Legislative Update (More or less)

With the West Virginia Legislature now in session there are several bills of interest.  A monthly publication such as The Highlands Voice is not the best source for news on such things.  Things change too quickly; there are too many twists and turns.  By the time news comes out in a monthly publication things may have changed half a dozen times.

Even considering these limitations, here are some of the bills of interest:

Plugging Old Gas Wells—Right now West Virginia has thousands of old oil and gas wells that have been completely abandoned.  There are thousands more which are not producing either nothing or not much and will almost certainly be abandoned in the next few years.  Wells that have reached the end of their useful lives need to be plugged.  If they are not, they pose a continuing threat to air and water.

Right now there is no effective mechanism for addressing this problem but there are proposals to fix it.  House Bill 4090 would reduce the severance tax on low producing gas wells and dedicate the money to plugging abandoned wells.  House Bill 4091 would give drillers the option of paying an increased permit application fee.  In exchange, they would get faster permit processing.  Part of the money from the increased application fee would go to a fund to plug abandoned wells.

For more about the extent of the problem and last year’s legislative efforts to fix it, see the June, 2019, issue of The Highlands Voice.  For more about the science of abandoned wells and the problems they cause, see the August, 2019, issue.

Above Ground Storage Tanks—Right now, storage tanks that are directly upstream from public drinking water intakes or where a released contaminant will reach the intake within five hours must meet standards and oversight of the Aboveground Storage Tank Act.  Now there is a proposal (House Bill 4079) that would exempt those tanks.

All Terrain Vehicles—There is an idea floating around the Legislature that we should create trails for off road vehicles on public lands.  At press time no bill had been introduced.  The December, 2019, issue of The Highlands Voice had a story about some indications that a bill would be introduced as well as a discussion of the issue.

The Modern Jobs (MoJo) Act– It would encourage solar facilities by removing them from the control of the Public Service Commission.  Under present law, someone who wished to produce and sell electricity would be classified as a public utility, subject to the Public Service Commission.  Under the MOJO Act (House Bill 4172), someone could build a solar farm on an old strip mine and sell the electricity to a large industrial user free of the control of the Public Service Commission. 

Clean Drinking Water Act—it aims to identify and reduce exposure to class of chemical toxins known as polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. These substances are “forever chemicals” and accumulate in the environment. A main source of exposure to PFAS is through contaminated drinking water. (House Bill 4542).

Power Purchase Agreements—Right now all electricity in West Virginia is produced by and sold by large utility companies such as American Electric Power.  They are regulated by the Public Service Commission.  This bill would allow a company to install renewable energy facilities on a small scale (such as a single building) without being regulated by the Public Service Commission.  (Senate Bill 611).

Landfill Closure—Right now the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has a fund which it uses to close old landfills.  Currently there is a fee to dump in a landfill; the fee is divided between the local Solid Waste Authorities and this fund used to clean up old landfills.  House Bill 4443 would change how the money from the dumping fee is divided.  Last year the Governor vetoed a similar bill because he thought it would leave the Department of Environmental Protection with less than the money it needed to clean up old landfills.

Timbering in state parks—Two years ago there was a proposal to allowing timbering in state parks.  It was a major controversy as the people rose up and the idea was  abandoned.  Now there is a quiet proposal that may be nothing.  Or it may be a harbinger of something to watch.  House Bill 2043 creates a fund into which money from timbering in state parks is deposited and directs how it is to be spent.  

Under current law, the only timbering which is allowed in state parks is incidental to construction.  Since construction is rare, perhaps House Bill is just a way to make sure that the small amount of money generated from construction related timbering is divided fairly.  On the other hand, it may be an indication that somewhere there is lurking a proposal for timbering in state parks.

Tax breaks for gas companies—this bill would give a tax credit to any natural gas liquids producer, natural gas liquids storer, natural gas liquids user or natural gas liquids transporter. (House Bill 2412; Senate Bill 520)

Polystyrene containers—this bill would ban the use of polystyrene containers, such as those used in restaurant to go containers.  (House Bill 4565)

This is only a list of proposals that are before the Legislature.  Things change too quickly and the forces that move the Legislature are too varied to include anything helpful on present status, prospects, etc. To keep up, you can go to the Legislature’s website to track of officials and laws that interest you.  It is http://wvlegislature.gov/

In addition, you can subscribe to legislative updates through the West Virginia Environmental Council at https://wvecouncil.org/ and through the West Virginia Citizens Action Group https://wvcag.org/