By WVHC & WV E-Council legislative committees
Sort of like a high stakes poker game, the fate of environmental related bills in the West Virginia State Legislature is both chancy and sometimes unpredictable. In the just ended 2021 legislative session, WV Environmental Council (WVEC) lobbyists scored a couple wins where most odds-makers would have predicated losses.
Solar Power: Perhaps the most surprising success was passage of a bill allowing “rooftop solar” generated electricity Power Purchase Agreements between homeowners and small businesses and a developer who arranges designing, permitting, financing and installing of a solar energy system on a customer’s property. The customer buys the system’s electric output from the solar services provider for a fixed rate, while the solar services provider gains tax credits and income from electricity sales. But there are customer on-site generator limits to meet only the electrical needs of the premises of the retail electric customer and which are 25kW for residential customers, 500 kW for commercial customers, and 2,000 kW for industrial customers.
For details about why solar energy related Power Purchase Agreements are helpful to the environment, see a related article in the December, 2019 Highlands Voice on page 6 here: https://wvhighlands.org/2020/01/02/2019/
Storage Tanks: Another big win this session was helping defeat a dangerous bill that would have exempted many oil and gas tanks from regular inspection under the Aboveground Storage Tank Act. The tanks that were going to be exempted on this bill were located in Zones of Critical Concern, which is only 5 hours (water flow time) or less upstream of drinking water intakes. This is a huge win for water quality, as this would have posed a threat with tanks potentially leaking toxic pollutants directly into our water supplies. This means that more than 880 oil and gas industry storage tanks will remain under the protection of the Aboveground Storage Tank Act! Although we are happy that it is defeated this session, it could well make its way back during the next legislative session. Our lobbyists will continue to work to try to keep these tanks under strict inspection.
Oil & Gas: Unfortunately, only one of the bills we were favoring that focused on funding the DEP Office of Oil and Gas passed. SB 404 provides for an application fee of $2,500 to modify an existing well work permit issued by the DEP’s Office of Oil and Gas. This is a relatively minimal fee, as it is only a one-time fee expected to bring in $500,000 annually. We are still very concerned about the lack of funding the Oil & Gas office is facing, as they only have 11-12 inspectors, with around 75,000 active and abandoned wells to inspect, and a $1.3 million budget shortfall.
Energy Efficient Government Buildings: HB 2667, the bill that creates a program for state buildings regarding energy efficiency, passed out of both chambers and is also on the governor’s desk to sign. This will allow for cost savings to taxpayers and will establish a program to reduce overall energy usage by 25% in state buildings – a win for taxpayers and a win for the environment!
Public Lands & ATV Trails: Our public lands were under attack this session, as many resolutions introduced sought to allow off-highway vehicles to traverse on public lands and trails. SCR 3, urging the U.S. Congress to reopen West Virginia public lands to off-highway vehicles, was adopted in both legislative chambers. This resolution will be sent to West Virginia’s congressional delegation. And SR 43, which was also adopted by both chambers, requests the construction of a licensed off-highway vehicle, semi-contiguous trail parallel to the Appalachian Hiking Trail on the western side. Although these are just resolutions, they are concerning as they are attempts to gather support for our public lands and ecosystems to be destroyed and damaged by off-highway vehicles. A lead sponsor of these off-road vehicle on public lands bills and resolutions- repeatedly introduced year after year- continues to be Senator Mark Maynard of Wayne County.
Regulatory Agency Funding: Going into this year’s session there were a lot of concerns regarding budget cuts to various agencies and programs for Fiscal Year 2022. While we usually seem to focus our attention on legislative issues, the budget process plays a significant role in our ability to achieve our priorities. But after reviewing Enrolled Committee Substitute for HB2022 we found that most agencies funds, and boards important to our members were funded from Fiscal Year 2021 levels. Working with our representatives we were able to keep these programs from sustaining cuts and kept at prior-year funding levels. Continued agency funding included: Mountaintop Removal Fund $1,959,808; Air Pollution Control Fund- $7,715,495; Solid Waste Reclamation Fund- $4,511,448; Oil and Gas Reclamation Fund- $2,500,000; Mining and Reclamation Operation Fund- $5,970,191; Environmental Quality Board- $133,483; West Virginia Drinking Water Program- $647,500; West Virginia Conservation Agency- $1,023,235; West Virginia Air Quality Board- $76,053; Underground Storage Tank Admin. Fund- $814,817; Division of Forestry- *$5,449,688.