CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia House of Delegates voted Wednesday to lower the severance tax on steam coal over the next two years.

House Bill 3142 would reduce the severance tax on steam coal from 5 percent to 3 percent. The total estimated cost is $30 million per year, totaling $60 million. State revenue officials said the measure could save 500 jobs.

With a gallery full of blue-shirted miners, Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, argued against the bill, saying it only helps northern West Virginia, not struggling southern counties. which has metallurgical coal.

“It has nothing for the part of West Virginia that needs the help,” he argued.

Delegate Tony Paynter, R-Wyoming, spoke in favor of the bill.

“Southern West Virginia has a lot of steam coal,” he said. “I am a resounding yes on this.”

The line earned a round of applause from the gallery, which Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, had to silence because of Hosue rules.

“We stand here in this great big marble building in our cheap suits, in these cushioned seats, and these men and women sat up there on these hard benches and we have the audacity to say this is going to put the money in some corporate fat cat’s pockets,” Delegate Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, said. He backed the bill.

Delegate John Kelly, R-Wood, said the current severance tax rate makes West Virginia coal too expensive to compete against coal from other states.

Yet Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, questioned whether the 2-percent cut would really improve the market; coal plants are struggling to compete against other forms of energy because natural gas has a lower cost and renewable energy is becoming cheaper.

After the long debate, the House voted 88-11 in favor of the measure.