West Virginia Energy Industry Groups Forming Legislative Agendas
January 11, 2021 - Representatives of West Virginia’s energy industry groups have less than a month to prepare for the 2021 session of the state Legislature.
Lobbyists from the West Virginia Coal Association and the Gas and Oil Association of West Virginia will be on hand throughout the 60-day session to meet with lawmakers, testify before committees and fight for the interests of their respective industries.
Chris Hamilton, the new president and CEO of the West Virginia Coal Association, said he and his lobbying team have begun to form their agenda, which will be focused on two primary goals.
The group hopes to be able to help preserve the state’s remaining coal-fired power plants and to assist metallurgical coal producers with accessing international markets, Hamilton said.
West Virginia still has eight major coal-fired power plants in operation, each with a significant annual economic impact on its surrounding community, Hamilton said.
“Each one of those plants has an economic value of over a quarter of a billion dollars in annual economic activity depending on the size and output of the individual plant,” he said. “There’s just a tremendous amount of economics that are involved in each of those plants, and they provide an economic infusion for five or six counties.”
His group aims to help these plants remain in operation until the end of their estimated life cycles, Hamilton said.
“Most of plants right now are scheduled to continue operation for another 15 to 20 years,” he said. “But frankly, we’re beginning to see the environmental and social pressures frowning on these in-state utilities to where there appears to be interest for these utilities to diversify their base fuel portfolios and move away from coal-fired generation.”
The 2021 session of the West Virginia Legislature is set to begin Feb. 10, giving lobbyists less than a month to prepare their priorities and agendas.
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The Coal Association would like to see the Legislature create a program to help provide coal-fired plants more predictable and expedient cost recovery methods, Hamilton said.
Metallurgical coal production is the one sector of the coal industry currently making investments into existing operations, Hamilton said.
“There is literally close to $1 billion in new investments that are underway at the current time within our state,” he said. “We think that the state can provide some level of assistance so they can get a reasonable return on their investment or be able to recover some of those invested dollars within our state.”
Such assistance would incentivize other companies to invest in West Virginia as opposed to pursuing projects in neighboring states, Hamilton said.
Hamilton succeeded long-serving Coal Association President and CEO Bill Raney on Jan. 1. Raney led the organization from 1992 to 2020 and spent more than 40 years working in the coal industry.
Hamilton and Jason Bostic, who is now the organization’s senior vice president, have spearheaded the Coal Association’s lobbying efforts for the past several legislative sessions.
He and the members of his team are awaiting further details to be released regarding how the day-to-day business of the session will function amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Hamilton said.
The Gas and Oil Association of West Virginia was formed at the beginning of December, when the members of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia and West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association voted to merge into one organization.
Charlie Burd, executive director of GO-WV, said that although the vote to form the new group took place in December, the organization technically didn’t come into existence until Jan. 1.
“We’re still sort of now collectively marrying up two sets of committees into merged committees and those discussions on priorities on issues are ongoing,” he said.
A legislative agenda will start to take shape following the new group’s first board meeting Jan. 20, Burd said.
Although the group has yet to solidify its goals, some general priorities are clear, Burd said.
“We’re paying real close attention to the governor’s overall tax reform package that he may be working on. He’s laid out ideas about eliminating the state income tax and there are ongoing conversations reportedly occurring regarding the business and inventory tax,” he said.
“When you start eliminating taxes, as a general rule, there are taxes created in other areas to make up the shortfalls. So we’ll just be kind of waiting and feeling our way through that a bit.”