January 30, 2015

Disagreement in West Virginia Senate over Study During Energy Bill Talks

A discussion on a signature piece of legislation being advanced by Republicans featured disagreement Monday when the current and former president of the state Senate fell on different sides over whether the bill should require a jobs impact study.

Former Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, called for a study of Senate Bill 1, a piece of legislation that some have referred to as a cap-and-trade bill.

During a six minute speech, Kessler reminded President Bill Cole, R-Mercer, that the chamber passed a rules package that included the opportunity to generate a study at the president’s discretion.

“Sound public policy should be based on accurate information. The better information that we have, the better policy we can put out,” said Kessler, the Minority Leader. “As we are moving forward here, I know SB 1 is moving fairly quickly. Mr. President, I would suggest to you as the leader of the body that that may be a bill that is a prime opportunity for us to look at a job impact statement of that bill.”

Kessler noted he did not make the motion to be an obstructionist and he did, in fact, support Senate Bill 1.

“I think its important and I’m concerned Mr. President if we pass this bill that we look at the total job impact it may create. And I know the objective is to create more coal jobs. I’m all for that,” Kessler said.

Kessler wanted to know whether the legislation could negatively affect the creation of gas production jobs as well as gain a better understanding of the bill, which he said often has been characterized as a cap-and-trade bill.

“I don’t know if it is or it isn’t,” he said. “I’ve heard folks from the industry say it is not a cap-and-trade bill. What is it?”

Kessler said the current bill “doesn’t do nothing.” He cited testimony from energy industry executives who said during last week’s Senate energy committee meeting that they had already met the required standards of the state’s Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Act, which was originally passed in 2009 under then-Gov. Joe Manchin.

“The overriding fact and the truth of the matter is, if we’ve got a bill that does nothing, we’re going to repeal it and it’ll do nothing, then the simple math of it is zero plus zero still equals zero,” he said before concluding his remarks.

Its been suggested that the passage of Senate Bill 1 would help lower utility rates for consumers, Kessler said, but an impact study would help determine if that would be true.

After Kessler’s speech, Cole said he didn’t think the bill would be the best one to involve a jobs impact study.

“I think that we have a study-it-to-death mentality in West Virginia and I want to get away from that,” Cole said.

Cole’s remarks reflect a similar sentiment he expressed during his swearing in speech last week.

“The time for studies is over,” Cole said last week. “I do not believe the problems we face as West Virginians are ones that can be solved by commissioning another study that will tell us what we already know: We have work to do.”

But following Cole’s swearing in speech, the Republican-led Senate inserted language into the body’s rules that would allow an economic impact study if the Senate president thought a particular issue warranted one.

Cole said jobs studies, which under the new rule can only be generated at his discretion, should be there for “when we really are puzzled.”

Cole said he would consider Kessler’s latest request but he also questioned a few assertions by the new minority leader.

“If this bill does nothing and did nothing, how could it possibly affect jobs?” Cole asked with a chuckle, while in the same breath saying he disagreed with the assessment that the bill accomplishes nothing.

“I believe that this bill is having government weigh in on a decision that the power generators should be making,” he said. “We hold those people responsible for the rates that they charge and yet we want to tell them how they have to pick what they use for fuel.”

Cole said he would like to get government out of the way and allow energy companies to provide the cheapest form of energy possible.

When asked what type of legislation Cole would order a study for, Cole said he’s “pretty convicted about most of our agenda”

He said he would consider ordering an impact statement in relation to any attempts to repeal the state’s long-standing prevailing wage law, which could be an issue that comes up during the current legislative session.

Prior to Tuesday’s floor session, the Senate Energy Industry and Mining Committee passed Senate Bill 1, which included an amendment protecting net metering. The committee’s passage of the bill allowed it to have a first reading during the floor session. It will undergo a second reading on Tuesday.

The House of Delegates has scheduled a first reading of its version of the bill for Tuesday.

Cole said the legislation could be placed on Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s desk as soon as the end of this week.

“Gov. Tomblin voted for the original bill, which outlined steps to increase the use of alternative fuels without being a cap-and-trade bill,” Chris Stadelman, a spokesperson for the governor’s office said. “At the time, the bill was supported by a large number of people and groups, including the West Virginia Coal Association.

“Gov. Tomblin understands that due to new developments at the federal level, many people are now expressing concerns about the law. He has yet to see a final version but will look at any proposed changes and continue to support our state’s coal miners and do whatever we can to ensure West Virginia remains an energy leader for years to come.”

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