Cap-and-trade law suffers first blow; Manchin responds

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Legislature is moving fast to repeal a controversial alternative fuels law adopted six years ago.

The House Energy committee voted unanimously Thursday to roll back the Alternative Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, a law opponents derisively call a state version of cap-and-trade, while the Senate Energy committee prepared to follow suit with a similar bill.  

The law is designed to lower emissions from West Virginia power plants by requiring them to use increasing amounts of alternative fuels: 10 percent by next year, 15 percent by 2020 and 25 percent by 2025.

The new Republican majority announced earlier that repealing “cap-and-trade” would be their first order of business, but they found support when all Democrats on the two committees joined in the move.

The law was pushed through in 2009 at the behest of then-Gov. Joe Manchin, who still supports it. Manchin said in a recent interview with MetroNews that his goal was to encourage the development of more efficient and less-polluting alternatives, including carbon-based sources such as coal gasification and liquefaction. Now a member of the U.S. Senate, Manchin was not happy with Thursday’s votes.

At the time, even the coal industry supported the measure, though now it has backed away. West Virginia Coal Association president Bill Raney spoke at both committee meetings Thursday in favor of repealing the law.

It’s a different day today than it was in 2009,” Raney said. “We just don’t think the No. 2 coal-producing state with the best coal miners in the world need to be in the position of suggesting that we make electricity with something other than coal.”

Several committee members reporting hearing concerns from homeowners who have installed solar panels and now fear the repeal will prevent them from selling excess energy to utilities. An official with First Energy said, however, that if the law is revoked, the state Public Service Commission would still require power companies to buy the home-grown alternative electricity.

The bills revoking the alternative fuels law now head to the Judiciary Committees in both houses.

Manchin released the following statement Thursday night:

“I am deeply disappointed that the Republicans in West Virginia legislature have decided to play partisan politics with our state’s energy and utility rates by attempting to repeal the bipartisan Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio law. When I was governor, we brought together industry, coal miners, and environmental leaders and passed this commonsense law that encourages utilities to use all of West Virginia’s energy resources, from building more efficient coal power plants and upgrading old plants, to investing in renewable energy.

“Our law showed the country that coal could continue to lead our nation toward energy independence, while also reducing emissions.  Coal will be a part of our nation’s energy portfolio for the next several decades, and West Virginia must lead the way in showing other states how to produce and burn coal more efficiently and cleanly. This law struck a balance between our economy and our environment, and has reduced utility rates for middle class West Virginians, something all of our elected officials should be focused on. If the Republicans now believe that this law harmed the coal industry and increased rates, I would expect that their legislation will have a mandatory reduction of utility rates of more than ten percent for all West Virginians.

“Since its passage, the Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio law has aimed to protect our environmental interests while focusing on job growth, bringing in new businesses, and upholding West Virginia’s technological advantage by incentivizing the use of state-of-the-art energy systems.  The utilities have successfully met the 2015 goals and do not anticipate any issues with meeting the 2020 and 2025 goals. West Virginia was the only state that showed, if we take advantage of clean energy technologies, we can reduce emissions while still utilizing coal. It is my belief that West Virginia’s energy policies can be used as a template for future national energy policies to strike that balance between environmental concerns and America’s energy needs.

“I had always hoped and believed that the corrosive political atmosphere that has been so destructive in Washington would not make its way to our great state – this attempt by Republicans proves that the worst of Washington political gamesmanship has made its way to West Virginia.”

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