The new Republican majority is not yet in place at the West Virginia Legislature and already there is a dispute between the GOP and Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin.
Earlier this week, incoming House Speaker Tim Armstead said the first priority when the Legislature goes into session next month will be repealing an energy law pushed through by then-Governor Manchin and Democratic lawmakers in 2009.
The technical name of H.B. 103 is the Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, but Republicans derisively call it a “cap-and-trade” law. The legislation is designed to lower emissions from coal-fired power plants by requiring utilities to generate increasing amounts of electricity using alternative fuels: 10 percent by next year, 15 percent by 2020 and 25 percent by 2025.
Utilities earn credits for generating electricity from alternative or renewable fuels and must maintain a certain number of credits to avoid fines. The law says “The credits may be traded, sold or used to meet the portfolio standards.”
Armstead can’t wait to relegate the law to the capitol shredder. “We think it not only has a devastating impact on our energy sector, our coal jobs in the state, but also it will result in increased utility rates for our citizens,” Armstead told me on Talkline Monday.
Armstead is referring to a key section of the law—24-2F-7(a): “An electric utility shall have the right to recover the costs of complying with the alternative and renewable energy portfolio standards.” In other words, Armstead reasons, if utilities have to spend more on increasing amounts of alternative fuels, the customer gets stuck with the bill.
Manchin was reportedly livid when he heard about the Republican plan, and he vented on Talkline Thursday. “They have the mantle now and they can set the agenda and probably do whatever suits them best. I understand that, but to call it a cap-and-trade (law)? They know that’s disingenuous and I’m just saying we don’t need that political rhetoric here, especially when it’s inaccurate.”
Manchin says he famously highlighted his opposition to an actual cap-and-trade proposal during a 2010 campaign ad when he fired a bullet through a copy of the federal bill.
The Senator says his goal in pushing the bill through the state legislature five years ago was to encourage the development of more efficient and less polluting alternatives, including carbon-based sources such as coal gasification and liquefaction.
There are two differences, however, between 2009 and now.
First, the coal industry has taken a severe hit because of market conditions and EPA regulations. Any plan that even sounds like cap-and-trade is going to be toxic. And second, Democrats who supported the original bill no longer have a majority.
In the end, the most important number in this debate will not be the percentage of alternative fuels required, but rather the legislative head count. Armstead may not fire a high-powered rifle at a copy of H.B. 103, but it’s clearly in his sights.