Legislature needs to urgently redefine ‘public use’

A Daily Mail editorial from the Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — We all know the condition of the state of West Virginia. Severance tax revenues are down due to reduced coal mining as well as low prices for natural gas, two of the states major energy exports.

The state had to dip into its Rainy Day Fund last year just to pay the bills, and this fiscal year so far shows revenues about $84 million less than originally projected.

The unemployment rate high; the percentage of working-age people working relatively low.

It is clear. The state needs more revenue and its residents need more job opportunities. Both will come from expansion of businesses and infrastructure.

So one would think that a major investment project by private funders — that would bring all of the above — could easily be considered a “public use.”

 But not according to the antiquated definition that a state Supreme Court majority used in ruling against the Mountain Valley Pipeline Project last week.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline is a proposed interstate natural gas pipeline that would traverse about 300 miles from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia. It is a joint project of EQT Midstream Partners and four other gas companies. The pipeline would carry large supplies of natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations to markets in the Mid- and South-Atlantic United States, connecting a pipeline system in Wetzel County to a Transcontinental Gas Pipeline in Pittsylvania County, Virginia.

A majority opinion authored by Justice Robin Davis said that the proposed interstate pipeline does not show it is providing a “public purpose” to citizens of West Virginia because the gas flowing through the pipeline will not go to customers in West Virginia — even though much of the gas will come from reserves in the northern part of the state.

But a major infrastructure project that aids interstate commerce by moving a commodity that originates in West Virginia to be bought and used in other states should be considered a public use right here in West Virginia. It is a major part of interstate commerce which benefits both West Virginia and other states.

Justice Menis Ketchum dissented, saying the court used an 1883 definition of public use, completely bypassing a 1998 court case that redefines public use.

The next step to right this wrong is for the West Virginia Legislature to quickly change the law to redefine the term ‘public use’ so that a project that will move West Virginia produced gas, create thousands of West Virginia construction jobs and dozens of permanent jobs and increase state tax revenue by millions over the years is very much a public use and benefit to the citizens of the state.

See more from the Charleston Gazette-Mail. 

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