Business, Cops and Courts, Energy, Environment, West Virginia Legislature

House holds long debate on adding coal to Senate bill promoting gas-fired power projects

MORGANTOWN – The House of Delegates on Thursday took up a Senate bill aimed at promoting the state’s natural gas industry and spent about 45 minutes debating an amendment to also promote coal – reflecting the not always friendly tension of the sometimes rival industries.

In other House action, a Senate bill requiring law enforcement officers to take training on dealing with people with autism generated some passion but far less debate.

SB 188 is the Grid Stabilization and Security Act. The bill says the Department of Economic Development will identify economically viable sites for gas-fired power projects. The bill requires expedited permitting to get the projects rolling.

It was on second reading in the House on Thursday and Delegate Geoff Foster, R-Putnam, proposed an amendment to add into it HB 3482, the Coal Fired Grid Stabilization and Security Act, which does the same thing for coal. It also removed the pro-gas findings the coal industry objected to.

HB 3042 passed the House 93-3 on Wednesday and is in Senate Energy. Foster said with the general agreement coal should also be supported, it’s a good idea to wrap the coal bill into the gas bill in case the coal bill doesn’t advance in the Senate.

He said he spoke to SB 188’s lead sponsor, who supported the amendment, and to the three pro-coal senators who voted against SB 188 and said they’d switch their vote on it if it came back with the coal bill in it.

Delegate Wayne Clark, R-Jefferson, led off the opposition, saying there’s a reason the two should be kept separate: Ohio has 26 gas-fired power plants, Pennsylvania has 13, West Virginia has none. The bill is not meant to displace coal-fired power.

Delegate Mark Zatezalo, R-Hancock, agreed. “This bill is to take care of an interesting and special problem.” West Virginia uses only a fraction of natural gas produced here and it’s important to increase natural gas usage through eclectic generation and manufacturing.

Delegate Riley Keaton, R-Roane, piled on, saying there is no current demand for new coal-fired generation. The amendment would accomplish nothing, it’s purely symbolic. In fact, the coal industry teamed with environmental advocates to help kill three recent efforts to build gas-fired plants by making sure the permitting process got bogged down.

And Delegate Clay Riley, R-Harrison, said some developers are looking at an $800 million natural gas project in his district. “And they’re wondering why we can’t get something done to support the natural industry just the same as we have done to support the coal industry.”

Delegate Buck Jennings, R-Preston, was one of the few to speak up for the amendment, saying coal is what stabilizes the grid. The failure of the natural gas supply played the major role in PJM grid outages during the December Winter Storm Elliott.

Foster’s amendment failed in a close vote, 41-53. Delegates did approve a lesser amendment that includes coal in the expedited permitting process. SB 188 is on third reading for passage on Friday, and it will then return to the Senate.

Police bill

SB 208 requires all law enforcement officers receive as part of their training instruction on how to handle contacts with people with autism, Alzheimer’s and related dementias.

Delegate Dave Foggin, R-Wood, spoke against it, saying officers find enough difficulty in dealing with emergencies and may not be able, under the pressure, to recognize someone with autism. A mistake cold subject them to needless criticism or punishment.

But Delegate Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia, said she is the mother of a child with an autism diagnosis. This bill is a life-saving bill that says, “We support and we protect people with different abilities.”

Her son was nonverbal until he was 4 ½, she said, but now drives and is a peer recovery coach. But when he sees flashing lights and hears the sirens, “it sets him over.”

Her son could be in full shock, she said, curled in the fetal position, and this training could benefit the officer and the person with autism they’re encountering. “I don’t see this as a disrespect to our first responders, I think it adds another layer of trust.”

The vote was 95-1, with Foggin the only vote against, and it heads to the governor.

The full House also agreed to adopt the Health Committee amendment to SB 577, the insulin copay cap bill. The amendment also imposes the various caps on PEIA. It is on third reading for passage on Friday and then will return to the Senate.

Tweet David Beard @dbeardtdp Email