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‘We deify coal’: WV lawmakers doubled down on coal in legislative session with energy transition poised to accelerate

By Mike Tony, Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — With 15 minutes left in the 2023 regular legislative session, the West Virginia House of Delegates squeezed in approval of one final bill.

It was West Virginia Coal Association-backed legislation that would reboot an economic development office to coordinate federal grant expenses, expand coal assets and come up with an educational program to support the state’s coal industry.

Chris Hamilton

West Virginia Coal Association President Chris Hamilton had supported the measures in House Bill 3303 before a legislative committee in January. As time ticked away on the legislative session, Hamilton wasn’t concerned about HB 3303’s fate. He had assurances it would get through.

“They do a great job managing the clock,” Hamilton said.

HB 3303 turned out to be a fitting way for lawmakers to wind down the session.

The Legislature may have approved an appropriations bill to supply $105 million for a Form Energy-planned iron-air battery plant in Weirton over the objections of avowed green energy opponents and raised caps on power purchase agreements in a solar development measure. But lawmakers made clear what their top energy priority was throughout the session.

“I’m probably going to shock some people in here, but I think we deify coal,” Delegate Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, said in a House floor speech with two days left in the session, a year after Steele led a failed effort to strip enforcement authority away from the state’s mine inspection office. “We have raised coal to a deity in this state. It’s part of our identity. It’s part of what we worship. And that’s a little bit sad.”

Hamilton cited a long list of coal-backed bills the Legislature approved in addition to HB 3303, which would reboot the Coalfield Community Development Office in part to “develop an educational program and policy materials” to “educate the public” about what the legislation says are “economic and societal benefits provided by the coal industry,” including coal-fired electric generation. …

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