Education, Energy, Environment, Government, State Government, West Virginia Legislature

Cyber safety, highway safety, carbon sequestration bills clear Senate and House

MORGANTOWN — The Senate and House passed a couple handfuls of bills on Monday, among them one for child cyber safety, one for highway safety and one concerning carbon sequestration to pave the way for economic development projects.

SB 466 creates the Safety While Accessing Technology (SWAT) Education program, to be offered at least once per year for grades 3-12 starting in the 2025-26 school year.

It calls for education on safe and responsible use of social media; the risks of transmitting personal information on the internet and the importance of privacy protection; copyright laws; the importance of establishing open communication with responsible adults about any online communications or activities; how to recognize, avoid and report suspicious, potentially dangerous, or illegal online communications or activities; resources and assistance programs available for any child or parent; and the risks associated with sharing sexually suggestive or explicit materials.

The course offerings would employ peer-to-peer observational learning and modeling concepts prescribed in the book “Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory.”

It contains an opt-out provision.

In committee, lead sponsor Sen. Charles Clements, R-Wetzel, said the bill is modeled on a Virginia bill and is part of a national effort by the Loyal Order of Moose to get states to adopt SWAT programs.

The Education Committee took it up once and liked it, but learned that other members had similar bills, so it was tweaked to incorporate those provisions and brought back for approval.

On the Senate floor, Sen. Laura Chapman, R-Ohio, whose similar bill was incorporated into this one, said it’s a good start for protecting students. She mentioned in particular young people who send explicit photos to a believed love interest, only to learn it was an extortionist. These kids sometimes end up committing suicide, she said.

The bill passed 34-0 and goes to the House.

SB 436 makes it illegal for any driver on a highway to operate a motor vehicle that has been intentionally modified to cause smoke or other visible emissions if those emissions create a hazard.

Sen. Mark Maynard, R-Wayne, said he had mixed thoughts on the bill. Diesel engines under a load, for instance, can emit black smoke; and code already covers excessive smoke.

“I think it just puts us on the track to further becoming a nanny state,” he said, and could lead to micromanaging truckers and law enforcement officers.

It passed 24-10 and goes to the House. All 10 votes against were from Republicans. Locally, Democrat Mike Caputo and Republicans Charles Clements, Mike Maroney and Mike Oliverio voted yes; Randy Smith and Jay Taylor voted no.

HB 5045 makes code changes needed for the U.S. EPA to grant the state primacy over the EPA for permitting Class VI underground injection (UIC) wells used for carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).

That permitting authority currently belongs to the EPA, which is notorious for dragging its feet and taking years to approve permits.

The Senate has a sister bill, SB 596, on first reading on Tuesday, Feb. 6. In the Senate Energy Committee, Deputy Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Scott Mandirola told the senators the details of the bill were crafted in consultation with the EPA and will consummate the application process to enable the EPA to grant primacy that began in 2021.

The bill affects two sections of state environmental code: the Water Pollution Control Act and the 2021 Underground Carbon Dioxide Sequestration and Storage Act.

Among the most-important parts of the bill, Mandirola said, it codifies that the state has appropriate enforcement authority for violations regarding carbon sequestration wells and the Water Pollution Control Act.

The EPA has reviewed all draft documentation, he said, and is requiring these code changes as the last step for submission of the final application package.

Another important element of the bill, he said, is extending the wait time for release of liability for a Class VI UIC well. It’s currently 10 years and the bill extends it to either 50 years or the discretion of the DEP secretary, based on a site-specific determination.

The wait time exists to ensure the well formation’s integrity and that no CO2 is migrating or threatening water supplies.

Mandirola said North Dakota, Wyoming and Louisiana are the only three states with Class VI UIC permitting primacy. “We are next in line. … We would like as a state to be the ones to permit that, and not the EPA.”

The House passed HB 5045 94-3 without debate and it goes to the Senate. Three Republicans voted against it.


TWEET @DominionPostWV