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Local and regional news briefs for Monday, September 14

Few enroll in state's children's insurance program

MORGANTOWN (AP) -- Fewer than 10 percent of the 1,700 children who are eligible have been enrolled in the first phase of the new Children's Health Insurance Program, lawmakers learned Sunday.

Only 131 children ages 5 and younger were signed up as of Sept. 9, and 10 counties failed to register a single child, said Phil Shimer, deputy commissioner of the Bureau of Medical Services in the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

Parents tried to enroll about 130 other children, but they were denied for failing to meet various eligibility requirements, Shimer told a legislative oversight committee.

The insurance program, an extension of Medicaid, was created earlier this year to fill the gap for parents who can't afford coverage for their children.

The first phase targets children between 1 and 5 whose families make up to 150 percent of the federal poverty level, or $16,452 for a family of four. Children under 1 and pregnant women already were covered under Medicaid at that income level.

In the program's second phase, children up to 18 can enroll.

Officials have said as many as 55,320 children may be eligible for the program.

So far, Kanawha, Webster, Cabell, Greenbrier, Mercer and Randolph counties have enrolled the most children. The counties with none are Grant, Hampshire, Lewis, Mineral, Pendleton, Pocahontas, Putnam, Roane, Tyler and Upshur.

Mountaintop mining report delayed

CHARLESTON (AP) -- A long-awaited federal report on the controversial strip mining practice called mountaintop removal has been delayed by at least two weeks, Office of Surface Mining officials say.

The report was expected to be released on Friday, but OSM officials said it has been held back so it can be reviewed by John Leshy, a top lawyer for the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Lawyers for the department's Office of the Solicitor are not known to have intervened on an OSM report before. Leshy became involved after Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., complained about federal officials' handling of mountaintop removal.

"I guess you could call it unusual," said Margy White, chief of staff for OSM Director Kathy Karpan.

Mountaintop removal involves bulldozing or blasting off the tops of mountains to expose coal seams. The unused earth and rock often is dumped into nearby valleys in a process called valley fill. When mining is done, once rugged terrain tends to be left flat or gently rolling.

The practice has drawn fire from environmentalists and residents who live near the massive operations. But coal operators have said mining many coal seams in any other way is no longer profitable.

Whether the practice is allowed to continue or is reined in by regulators is expected to hinge on the report.


Beckley, Bluefield set record highs

CHARLESTON (AP) -- Residents in Beckley and Bluefield are sweltering under record high temperatures as a high pressure system refuses to let summer slip away, the National Weather Service reported.

Temperatures hit 92 degrees in Bluefield and 89 degrees in Beckley on Sunday.

Bluefield's high broke the previous record of 83 set in 1978. Beckley's previous high was set in 1993 when the temperature hit 83, said Phil Zinn a meteorologist in Charleston.

Both cities also posted record highs on Saturday, Zinn said.

With the forecast calling for hot, dry conditions on Monday, Zinn said both city's could end the day with another round of record temperatures.

"It's hotter in the southern part of the state," Zinn said.

Temperatures in the rest of the state were above normal, but no records were set, he said.