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Senate passes fossil fuel boycott bill; House panel OKs two bills to promote rare earth element extraction from mine water

MORGANTOWN – Legislators moved several energy-related bills on Thursday, dealing with fossil fuels and rare earth elements.

The Senate approved SB 262. It allows the state treasurer to put financial institutions that openly boycott fossil energy companies on a publicly available Restricted Financial Institution List and to refuse to enter into a banking contract with those institutions.

It requires the treasurer to notify the company of the restricted status and allow the company to appeal and demonstrate it is not engaged in a boycott. The list would be updated annually. Deposits made by the Investment Management Board are excluded, as are decisions by lenders made in the course of ordinary banking business.

Sen. Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, praised the bill as a “sincere effort to show our strength and what we care about in our energy sector” but opposed it for financial reasons.

“What kind of message does this potentially send out,” he asked. “How can we improve capital needs in this state, not only for our energy sector but all sectors?”

The treasurer will decide what firms go on the list, and no one knows who future treasurers will be, he said. New York and other firms may talk green energy but their portfolios have a lot energy in them. So his “no” vote reflected a cautionary standpoint.

Sen. Owens Brown, D-Ohio, also voted no. He said the bill is bad law and hypocritical, infringing on free speech and the right to boycott. “What happened to the belief in the free market?”

Sen. Mark Maynard, R-Wayne, aired the view that drove the bill. “If we continue to allow these investment firms to dictate what industries are OK and not OK, then we’ll be answering to them. West Virginia will not allow corporatism to be in our state and tell us what we can get behind or what we can’t.”

Sen. Randy Smith, R-Tucker, agreed. “All this is is a statement to a bully. … If you do this, we can make a statement and not do business with you.”

Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, supported the bill from a different perspective. BlackRock, the investment management company, has 13% ownership of Warrior Met Coal in Alabama, where 1,100 miners have been on strike for a year and BlackRock hasn’t budged on terms.

Meanwhile, he said, BlackRock is divesting in coal. “Not only are they divesting in coal, they’re divesting in hard-working American coal miners.”

The vote was 31-2 and it goes to the House of Delegates.

House Energy moved two bills dealing with rare earth elements and critical minerals.

Rare earth elements, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, as 17 metallic elements “necessary components of more than 200 products across a wide range of applications, especially high-tech consumer products, such as cellular telephones, computer hard drives, electric and hybrid vehicles, and flat-screen monitors and televisions. Significant defense applications include electronic displays, guidance systems, lasers, and radar and sonar systems.”

About 97% of the world REE production is from China, USGS says.

But, as previously reported, they can be extracted from mine drainage, as an ongoing WVU project is demonstrating.

HB 4003 is aimed to clarify ownership of the elements and critical minerals. The committee passed a substantially rewritten version that, committee counsel said, preserves the intent of the introduced version – which is to allow whoever is treating the mine drainage to commercially benefit from any extracted byproducts.

Counsel said that the new version of the bill separates how the Department of Environmental Protection may benefit from how other entities, including nonprofits such as Friends of Deckers Creek or Friends of the Cheat might benefit. DEP may only use proceeds from the sales for governmental purposes.

Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, talked about the efforts Friends of Deckers Creek and Friends of the Cheat are making to clean those waterways. “Any time we can do something to transform a waste product into an asset is a good thing,” he said.

The bill passed unanimously and goes next to Judiciary.

HB 4025 provides for a five-year severance tax exemption for extracting and producing for commercial benefit rare earth elements and critical minerals.

It also passed unanimously and goes next to Finance.

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