WV House narrowly approves adding comeback plan for coal communities to supply bill | Energy and Environment
But the House approved an amendment to the bill by the slimmest of margins that would establish a “Coal Community Comeback Plan” for West Virginia.
The amendment, introduced by Delegate Ed Evans, D-McDowell, and adopted by the House in a 49-48 vote, would direct the state Public Service Commission to facilitate creating a plan mandated to include development of water, wastewater, broadband and other infrastructure needed to revitalize communities affected by coal-fired plant closures. The plan would also aim to create opportunities to increase jobs in coal and other industries, among other things.
The amendment defines affected communities as counties in which a coal mine or coal-fired plant has closed since 2000 and caused a loss of at least 200 jobs.
After adopting the amendment, the House approved SB 542 in a 95-3 vote.
The bill would require public electric utilities to give notice to the West Virginia Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the state Public Service Commission and the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Government and Finance before announcing the retirement or proposed shutdown of an electricity-generating unit.
The bill’s language includes a legislative finding that the increasing number of West Virginia coal miners out of work compromises homeland security and threatens grid stability.
“It is imperative the State of West Virginia take immediate steps to reverse these undesirable trends to ensure that no more coal-fired plants close, no additional jobs are lost, and long-term state prosperity is maintained,” the bill concludes. “Throughout the past decade, no group has been hit harder by the decline of coal than West Virginia’s coal miners and their families. Many coal miners are struggling to make ends meet and provide for their families.”
“The underlying bill is a cry for help to save jobs in the communities that rely on coal mines and for power plants that rely on those jobs,” Evans said on the House floor Friday prior to the passage of the bill and his amendment. “The amendment recognizes the cry for help.”
Delegate Nathan Brown, D-Mingo, assistant minority whip, recalled working in the coal industry for 12 years prior to becoming a lawyer. He said he started out as an underground laborer before eventually working his way up to a management position.
“There’s a feeling from where I’m at, Mr. Speaker, that the coal miner is nothing more than an endangered species at this point,” Brown said. “So given the chance, I’ll stand for the coal industry any time I have a chance to do it. I thank my friend from McDowell County for offering the amendment. I think it helps our coal miners.”
The newly amended bill would create an advisory committee to develop and recommend a plan for coal communities co-chaired by the head of the state Public Service Commission or their designee and the Department of Economic Development secretary or their designee.
Rounding out the committee would be a representative of the Governor’s Office, a Senate member appointed by the Senate president, a House member appointed by the Speaker of the House, and the following governor-appointed members: two labor union representatives, three representatives of affected workers from impacted communities, and two representatives of utilities that operated one or more coal-fueled electric generating units when the bill would become effective.
The committee would be required to meet at least once every three months and hold at least three public hearings on the state of the plan for coal communities, with at least one hearing held in each of the state’s congressional districts.
By July 1, 2022, the committee would have to present its “comeback plan” to the Public Service Commission chair, and present its final plan to the governor and the Legislature by the end of 2022.
Evans’ amendment is based on House Bill 3198, a bill the lead sponsor of which was Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia. HB 3198 would have similarly established an advisory committee to come up with a “Coal Community Comeback Plan.” That bill stalled in the House Small Business, Entrepreneurship and Economic Development Committee.
Hansen was lead sponsor of a similar bill that unanimously passed the House last year before dying in the Senate.
The original version of SB 542 would have made further-reaching reforms to keep West Virginia’s dwindling fleet of coal plants operating as long as possible. Those reforms included requiring in-state power producers to maintain 2019 coal consumption levels and file compliance plans every three years with the long-dormant state Public Energy Authority specifying their fuel supply and how 2019 coal consumption levels would be maintained.
The initial version of the bill also required utilities to keep a 90-day coal supply under contract. But the required supply was shortened to come closer to what representatives from Appalachian Power, FirstEnergy and Dominion Energy previously told the Senate Energy, Industry and Mining Committee they currently keep under contract.
West Virginia’s number of coal plants has steeply declined as the U.S. shifts away from coal toward renewable energy.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration last year reported that the nation’s annual energy consumption from renewable sources in 2019 exceeded coal consumption for the first time in more than 130 years.
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