CHARLESTON – Just days into the session, legislative leaders of their respective parties already are trading jabs over an attempt to repeal a 2010 law.
In the House of Delegates, House Minority Leader Tim Miley (D-Harrison) delivered a letter to new House Speaker Tim Armstead (R-Kanawha) on Jan. 16 requesting an Economic Impact Statement on House Bill 2001, which is the Repeal the Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Act.
“This legislation has been touted by many members of the Legislature and coal industry representatives as a vital jobs-saving bill for the coal industry,” Miley, the former speaker, said. “It has also been asserted that repealing this legislation would result in reduced electricity rates for residents and businesses around our state.”
Miley suggested to Armstead that the new Republican leadership take advantage of newly passed House Rule 95 and create an Economic Impact Statement for HB2001 that would repeal the 2009 law that actually was passed in 2010.
The 2010 legislation tells West Virginia utilities what percentage of alternative fuels they must use to generate electricity. It is 10 percent this year, 15 percent by 2020 and 25 percent by 2025.
Republicans call that law – championed by former Gov. Joe Manchin – as “Cap and Trade.” The law does not cap carbon emissions, but it does cap the percentage of coal generated energy and allow for the trading of credits.
Miley said lawmakers should know whether this legislation would “crush the hopes and dreams” of out-of-work miners and their families.
“It’s important to know whether the repeal of the Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Act accomplishes meaningful results, or whether the repeal of this legislation is mere campaign fluff,” Miley wrote.
In his Jan. 20 response, Armstead said he doesn’t believe an Economic Impact Statement is necessary for this bill.
“The adverse consequences of the Cap and Trade legislation passed five years ago are now obvious, and I do not believe that an ES is needed in order to effectively evaluate the repeal of this Act,” he wrote to Miley.
Armstead goes on to say coal industry officials have expressed the desire to have the act repealed.
“I find it difficult to understand why now, when the coal industry representatives and various business groups are calling for the reversal of this legislation due to their own personal experiences with the Act over the past five and one half years, some now desire to delay efforts to aid our ailing energy industry and the men and women who work in this industry each day,” the speaker writes.
A similar fight is taking place in the state Senate.
Former Senate President Jeff Kessler (D-Marshall) and current President Bill Cole (R-Mercer) butted heads Monday.
Kessler, now the Senate Minority Leader, called for an Economic Impact Statement of Senate Bill 1, the mirror legislation to HB2001.
“Mr. President, I would suggest to you as the leader of the body that that may be a bill that is a prime opportunity for us to look at a job impact statement of that bill,” Kessler said, adding that he supports SB1. “I think its important and I’m concerned Mr. President if we pass this bill that we look at the total job impact it may create.
“And, I know the objective is to create more coal jobs. I’m all for that.”
Like Armstead at the other end of the state Capitol, Cole doesn’t think the bill needs the study.
“I think that we have a study-it-to-death mentality in West Virginia and I want to get away from that,” Cole said.
Leaders say the measure could end up on Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s desk as early as this week.
“Gov. Tomblin voted for the original bill, which outlined steps to increase the use of alternative fuels without being a cap-and-trade bill,” Tomblin spokesman Chris Stadelman said. “At the time, the bill was supported by a large number of people and groups, including the West Virginia Coal Association.
“Gov. Tomblin understands that due to new developments at the federal level, many people are now expressing concerns about the law. He has yet to see a final version but will look at any proposed changes and continue to support our state’s coal miners and do whatever we can to ensure West Virginia remains an energy leader for years to come.”
Manchin, now a United States Senator, isn’t happy with the Republican efforts in Charleston.
“I am deeply disappointed that the Republicans in (the) West Virginia Legislature have decided to play partisan politics with our state’s energy and utility rates by attempting to repeal the bipartisan Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio law,” he said.