The 2023 West Virginia legislative session kicked off in Charleston on Jan. 11. So far over 1,500 bills have been introduced. The WV Highlands Conservancy, in conjunction with the WV Environmental Council and other aligned groups, are focused on monitoring five key legislative areas:
- Public lands
- Community Solar
- Orphaned Oil and Gas Well Prevention
- Above Ground Storage Tanks
- PFAS Protection/Clean Drinking Water
A new development this year in the Senate is the formation of the Outdoor Recreation Committee, chaired by Senator Mark Maynard. So far, the committee has been relatively quiet, taking up only a few bills, but we are keeping a close eye on any activity that could impact public lands. A group from the Conservancy, WV Environmental Council, WV Rivers and the WV Sierra Club met with Senator Maynard to discuss his committee and to communicate our shared love of this great state. The meeting was productive and hopefully will lead to better cooperation on public lands issues.
Several bills have been progressing quite quickly through the Legislature.
SB4 (Adopt A Trail) would allow groups to “adopt” a trail in state parks or forests and perform cleanup, trail maintenance, etc., and to be recognized for their efforts. This bill was modified from last year’s SB562, as it acknowledges that there are established groups already performing these functions in many state parks and forests. This is certainly an improvement from last year and provides some guardrails on implementation. This bill is likely to pass into law.
SB143 (Adopt A Stream) and SB160 (Rail Trails Program) provide clarifications to existing programs, and both bills are expected to progress.
HB2753 (Modify WV E-Bikes Laws) would bring WV regulations into compliance with the Federal rules and allow “throttle only” bikes wherever regular bikes are allowed. This bill is progressing.
SB162 (Authorizing director of DNR to lease state-owned pore spaces in certain areas for carbon sequestration) was passed through both houses with little discussion and little public comment. It is intended to allow CO2 sequestration from the production of “blue hydrogen” from natural gas at the proposed WV Hydrogen Hub. The regulatory framework for CO2 sequestration was set by HB4491 in 2022.
There are numerous other bills being introduced impacting public lands and the environment, which may or may not advance. We will be following all of these closely in the coming weeks.
HB2159 (Establishing a Community Solar Program) was introduced by Delegate Evan Hansen. This bill would create a community solar program where subscribers could purchase an interest in a solar facility and use credits against their electric utility costs. At the Joint Standing Committee on Energy meeting on Jan. 9, a panel of potential investors and local business leaders presented a compelling picture of how community solar would benefit West Virginians through economic development, job creation and lower utility costs. The presentations were met with typical skepticism from the Senators and Delegates that cannot move forward from coal. Lobbying on this issue will continue, but progress is unlikely, given the strong pushback from the coal interests.
Orphan Oil and Gas Well Prevention
SB109 (Orphan Oil and Gas Well Prevention Act) and HB2852 (Create the Orphan Well Prevention Act of 2023)were both introduced to deal with oil and gas wells that become abandoned after they are no longer economically viable. Orphaned wells can continue to leak liquids and vapors into the environment. Both bills have been progressed to their Energy committees.
PFAS Protection Act
SB485 (PFAS Protection Act) has been introduced in the Senate by a bipartisan group of senators. We are hopeful for a quick passage.
The bill requires the WV Department of Environmental Protection to identify and address PFAS sources impacting public water systems; requires facilities that have recently used PFAS chemicals to report their use to the Department of Environmental Protection; requires permits to be updated to require monitoring of PFAS chemicals for facilities that report their use; and requires the Department of Environmental Protection to propose rules to adopt water quality criteria for certain PFAS chemicals after they are finalized by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
For more detailed information on PFAS, see the Highlands Voice December 2022 issue.
Aboveground Storage Tanks
No new legislation on this topic has been introduced. We can only hope it stays this way.