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Renewable energy bill must be repealed

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Marty Gearheart Marty Gearheart
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Marty Gearheart is a Republican member of the West Virginia House of Delegates, representing the 27th District since 2010. He lives in Bluefield and can be reached at 304-340-3179.

Saturday night I drove along Princeton Avenue in my home town of Bluefield. 

I couldn't help but notice that not a single lump of coal was present in the railroad yard that serves as the shipping hub for most southern West Virginia coal on the way east and south. This certainly has happened before over the years, but it has been rare.

West Virginians complain about how the federal government in the form of the Environmental Protection Agency has damaged our state's coal industry. They are right. The over-regulation of the coal industry regarding both burning coal and coal extraction has resulted in less coal being burned and mined. The end result has, and will continue to be, economic devastation. Coal companies struggle, power rates increase and employment in business directly involved in coal and those that serve the areas where coal is mined has declined. 

We have every right to complain and should certainly voice our opinion to everyone that has a vote on the federal level and demand that the EPA be controlled and forced to operate within their mandate. West Virginians should also demand that their state representatives do everything possible to allow coal to compete as an energy source. We do nothing to influence federal legislators about the ability of coal to responsibly power our nation when we have legislation that takes effect in 2015 that by its very nature inflates the cost of coal, causes less coal to be mined and causes power bills for everyone (business and personal alike) to rise. When our own law restricts the marketability of coal, why would anyone want to support federal law to lessen restriction?

In 2009 the West Virginia Legislature quietly approved and Gov. (Joe) Manchin signed H.B. 103, also known as the Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard. This law establishes a system of renewable energy credits that may be purchased by companies utilizing carbon based energy that exceeds a pre-established allowable carbon output. Starting in 2015, these carbon caps will be in place, and by 2025 renewable energy is mandated to be responsible for 25 percent of our energy consumption. When asked during a meeting of the Finance Committee of the West Virginia House of Delegates, Jeff Herbolt, director of the West Virginia Division of Energy, confirmed that this law would be responsible for less coal being mined and burned and that without question electricity rates would increase.

Complain to federal officials about the EPA, but don't give state legislators a pass. Demand the Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard be repealed. During the 2013 legislative session, I sponsored H.B. 2609, along with the maximum number of cosponsors, which does exactly that. The bill never appeared on a committee agenda and thus never came to a vote on the House floor. This can not be tolerated in the 2014 session. I intend to reintroduce the same bill in 2014 and will push much harder for it to be brought to a vote. 

Many delegates and senators may be reluctant to support this repeal based on their prior vote. From my perspective, there is no sin in casting a bad vote in the Legislature unless one knows a wrong vote was cast and doesn't work to correct that vote. For those who previously voted in favor of the Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, that opportunity is in front of you now. Hold us accountable if we do not take this opportunity.