approved an overall $123 million or 9 percent rate increase Tuesday for Appalachian Power Company and Wheeling Power Company but residential customers will pay more.
The order spells out different percentages of increases per customer classification and for residential customers the increase is 16.1 percent a month. The average residential customer will see an increase of $19.50 to their monthly bill, which state Consumer Advocate Jackie Roberts thought is too high.
“Our position was that after evaluating the filing, we thought the appropriate level of expenses for the company would result in base rate increase of 3.49 percent,” Roberts said.
AEP Communications Director Jeri Matheny maintained that even with the increase that residential customers would still be paying below the national average. She said the increase is necessary to improve their service.
“We requested this increase about a year ago and it’s finally come to fruition,” Matheny said. “We need it mainly to improve our infrastructure. We’ve got a lot of aging infrastructure out there; the lines, the towers. And we need to invest in that to insure that electricity stays reliable and improves.”
The PSC has ordered a 1-year phase-in of the residential rate increases. The move will decrease the increase to 11.8 percent, a $14.30 increase for the average customer.
Matheny was “glad that the PSC had recognized some of the increasing costs of doing business.” Roberts felt that some further evaluation was needed of the long report, but initially the increase seemed excessive.
“We need to evaluate the order and analyze the issues addressed by the commission,” she said. “But on a first blush, this seems to be a very high increase for residential customers.”
Appalachian Power and the smaller Wheeling Power received approval to increase their base rates and approval for a surcharge to pay for a new vegetation clearing program. The PSC said the base rate increase is tied to a $407 million investment by Appalachian Power to bring its power plants into compliance with federal environmental regulations. The new vegetation program was ordered by the PSC following the 2012 derecho and Superstorm Sandy that happened later that year.

Manchin, Goodwin address drug epidemic at town hall style meeting

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin and U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin held a drug summit Tuesday night at WVU Parkersburg to address what is now widely being referred to as an epidemic in the state of West Virginia.
A delegation attended the summit that included residents, including former drug users, law enforcement, police officers and elected officials to discuss issues in a town hall format. Manchin addressed the issue, saying that the widespread use of drugs has affected almost everyone directly or indirectly.
“If you look around this room, whether you’re a policeman, or whether you’re just one of us out in the crowd, there’s not one person here that doesn’t know someone in their family or extended family who has not been affected,” Manchin told the crowd. “Not one of us. It is rampant, it is of epidemic proportions.”
Goodwin talked about how prescription drug abuse has led to heroin, which is so dangerous because of the unknown element of the drug.
“It’s not in a neat little package with 30 milligrams or even 80 milligrams of a controlled substance,” Goodwin said. “It can be 20 percent potency or 80 percent potency and you won’t know. Because of that, the chances of overdosing grow exponentially.”
He said that drug abuse accounts for 80 to 90 percent of the property crime in West Virginia counties. Manchin said that it wasn’t just a West Virginia problem.
“This is a national problem. It’s not just our state and West Virginia, or just Wood County,” Manchin said. “We have 19 counties in West Virginia that are currently designated high drug-trafficking areas.”
Goodwin said that the epidemic has affected both the smallest of small towns and big cities alike, but even as a federal prosecutor he knows it’s not an issue that can be fixed by arrests alone.
“We’ve prosecuted an investigated literally hundreds of drug dealers,” he said. “But enforcement is not enough. It takes education, it takes reaching out to schools, letting kids know the dangers that they face.”
Manchin told a story of a discussion in which a group of kids told him that the easiest place to get prescription drugs was right in their homes.
“I had a group of young people in Wheeling. I said just tell me where the drugs are coming from,” Manchin recalled. “They said the medicine cabinet. Mom or grandma got a prescription for pain killers and didn’t use them all. Before you know it your kids bringing it to school and passing them around.”
A law was recently passed allowing citizens to carry Noloxone, an antidote to opiate overdoses. Previously, only medical personnel had access to the drug. Goodwin thought the drug could prove effective in the hands of family and friends, using the analogy that “like an EpiPen is to allergic reactions, Noloxone is to overdoses.”

Morrisey files suit against Simple Recovery Solutions

State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced Tuesday that the office recently filed a suit against Simple Recovery Solutions, a Florida company that allegedly tried to collect unverified debt or debt which never really existed from West Virginia consumers.
The suit accuses SRS of unfair competition methods and practices of deception by contacting consumers to collect debt they didn’t owe. The company is accused of violations of the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection Act; the complaint also alleges that the organization operated without a valid West Virginia business license.
Morrisey said that the goal of the suit was to protect the public.
“This complaint seeks to protect West Virginia consumers from paying out money they do not owe,” Morrisey said. “Our office believes SRS and its owners have collected, or attempted to collect, unverified debts from at least 125 West Virginia consumers so far.”
He said fraudulent debt collection is a problem in West Virginia and consumers had to be made aware of “unscrupulous business practices.”

The lawsuit was filed in Kanawha County Circuit Court.

Ex-coal boss Blankenship wants July trial delayed to January

(AP) Former coal boss Don Blankenship wants his July trial start delayed until January.

In a motion in Beckley federal court Friday, attorneys for the ex-Massey Energy CEO say they wouldn't be prepared for a July 13 trial start.

It's Blankenship's third request for a delay. The trial was last pushed back from April to July.

Blankenship is charged with conspiring to violate safety standards at Upper Big Branch, a former Massey Energy mine where an explosion killed 29 men in 2010.

Blankenship's attorneys say they can't review more than four million pages of discovery produced by the government until late September.

They say they won't have time to complete fact investigation or prepare trial exhibits, witness examinations and jury presentations.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin declined to comment on the motion.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Social Security Administration reviewing Eric C. Conn clients

The Social Security Administration is reviewing the status of recipients whose cases were handled by Stanville attorney, Eric C. Conn, and a number of Social Security disability recipients in Eastern Kentucky and the surrounding area have been told that their checks are going to be cut off.  The check cut-off is pending on further review of their cases.
The investigation is based on evidence handled by one of four physicians- Dr. Bradley Adkins, Dr. Srinivas Ammisetty, Dr. Frederic Huffnagle or Dr. David P. Herr.  Letters have been sent out to those recipients affected and one of the letters states that the Office of the Inspector General has determined that fraud played a role in some of those cases.  Along with that, it stated that medical evidence from those doctors and submitted by Conn or his associates must be disregarded.
Kent Wicker, Conn's attorney, said his client is innocent of allegations of wrongdoing and expects the suspensions to be a brief setback for clients.  Wicker also went on to say that Conn's office has received phone calls from "several dozen" clients who received the letters and Conn is referring all of the clients to other attorneys to handle the redetermination process.