By Luanne McGovern
The sixty day session of the West Virginia Legislature was completed at the stroke of midnight on March 12, 2022. In total, there were 2216 bills introduced, of which only 293 were finally passed (13.2%). Here is a roundup of various bills that were of particular interest to the WV Highlands Conservancy.
The Good News
The good news is that a whole slate of bills that would aid in the introduction of Off Road Vehicles (ORVs) into state parks and forests did not pass. These bills were primarily introduced by Senator Mark Maynard (R-Wayne, District 6). When looking at these bills individually, none of them appear to be particularly bad, but taken in totality, there is a clear plan for motorization of our state lands. Only SB 560 allowing motorized e-bikes on state lands was passed by the Senate, but was not taken up by the House. The bills were:
- SB 560 (Defining Class 2 e-bikes);
- SB 562 (Creating Adopt-A-Trail volunteer programs for public land under DNR jurisdiction);
- SB 563 (Authorizing dispersed camping on state properties under DNR jurisdiction);
- SB 564 (Mapping of public roads);
- SB 565 (Establishing resident and nonresident wildlife viewing stamps);
- SB 566 (Requiring Department of Commerce to develop plan for adventure travel recreation promotion in WV).
Be assured that these and similar bills will be reintroduced in 2023 by Senator Maynard and friends.
HB 2598 (Modifying the inspection requirements and the definition of an above ground storage tank) passed the House, but was not taken up by the Senate. This bill would have lessened the inspection requirements for aboveground tanks in “areas of critical concern”, i.e. upstream of drinking water intakes. This was a big win for the future of safe drinking water in West Virginia.
The Not Totally Bad / Not Great News
HB 4408, also widely known as the Park System Privatization bill, passed but with important amendments. The concerted voices from across the state were heard in Charleston, and the final bill has somewhat reduced concerns that our state parks and forests will be subject to inappropriate new private developments. The amendments were:
- The length of term for contracts to operate existing facilities remains untouched – 10 year term/10 year renewal.
- The possible maximum private development contract term was reduced from 50 to 40 years.
- Language was added to require that any new private development must be in keeping with the purpose of the park system to “Promote conservation by preserving and protecting natural areas of unique, exceptional, scenic, scientific, cultural, archaeological, or historic significance and to promote outdoor recreational opportunities.”
- Prior to any private development contract being signed, a public notice will be issued and a public hearing held in the county in which the subject park or forest is located.
- Watoga was granted an exemption from being the site of any new private projects due to its international “Dark Sky” status.
- Any contracts for new private development being considered by DNR Director must also be approved by Commerce and Tourism Secretary and the Economic Development Secretary.
- If a DNR Director signs a private development contract and then leaves office, he or she cannot be employed by the private company until a year has passed.
The battle against privatization of our state parks and forests will now be on a case-by-case basis, and we all must be advocates, ready to speak up at public hearings, for or against future projects. The new DNR Director appointed by Governor Justice (Brett McMillian) was a vocal advocate of this bill, so we can envision that there will be plenty of fights in the future.
The Bad News
SB 279 (Authorizing DEP to promulgate legislative rules) was signed into law on February 11, 2022. The law strengthens some water quality standards, but weakens criteria for several suspected carcinogens and toxic chemicals. Legislative oversight of site-specific human health criteria changes will be ceded to the Governor.
SB 480 (Relating to DEP Office of Oil and Gas) would have increased funding for oil and gas inspectors. The bill was passed by the Senate but not taken up by the House. Currently, the Department of Environmental Protection Office of Oil and Gas (OOG) only has nine inspectors overseeing approximately 75,000 wells and 28,000 tanks across the state. That’s one inspector for every 8,000 wells. SB 480 would have imposed an annual fee of one hundred dollars per well. Low producing wells would be exempt. This fee would produce enough revenue that we could have had one inspector for approximately every 4,000 wells.
The Hard to Say News
Depending on the details and where you stand on these issues, these bills could have either positive or negative impact.
SB 4 (Repealing ban on construction of nuclear power plants) was signed into law on February 1, 2022. It repeals the previous law that outlawed nuclear power plants to be built in WV.
HB 4003 (Relating generally to commercial benefit of substances removed from waters of the state by the treatment of mine drainage) was passed by both houses. It details how Rare Earth and Critical Minerals from Acid Mine Drainage would be owned. To learn more about these rare earth elements, see the stories in the January, 2022, and March, 2022, issues of The Highlands Voice.
HB 4084 (Relating to advanced recycling) was passed and would establish facilities separate from solid waste authorities.
HB 4098 (Relating to geothermal energy development) was passed to provide regulation of geothermal energy facilities.
HB 4491 (To establish requirements for carbon dioxide sequestration) was passed to provide regulation of carbon capture facilities.
For more details on the 2022 Legislature, check out the updates from our partners at the WV Environmental Council. www.wvecouncil.org