Congress, Energy, Environment, West Virginia Legislature

Senate adopts resolution urging Congress to reform energy project-permitting process

MORGANTOWN — Senate President Craig Blair stepped down from the president’s dais Monday morning to promote a resolution urging the federal government to reform its energy permitting process.

SJR 16 was before the members: “Urging the United States Congress to enact much-needed reforms to federal permitting policies to accelerate deployment of new energy infrastructure.”

Blair told his colleagues that he is the new chair of the Council of State Governments Southern Office and they are following his idea of passing a resolution in each state focused on a certain issue, such as this one.

In West Virginia, he said, the Legislature reviews and approves agency rules created to carry out state code. This provides checks and balances. It’s not that way at the federal level, where Congress has abdicated its authority to the agencies. “It has gummed up to works to the point where nothing gets done.”

SCR is an all-of-the above energy resolution, he said, aimed at the federal permitting delays that discourage investment in energy projects, to the detriment of national security.

The heart of the resolution, he said, is, “We’re attempting to send a clear message to the federal government that the federal government exists for the purposes of the states, the states do not exist for the purposes of the federal government.”

SJR will reflect the thinking of West Virginia and the 14 other states in CSG South, he said, and he predicts another 15-20 states will join in.

“It may not work, but I can tell you what’s not working, and that’s the current environment we’ve got right now.

Blair noted in his summary of the resolution that it recognizes that West Virginia is an all-of-the-above energy state and appreciates the need for regulations. But the federal process is needlessly complex, redundant and uncertain. It raises costs and discourages investment and job creation in the energy sector.

The resolution says, among other things, that an environmental impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act for major infrastructure projects can take 4½ years; we are highly reliant on China and other countries that do not share our interests to mine and process critical minerals; and countries such as Canada and Australia can permit new mines within two to three years instead of nearly 10 years here.

It calls on Congress “to work in good faith to enact legislation that reforms federal permitting and environmental review processes to promote economic and environmental stewardship by expediting the deployment of modern energy infrastructure.”

These measures should “limit excessive use of judicial processes to slow projects inappropriately; prevent inappropriate usage of the Clean Water Act and other laws to hamstring the lawful building of linear energy infrastructure … (and) strive to ensure accountability for federal agencies conducting permitting and environmental review processes.”

The Senate adopted the resolution unanimously in a voice vote; it now goes to the House for concurrence there.

Trespassing bill

The Senate also had one bill up for passage: SB 164.

Lead sponsor Sen. Mark Hunt, R-Kanawha, explained that it adds a restitution penalty to existing trespassing code.

It calls for restitution equal to twice the value of any damage or waste caused by the trespassing, and provides for a diversion plan and expungement of the offense if the restitution is paid within six months.

Hunt said current code makes no provision for covering the cost of loss or damages in this type of offense, and gives prosecutors an additional tool where the offense doesn’t rise to breaking and entering.

It passed 33-0 and goes to the House.