Coalfields bill passes House committee

Story by David Beard, The Dominion Post

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill to create a new state agency designed to promote energy development projects in the coalfields is on its way to the House floor after clearing the Government Organization Committee Monday afternoon.

Chris Hamilton

The West Virginia Coal Association did not lend its support to the bill.

HB 3130 creates the Coalfields Energy Research and Economic Development Authority.

The bill establishes the authority as a public corporation charged with an array of goals, including:

Promote and develop the state’s energy workforce and energy technology research;

Promote and develop energy projects, storage and manufacturing;

Work with industries, other agencies and nonprofit partners to advance energy projects, storage and manufacturing.

The authority will function under a five-member board: four appointed by the governor, one by the Economic Development secretary. It can apply for and award grants, enter into contracts and receive grants and donations of money and property.

The authority may not own or become a market participant in any commercial energy facility or manufacturing related to its work.

The bill defines coalfields broadly: any county that historically had mining within its boundaries; has benefited or is benefiting from mining; has had economic activity “ancillary or related to” mining; or has been or will be significantly affected by mining.

Committee counsel said that effectively takes in the whole state.

Coal Association President Chris Hamilton said, “This is not legislation that we are supporting this session.” He doesn’t know of any project in the coalfields that needs it and the association was not involved in drafting it.

Hamilton took a question from Delegate Tom Fast, R-Fayette, who asked if the association believes the authority should be empowered to buy land.

Hamilton said they would probably frown on that because there has been concern expressed about land being bought up by outside companies to use the land for carbon credits and block any useful development.

Fast agreed, mentioning a state timberland purchase designed to prevent logging on the land. He didn’t want the state to be in a position to outbid private developers.

Fast proposed an amendment to the bill forbidding it from buying land, which the committee adopted.

The bill previously was considered and approved by the Energy Committee. Monday’s voice vote in Gov Org was not unanimous, with several voting against it.

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