By John McFerrin
As this issue of The Highlands Voice goes to print the West Virginia Legislature is entering its last, frenetic days. Pending bills compete for attention, a spot on the agenda, the support of the big dogs, etc. while everybody watches the clock in hopes of some bill passing or failing to pass before the time runs out. Things change by the hour, giving no monthly publication a chance of providing current information. With that understanding, here is some of what is going on at the West Virginia Legislature:
Water Quality Standards
The weakening of water quality standards has already passed. There is a whole story about it on page 4 of this issue.
Angie Rosser of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition had this take on it:
Speaking at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Angie Rosser, WV Rivers Coalition Executive Director, stressed that the state is already meeting the water quality standards for the toxins that would see their pollution limits weakened if the rule was adopted. She explained that it is a matter of good policy to prioritize the health and safety of West Virginians to reject any changes to water quality standards that exposes us to more toxins.
The bill to exempt the oil and gas waste storage tanks located closest to public drinking water intakes from the Aboveground Storage Tank Act has passed the House and is pending in the Senate. Approximately 1,016 oil and gas waste tanks across 27 counties would become unregulated.
Power Purchase Agreements
This bill would allow companies to install solar power on homes, schools, factories, etc. and sell the power to the homeowner, etc. without having to be regulated as a public utility under the direction of the Public Service Commission. There was a big story about it in the February issue of The Highlands Voice. https://www.wvhighlands.org/highlands-voice-mag/.
This idea has moved from being totally ignored last year to being taken seriously and passing in the House. Although the original idea has had some restrictions and modifications placed upon it, it has a chance of making it to the finish line.
Off Road Vehicles
2021 saw a raft of bills aimed at promoting all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and similar vehicles. They include from one supporting allowing ATVs in West Virginia’s state parks, one providing for an ATV trail running parallel to the Appalachian Trail, and one supporting ATV access on federal land in West Virginia.
It is quite possible that none of these will become law, at least not right away. Federal lands in West Virginia are managed by the National Park Service and the National Forest Service, not the West Virginia Legislature. Because of some intense advocacy by, among others, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy members, the proposal for ATVs in State Parks has been diverted from a bill to a study resolution. The Legislature will study the matter over the summer and possibly come back with a bill next year. A study resolution is generally a sign that an idea has some support but not enough to become law.
All we can say for sure is that ATVs, including ATVs on public land, now occupy a prominent place in the Legislative mind. It is something to pay attention to in the future. For a discussion of why ATVs on public lands would be a bad idea, see Beth Little’s article in the December, 2019, issue of The Highlands Voice. https://www.wvhighlands.org/2020/01/02/2019/.