W.Va. Republicans detail energy agenda - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

W.Va. Republicans detail energy agenda

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Requiring a jobs impact study before enacting new regulations and attaching sunset provisions afterwards are among some of the efforts on the West Virginia House GOP agenda in 2012.

House Republicans also included repeal of former Gov. Joe Manchin's Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Act, legislation that Del. Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha and minority leader, said was comparable to stalled federal cap and trade legislation. The energy portfolio legislation aimed to increase the amount electricity generated in West Virginia by renewable energy.

Del. Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan and minority whip, criticized the legislation at the Tuesday press conference announcing the minority agenda.

"It created tradable credits with a cap on traditional energy," Cowles said. "It's self-imposed right here in West Virginia. Over time the cap, and the mandates, get tighter and heavier and results in higher electric bills for families across West Virginia."

Cowles added, "West Virginia and her people today suffer under heavy hand of government overreach that results in job losses, hostility toward our energy here in West Virginia and our energy sector workers. It's also a threat to our individual liberties."

The bill primarily affects the state's coal industry, Armstead said. Natural gas is included as an alternative energy, as well as coal plants that utilize certain clean technologies.

"In turn, by affecting the coal industry, it affects the utility rates in West Virginia because so much of the energy is produced with coal," Armstead said. "You're basically putting limitations on the ability to produce coal at the exact wrong time for us to be doing that in West Virginia."

"One of West Virginia's greatest resources is coal, and we're putting up roadblocks in the way," Armstead said. "It just makes no sense."

The concern, Armstead said, goes beyond jobs and industry.

"We're really afraid of what the impact will be on working West Virginians in terms of their energy bills," he said. "Even when it was being debated, there was an admission this was going to make electricity bills go up. No one pretended that it wouldn't."

If the impact on jobs had been known, Armstead before, lawmakers probably would not have approved Manchin's Energy Portfolio Act.

"That bill will have impacts that are just now coming to light," Armstead said. "We think we have the opportunity to repeal that bill before those impacts come into fruition."

In the future, Armstead explained, the House GOP wants to see legislation that would require a study of job impacts for every bill that is introduced. He also said they want to see sunset clauses in the bill that would require an evaluation of any new regulation's effectiveness.

"We may pass a regulation that sounds very good and may be very well-intentioned, and we may all think it will be a positive bill," Armstead said. "As we go down a year or two, we may see unintended consequences of that."

Asked if he would support broader study of impact to include environmental, health and other impacts, Armstead explained why Republicans were specifically requesting a jobs impact study.

"I think we will support that," Armstead said. "I think the reason we centered on jobs impacts in particular is just because of our focus on economic growth and job creation. I think a lot of the issues that you are saying, environment and other aspects all play into that.

"If you do an analysis of what a particular regulation does, you assume you've done the justification for it up front from an environmental, from a regulatory standpoint."

House Republicans, like most legislators, also have a hopeful eye on increased revenue from increasing activity in the Marcellus shale.

"It will create thousands, if not hundreds of thousands or tens of thousands of new jobs in West Virginia," Armstead said.

"We need to talk about what we do with that tax revenue," Armstead said. "We're not talking about increased taxes. We're not talking about proposing a new tax or increasing the tax rate."

Armstead said revenues from the Marcellus activity is expected to double in just a few years. The West Virginia GOP wants to use that increased revenue to create a tax reduction fund.

"We believe that the best use of that is to give the money back to the people of West Virginia and put it back into the economy to stimulate even greater job growth in other sectors in addition to the energy sector," Armstead said.

The fund could be used to eliminate the personal property tax on inventory and increase the homestead exemption, Armstead said.

"These tax breaks will create jobs in West Virginia, and that is our chief goal in this session," Armstead said.

As far as renewable and alternative energy goes, Armstead said Republicans were supportive of encouraging all forms of energy.

"I don't think you do one to the exclusion of another," Armstead said. "You don't go out and put limits on coal production to encourage wind or solar. That's the wrong approach. Let's encourage all of them and basically the ones that are effective and feasible on a level playing field will flourish and that ones that aren't feasible, or cost effective, won't."


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