Coal Industry Pulls the String, Delegates Dance, WV Electric Rates Continue to Rise

For the second year in a row, Bill Raney and the WV Coal Association butted in on a Legislative conversation about keeping electric rates lower for West Virginians.  For the second year in a row, the coal industry manipulated and fear-mongered and got its pet legislators (both Republicans and Democrats) to kill bills that would have made a real difference for WV businesses and citizens.

On Friday, the deadline for all bills to pass out of committee to go to the floor of the House of Delegates, the House Judiciary voted 11-11 on HB 2176, killing the bill.  HB 2176 was a committee substitute bill that had been amended to include the requirement that the WV PSC require WV power companies to do integrated resource planning.  The amended language was basically the same as HB 2803, which I posted about earlier.  Because Bill Raney and the coal boys circulated sophomoric fliers among their dragline drag queens falsely branding HB 2803 as “anti-coal” and “evil,” Raney’s backroom manipulation convinced Delegate Jim Morgan, chair of House Government Organization, to keep HB 2803 off his committee’s agenda.

The IRP language was amended into HB 2176 to see if it could get onto the agenda of House Judiciary, where it had several strong champions, including Del. Tim Manchin, who has fought hard for IRP for months.

What transpired in the Judiciary Committee meeting on Friday was truly bizarre.  First, HB 2176, listed as the sixth of fifteen bills on the committee agenda, kept getting bumped by other bills, some of which weren’t even listed on the agenda.  Then, when Chairman Miley announced that the committee would be taking up HB 2176, there was some muffled discussion and he quickly switched to another bill.

When HB 2176 was finally taken up late in the meeting, the staff lawyer, who was supposed to explain the contents of the bill to committee members, provided a totally inaccurate account of the bill, in which he talked about incentives for renewable power that were not in the bill.  WV PSC Commissioner Ryan Palmer and WV Consumer Advocate Byron Harris were both in the room, along with Cathy Kunkel, policy analyst for EEWV.  Any one of them could have provided the committee with accurate information about HB 2176 or integrated resource planning.  It is common in committee discussions of bills for committee members to ask if any experts are in the audience who can answer questions about a bill under consideration.  The experts were there, but no one asked for clarification of the staff lawyer’s muddled and inaccurate account.

The bill went to a voice vote, and Chairman Miley could not identify the results of the vote, so he called for a roll call vote.  All the Republicans on the committee voted against HB 2176 and the pocketbooks of their own constituents.  Had the vote been a straight party line vote, the bill would have passed.  As it turned out, three Democrats also voted against HB 2176: Del. Marcum (Mingo), Del. Ferro (Marshall) and the big surprise, Del. Clif Moore (McDowell).  Del. Moore was a big surprise, because he had been a co-sponsor of the original IRP bill, HB 2803 that the coal industry killed in the Government Organization committee.  I’ll leave you to puzzle that one out.  I will say that Del. Moore was seen huddling with Bill Raney shortly before the vote.

So there it was: 11 – 11, and a bill must get a majority to pass out of committee.  Last year, the coal industry kept our IRP bill from coming to a committee vote in Sen. Corey Palumbo‘s Senate Judiciary Committee.  This year, thanks to strong support from Del. Manchin, Del. Manypenny and Del. Miley, the bill went to a vote.  Because that vote was so close, we also got to see exactly who stood where on HB 2176.

But some unsettling questions linger after the strange events that transpired on Friday:

  • Why are Republicans, in a block, voting against giving the PSC the tools to get WV’s rising electric rates under control?
  • Why is the coal industry afraid of a method of analysis where coal-fired generation will quite likely be identified among the lowest cost electricity resources?
  • Why did Del. Moore change his mind about integrated resource planning?
  • Why did no one on the Judiciary Committee, including supporters of the bill, ask for expert help when their staff lawyer misrepresented HB 2176 so completely?
  • Was HB 2176 used as a sacrifice to exchange for some other bills that Bill Raney and the WV Coal Association wanted to trade on?

One thing is crystal clear – WV’s coal industry sees lower electric rates as a clear threat to their profits.  The industry wants to hold back the entire state in its desperate battle against declining productivity, rising production costs and declining demand for its product.

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