Legislature Adjourns After Most Dismal Session in Years
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by Jim Kotcon, WV Chapter Conservation Chair |
Guess we should NOT have been surprised!
In spite of citizen demands for action on Marcellus, energy efficiency, and a host of other issues, the 2013 session of the WV Legislature can only be described as one of the most anti-environmental in years.
A Few Low-Lights:
HB 2579weakens water quality standards for selenium, delaying efforts to clean up selenium pollution in coal mining. The bill passed the WV House of Delegates 99-0 and passed the Senate 34-0. Selenium is an essential nutrient in low amounts, but too much means deformed fish and threats to aquatic life.
SB 185proposed by Governor Tomblin eliminates the vehicle tax credit for cars powered by biofuels, electricity, and even for “coal-derived” fuels. The only cars eligible will be those powered by natural gas or liquefied petroleum gas. In a time when we need to reduce our carbon footprint, Tomblin asks that we subsidize fossil fuels.
SB 245 became SB 243, the Horizontal Well Control Act rule. This became one of the hottest issues in the session, as Halliburton (Yes, That Halliburton) convinced WV-DEP to agree to a rule change that allows the contents of well fracking ingredients to be kept secret, directly contradicting one of the requirements of the original Act. This “Dirty Secrets” amendment requires medical personnel to get permission from the driller before learning about the hazardous chemicals to which patients may have been exposed. Adopted by the Senate, this amendment was slightly modified in Committee, but eventually passed largely intact through the House. Thus, a weak rule implementing an already weak statute was allowed to become even weaker, threatening the basic health and rights of our citizens.
Good Bills That Died:
SB 621 would have required a “Health Impact Statement” of new air and water quality rules.
SB 551 would have continued tax credits for residential solar energy.
SB 167 would have dedicated a portion of severance taxes to a “WV Future Fund” so that the depletion of nonrenewable resources could be used to support long-term economic development. But it seems that protecting future generations was not something that the current Legislature would support.
would have transferred management of portions of Coopers Rock State Forest from WV Division of Forestry to the WV Department of Natural Resources. Intro duced as a result of timber mismanagement by WV-DOF, the bill died in committee.
HB 2802 and HB 2210 would have mandated energy efficiency programs similar to what are already in effect in Ohio and Maryland. Neither bill got a hearing because the WV Coal Association said energy efficiency is “anti-coal.” Our Legislature has reached the point where the poor are now, in effect, giving welfare to the coal industry, instead of the other way around.
A Few Bright Spots:
HB2626 updates building energy efficiency codes, one of the meager victories of the session.
HB2805 makes the Supreme Court Public Campaign Financing Act permanent, it had been scheduled to sunset.
A Few Bad Bills Died:
SB 187 would have mandated a “Jobs Impact Statement” for any legislation, which was seen as an effort to gut pro-environment legislation. The bill became loaded down with amendments trying to soften the anti-environment, anti-health, and regulation aspects, ultimately leading many supporters to vote against it.
HB3072would have provided substantial cuts in coal severance taxes. While the WV Coal Association claimed the bill was “revenue neutral” a careful analysis shows that it would have significant impacts to the WV budget.
HB3148 would have allowed ATV use on public lands, but fortunately died in committee.
Overall, this was a session in which the fossil fuel industry got almost everything they wanted. While most of America is moving toward a clean energy future, West Virginia is desperately clinging to the dirty fuels of the past.