Connect with us

Fact Check

Fact-checking Jim Justice’s Boast About W.Va. Highway Rankings

Published

on

U.S. Route 19 in West Virginia Photo: Wikimedia commons

Facing a competitive reelection bid in 2020, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice sought to tout his record on improving the state’s highways.

“Our WV highways rank 16th in the country in a national survey of highway systems, up 20 spots from last year’s ranking!” Justice tweeted Aug. 22. “This ranking affirms all the hard work we’ve done, and that we continue to do, fixing our state’s roads.”

Let’s take a closer look at the source of his assertion. (Justice’s office did not respond to inquiries for this article.)

Justice’s tweet linked to a news release from the governor’s office that cited the source of the rankings as the Reason Foundation’s 24th annual highway report. The Reason Foundation has a libertarian perspective, including individual liberty and free markets, the foundation’s website says.

The annual highway study uses spending and performance data that state agencies send to the federal government. To do this, it ranks the 50 states in 13 categories, such as highway expenditures per mile, pavement conditions, congestion, bridge conditions and fatality rates.

Looking at the overall state figures, West Virginia does rank 16th in the country, a rise of 20 notches from 36th in the previous year’s survey

Compared to its neighbors, the report finds West Virginia slightly ahead of Ohio (18th) and Maryland (39th) in overall ranking but behind Virginia (2nd). West Virginia is doing worse than some regionally comparable states like Kentucky (5th) but better than others such as Indiana (33rd).

The top overall state was North Dakota, and the worst was New Jersey. Read the full list here

Some caveats

It should be noted that West Virginia’s 16th-place overall ranking obscures some aspects of the report that paint a less rosy picture of the state’s highways.

For starters, the bulk of the highway data in the most recent report covers 2016, which is before Justice took office. Only two categories out of 13 use 2017 data, when he had begun his first term.

So while this report represents a positive development for West Virginia, it doesn’t fully reflect Justice’s own policies, as he implied when he referred to “all the hard work we’ve done.”

In addition, a technical change in the report’s methodology played a role in West Virginia’s increase. According to the report’s summary of the state’s rankings, West Virginia “benefited from the report no longer measuring narrow rural arterial lanes,” a category where the state ranked 50th last year.

Finally, looking only at the overall ranking, as Justice does, obscures some relatively weak ratings for West Virginia on key sub-categories.

Notably, the state ranks 36th in its overall fatality rate, 48th in structurally deficient bridges, 20th in urban Interstate pavement condition and 21st in rural Interstate pavement condition. 

The state scored better on cost measures, ranking second in total spending per mile and third in capital and bridge costs per mile. 

“To improve in the rankings, West Virginia needs to reduce its percentage of structurally deficient bridges and its rural arterial pavement condition,” Feigenbaum told PolitiFact West Virginia. “The state is in the bottom five for structurally deficient bridges and the bottom 15 for rural arterial pavement condition in the country.”

Our ruling

Justice tweeted, “Our WV highways rank 16th in the country in a national survey of highway systems, up 20 spots from last year’s ranking! This ranking affirms all the hard work we’ve done, and that we continue to do, fixing our state’s roads.”

Justice has a point about the overall number, but his celebratory tone is somewhat exaggerated. Most of the data reflects a period before he became governor, and a major reason for the increase came from the elimination of a category from the previous year’s report in which West Virginia ranked 50th nationally. 

The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details, so we rate it Half True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

Fact Check

Fact-checking Ethylene Production in the U.S.

Published

on

Natural gas pipe for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline sits in a yard Feb. 27, 2019, near Morgantown, W.Va. Photo: Larry Dowling/West Virginia Public Broadcast

Three U.S. House members from West Virginia have proposed creating an Appalachian Storage Hub to store and transport large amounts of natural gas liquids in the region.

One of those House members is West Virginia Republican David McKinley. In a news release announcing House Resolution 4433 — the Appalachian Regional Energy Hub Initiative — McKinley said he backs the effort and cited Hurricane Harvey, the 2017 storm that shocked coastal Texas and Louisiana, as evidence that a more reliable storage system is needed.

“Developing such a ‘Hub’ in Appalachia would bring significant investment and jobs to the region,” McKinley said in his op-ed for the Fairmont News.

In his news release, McKinley wrote that the danger for the nation is that today, “about 95% of America’s production of ethylene is produced on the Gulf Coast in Texas and Louisiana — a region exposed to major storms like Hurricane Harvey.”

Is he right about that percentage? We took a closer look.

What is ethylene?

First, let’s explain what ethylene is.

Ethylene is commonly used to produce polyethylene, which is one of the most commonly produced plastics in the world. Food packaging and containers, bottles, and housewares are among the products manufactured from polyethylene.

McKinley’s District of Columbia office pointed us to a report to Congress by the U.S. Energy Department released in November 2018.  

The report includes a line that says that “ethylene production capacity is highly concentrated in the United States Gulf Coast; over 95% of U.S. ethylene production capacity is located in either Texas or Louisiana.”

The figure below illustrates the total capacity in million metric tons that each region produces, the majority of which comes from Texas and Louisiana. 

Documented Ethylene Production Capacity in the U.S. Source: Ethane Storage and Distribution hub in the United States

After Hurricane Harvey hit the U.S. in Texas and Louisiana, 60% of the production capacity in America went offline, causing problems for industry, at least in the short term.  

It’s worth noting that these numbers can be expected to shift once a major “ethane cracker” plant in Monaca, Pa., comes online in another year or two. 

Crackers are facilities that break down ethane into multiple byproducts, including ethylene. The Shell Chemicals facility in Monaca is expected to produce 1.6 million metric tons per year of ethylene.

The Energy Department report cites two additional ethylene facilities in the Appalachian region that are on the drawing board, though they are slated to come online after the Monaca plant. They are in Washington Bottom, W.Va., and Shadyside, Ohio.

Our Ruling

McKinley said, “About 95% of America’s production of ethylene is produced on the Gulf Coast in Texas and Louisiana — a region exposed to major storms like Hurricane Harvey.”

The scale of operations in Appalachia are on track to grow in the coming years, but for now, McKinley is correct: Energy Department data shows that more than 95% of U.S. ethylene production capacity is located in either Texas or Louisiana. 

We rate his statement True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

Continue Reading

Fact Check

How Many West Virginia Students are Homeless?

Published

on

West Virginia has an unacceptably large number of K-12 students who are homeless, according to a Facebook post by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

In the Sept. 9 Facebook post, Manchin wrote, the “West Virginia Department of Education reported over 10,000 children & youth have been identified as homeless for the 2018-2019 school year. That’s disturbing news, and that’s why I invited U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to come to #WV and see the impact this is having on our children & schools.” 

The post proceeded to link to a news release outlining his request to DeVos.

West Virginia Department of Education reported over 10,000 children & youth have been identified as homeless for the…

Posted by Senator Joe Manchin III on Monday, September 9, 2019

Is Manchin correct about the scale of the K-12 homelessness problem?

Official data from the state education department shows that Manchin is correct — and that the problem is getting worse.

The number of homeless students has risen since the 2014-15 school year from 8,959 to 10,522 in the 2018-19 school year — a 17% increase. Making the increase even more striking, the state’s overall population has actually fallen by almost 2% during that period.

It’s worth noting that the statistic uses a federal definition known as McKinney-Vento, which counts students as homeless if they live in shelters, hotels or motels, cars, RVs, or with another family member away from their primary residence. Students who are in foster care are not included in these numbers. 

Why is West Virginia seeing an increase?

Rebecca Derenge, the state official responsible for tracking homeless students, told the Charleston Gazette-Mail that the opioid epidemic and floods three years ago may have disrupted family situations for some West Virginia residents.

As it happens, this statistic had already caused some controversy in West Virginia by the time Manchin wrote his post. 

Initially, the statistic for homeless students was left unmentioned during a major battle over education legislation, and it only came to light after reporting published July 20 by Amelia Ferrell Knisely of the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

The Gazette-Mail reported that “several lawmakers admitted the thousands of homeless students weren’t mentioned in months of debate leading up to the final vote” on a major education bill. 

Republican state Sen. Patricia Rucker, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, told the newspaper that the homeless-student statistic was never mentioned by school officials or the state education department.

Then, after the statistic came to light, state schools superintendent Steven Paine told West Virginia Board of Education members that, while the number is “staggering,” its rise over the years “was not a significant increase,” the Gazette-Mail reported Aug. 16.

Paine later apologized for the comment, the Associated Press reported, issuing a statement that he “in no way intended to convey that the data was not significant.”

Our ruling

Manchin wrote that the “West Virginia Department of Education reported over 10,000 children and youth have been identified as homeless for the 2018-2019 school year.” 

The state education department reported that the number of homeless K-12 students in West Virginia for 2018-2019 was 10,522. We rate Manchin’s statement True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

Continue Reading

Fact Check

Fact-check: Did Donald Trump win West Virginia by 42 points in 2016?

Published

on

Coal miners wave signs during a 2016 rally for Donald Trump in Charleston, West Virginia. Photo: AP/Steve Helber

At a rally in neighboring southwestern Pennsylvania, President Donald Trump trumpeted his wide 2016 presidential election victory in West Virginia.

“I won that one by 42 points — 42 points — West Virginia,” Trump said during his Aug. 13 speech in Monaca, Pennsylvania. 

That would be a big win. Was his victory in the Mountaineer State that large? 

The Trump campaign pointed us to the official results on the website of the West Virginia Secretary of State, which showed that Trump won West Virginia with 68.63 percent, outpacing his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, with 26.48 percent. The difference is 42.15 percentage points — right in tune with what Trump said.

West Virginia accounted for Trump’s second-widest margin of victory of any state, following Wyoming at 46.29 percent.

The 2016 results were also the latest sign of the widening of the gap between Republicans and Democrats in West Virginia, a state where Democrats were once dominant.

The following chart shows how Democratic margins of victory in the presidential race shrank between 1992 and 1996, then produced increasingly large Republican margins of victory.

As the Pew Research Center has noted, this pattern has coincided with the increasing alignment of national partisan politics on certain demographic factors, notably race, educational attainment and population density.

Geographical areas that are less racially diverse, less college-educated and more rural have swung hard to the Republican Party in recent years, especially in federal-level elections. When Governing magazine recently analyzed all 50 states on these three demographic factors, it found that West Virginia had the strongest Republican-aligned demographics of any state.

Our ruling

Trump said that in the 2016 presidential election in West Virginia, he won by 42 points. He’s correct; in fact, it was his second-widest margin in any state, trailing only Wyoming. We rate the statement True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

Continue Reading

Trending