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West Virginia Legislative Wrap-Up 2006
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by Jim Kotcon | 2006

The 2006 state legislative season was....well quite interesting!

The West Virginia Chapter of Sierra Club continued to work with the West

Virginia Environmental Council lobby team during the 2006 legislative session,

and scored a few victories, and just as importantly, staved off some really bad

ideas. Here are a few highlights.

Bottle Bill Passes Subcommittee Vote

A bill to require a 10-cent deposit on beverage containers was approved by a

legislative subcommittee, before running out of time this session. The Bottle Bill

would encourage recycling and reduce litter by allowing consumers to reclaim

deposits on their purchases at bottle recycling centers. A few powerful lobbyists

convinced some Senators that border counties might lose customers who would

shop elsewhere, rather than return to collect their deposit. Although this has never

been reported as a problem in the other states with a Bottle Bill, legislators worried

that this might be unpopular during an election year. Legislators should be more

worried about delaying such a bill, as surveys consistently show high approval

ratings among voters for the Bottle Bill.Contact your State Senators and Delegates,

and ask them to quit stalling and Pass the Bottle Bill.

Mercury Rules Strengthened

In March, 2005, the Bush Administration pushed through EPA rules that relax

hazardous air emission rules for mercury and other toxic metals from power

plants. WV-DEP pushed to get these weakened rules adopted in WV during the

2006 session, but even the WV Legislature knew that mercury is bad for our

health. So they added an amendment to the rule that requires DEP and the

Bureau of Public Health to conduct a study of the potential human health risk from

mercury; DEP is also required to examine the availability and cost of technologies

to limit mercury emissions. This is one of the first times that the Legislature has

required DEP to consider the health impacts of regulations. Admittedly, this is still

far weaker than the rules adopted by surrounding states which mandate much

more significant reductions in mercury emissions than would be required under

the federal rollbacks. So the mercury rules will almost certainly be back for review

next year.Stay tuned.

Ban on Coal Sludge Impoundment Introduced

Throughout WV coalfields, large impoundments of coal slurry or sludge from

preparation plants can be found associated with many surface or deep mines. A

massive spill in Marin County Kentucky blackened streams for miles when an

impoundment burst through an underground mine and spilled millions of gallons

of goo into peoples’ yards. While we cannot simply wish existing sludge impoundments

away, we can prevent the problems from getting worse. A sludge safety bill

(H.B. 4583) that, if passed, would have stopped the DEP from issuing permits to

construct sludge ponds, banned coal mine waste injection, and called for a study

of existing sludge ponds. Also, we assisted in getting a study resolution introduced

in the House of Delegates (H.C.R. 89) that would have explored alternatives to

coal impoundments. Moreover, we also assisted in getting a similar resolution

introduced in the Senate (S.C.R. 49) to study the coal impoundments.

The introduction of the legislation and the resolutions, along with the

repeated and poignant testimony of those directly affected by sludge, did help

bring awareness to the issue of sludge safety. While mine safety issues dominated

the headlines for much of the session, our goal was to assure that mine

safety means safety for nearby residents, not just the miners.

Important Energy Legislation Dies (Again)

A bill to develop a comprehensive state energy policy, including renewable

energy incentives passed the Senate, but died in the House. Another bill to

develop a VOLUNTARY reporting and trading program for greenhouse gas

emissions had the support of DEP, but died when the coal lobbyists claimed it

would decimate the coal industry. No one on the legislative committee bothered to

ask how a voluntary program would hurt coal, but the bill dies anyway.

A Renewable Energy Campaign has emerged as a top priority for the WV

Environmental Council. This will include efforts at building a statewide campaign

over several years to support renewable energy sources, promote energy efficiency,

and push for limits on emissions of greenhouse gases while preparing for

a post-coal economy for West Virginia.

Successful Campaigns to block Bad Bills:

Anti-Wilderness Resolution defeated

SCR 13 would urge the US Forest Service not to propose any new Wilderness

Areas in the Monongahela National Forest. The Resolution, pushed by

timber interests, would be a slap to all the WV citizens who want to preserve more

wilderness for future generations. Thanks to the many calls and letters, neither

chamber of the Legislature even took up the proposal.

Tax Breaks for Coal Defeated

Because of the disasters at the Sago and Aracoma mines, One might

think the coal industry would try to avoid more adverse publicity. But never

underestimate the sheer gall of the WV Coal Association. They wanted a huge tax

break for safety equipment, but their timing could not have been worse. Given the

current high prices for coal and the near record profits for energy companies, plus

the media attention to mine safety problems, this proposal went nowhere.

Two Hunting Issues to Watch

The Legislature passed a bill to allow deer hunting in State parks. While

excessive deer populations have created havoc in state parks, the long-range

mission of parks is to preserve wildlife, scenic resources,and provide recreation.

We will need to be sure that hunting does not overwhelm these existing priorities.

A second bill is particularly troubling, as it gives hunting priority over all other uses

in State Wildlife Management Areas. While some justified this because many of

these lands were purchased with hunting license dollars, other Wildlife Management

Areas were purchased with other public funds, and other resources such as

recreation or endangered species habitat should be given higher priority. We will

need to be sure that this priority is not transferred from Wildlife Management Areas to State Parks.

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