Curtis Tate Published

Energy Bills Move Forward As Legislature Winds Down Session

Capitol Dome, Capitol, Legislature

State lawmakers wrapped up energy related legislation in the final hours of the session, including a bill to create a Mining Mutual Insurance Company.

The Senate unanimously approved the final version of Senate Bill 1 on Saturday, and it becomes effective immediately when the governor signs it.

SB 1 creates a five-member board to manage at least $50 million in taxpayer funds. Those funds would back mine reclamation bonds.

An audit last year found that the state’s special reclamation fund was not adequate to cover future mine cleanup obligations, potentially exposing the state to hundreds of millions of dollars in liabilities.

Senate President Craig Blair identified SB 1 as one of his top priorities, and in a rare move, he sponsored the bill.

Advanced Batteries

The House sent House Bill 4025 back to the Senate late Saturday with an amendment removed, but the chamber didn’t act on it before the session expired.

The bill would have exempted rare earth minerals mined in the state from severance taxes. Its supporters say that will encourage the development of advanced battery technology for use in electric vehicles and storage batteries for renewable energy.

Carbon Storage

Both chambers finished action earlier this month on House Bill 4491, with the Senate agreeing unanimously to the legislation.

HB 4491 will create a permitting system for underground carbon storage. The system could help carbon-intensive industries, such as power plants, steelmakers and cement companies, meet their carbon-reduction or net-zero goals.

The stored carbon could also be used in the future and meanwhile would not be released into the atmosphere.

Nuclear Power

Senate Bill 4 made it across the finish line and to the governor’s desk last month.

SB 4 repealed the state’s longstanding ban on the construction of new nuclear power facilities. The ban was enacted over concerns about nuclear safety and to protect the state’s coal industry from a competitor.

But times have changed. Gov. Jim Justice, a coal executive, signed the repeal. It will take effect on May 1, 2022.

Mine Safety

A bill to change the state’s mine safety code didn’t get very far.

House Bill 4840 would have made changes that Democrats, many Republicans and the United Mine Workers of America said would have weakened safety.

An intensive lobbying effort by mine workers and their allies effectively sidelined the legislation.