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George Hohmann: Sandy's unfinished business

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As New York City joins New Jersey in rationing gasoline in the wake of superstorm Sandy and the nor'easter, here's hoping that West Virginia's gasoline station owners figure out how to make sure at least some stations can pump gas when there is a power outage.

On a related note: It is estimated that 25 percent of U.S. households have no landline telephone. Given this trend and following reports that some cellular and cable systems in the northeast failed after Sandy, here's hoping that service reliability standards are voluntarily adopted. If that doesn't happen, regulators need to step up and impose standards.

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After superstorm Sandy brought much of West Virginia to a standstill, I asked state Division of Energy Director Jeff Herholdt if he thought the state's media missed any storm-related energy story angles.

"The domestic energy argument is there," Herholdt said. "Hurricanes traditionally impact our liquid fuels markets. These markets are supported by imported oil that is shipped by tanker to the Gulf Coast or East Coast refineries. Oil tanker movements and offloading are impacted by weather.

"A focus on domestic North American energy production would reduce our dependence on Middle Eastern oil, create economic opportunities here, and help avoid price swings associated with market reactions to Middle East events," he said.

"Admittedly, without electricity, gasoline stations cannot sell product, regardless of where the oil originated."

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American International Group Inc., the giant insurance company, announced last month that it agreed to an $11 million settlement with a group of states over the way it settles claims for life insurance policies.

According to Reuters, state regulators have alleged that insurers used the Social Security Administration's "death master file" -- a list of recently deceased people  -- to stop making annuity payments to dead customers but, at the same time, did not use the list to check whether any life insurance policyholders had died.

The AIG settlement is with Pennsylvania, Florida, North Dakota, California, Illinois, New Hampshire and Texas, Reuters said.

Pennsylvania regulators said AIG agreed to use the death master file "on a uniform basis" to find dead policyholders and pay beneficiaries, Reuters reported. AIG is the latest insurer to settle state probes, the news service said.

West Virginia Insurance Commission spokesman Jason Butcher was asked why the Mountain State wasn't part of the settlement.

"We have been in on these, but we were not one of the 'lead states' on the suit so we won't get any press over it," Butcher said. "Usually the lead states are the ones where the company is domiciled and the states with the most premium dollar. We do not have any life companies domiciled in West Virginia and we are not in the top premium dollar."

West Virginia is expected to receive $72,370 from the AIG settlement, according to an email from Butcher. That figure is based on AIG's life insurance premium volume and annuity contracts in West Virginia.

Reach George Hohmann at business@dailymail.com or 304-348-4836.

 


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