By Sen. Jeff Kessler
Senate Minority Leader
CHARLESTON, W.VA. — Last week, the Senate passed a bill (SB508) that would give businesses, specifically the oil and gas industry, virtual immunity from private nuisance lawsuits, as long as they do not violate a law, regulation or the specific terms of their permit.
Businesses would get a so-called “permit shield” whereby they could not be subject to a nuisance suit unless they violate their permit or a law, regulation or ordinance. However, if the permit doesn’t address a specific issue, the neighboring property owner has no recourse. Under current law, permits for gas drilling do not address noise, dust and light. In fact, they specifically exclude those factors.
Even worse, if the citizen does have grounds to sue, the bill requires them to give a business notice of 60 days. There is no other corporation under current state law that is entitled to this much notice prior to a lawsuit being filed and our citizens certainly do not get this luxury.
This bill is just another example of our radical legislative leadership prioritizing industry over the welfare of our citizens. Let me be clear. I have a consistent history of supporting the oil and gas industry and nobody wants to see the industry’s continued success more than I do. However, we cannot allow the industry to run roughshod over the people of this state that simply want to live in peace and quiet on the property they have worked a lifetime to own.
Gas drilling operations can be very noisy. They kick up lots of dust and they often have bright lights on 24 hours a day, shining both on the wells and on neighbors’ properties. I have constituents in this very situation. It is affecting their health and even if they wanted to sell their property, they would not be able to find a buyer given the current situation.
I voted no on this bill. In our zest to create jobs and encourage industry we have abandoned our people. What good is a successful industry if it creates an environment and a community that is not fit to live in? We must find balance and this bill is another radical piece of legislation that tips the scales way too far in favor of industry.
The Senate also completed action last week on a bill that will require all official state business be conducted and recorded in English. I again voted no on this measure that I believe sends the message that in West Virginia, we only want to do business with those just like us.
This law is totally unnecessary. Our state’s very own motto, “Montani Semper Liberi,” is in Latin. Toyota, a Japanese company, currently has a plant in Putnam County. As we look to land a cracker plant in West Virginia, the state has been in talks with Brazilian-based Odebrecht. I wonder how these companies feel about our decision to only conduct business in English?
West Virginia is currently operating in a global economy as we attempt to attract business to the state. We need to make it crystal clear that we are open to doing business with a diverse set of companies and industries both here and abroad. This law will only advance the stereotype that if you are different, you are not welcome in West Virginia.
Finally, it was an honor and a privilege to participate in and speak at Sam’s Uptown Cafe’s “Beer Not Bigotry” event last week in Charleston. This event was a celebration of local Charleston businesses’ opposition to House Bill 4012, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. As I have discussed in this space, the bill is a poorly named measure that aims to discriminate against the LGBT community under the guise of religious freedom.
At this event, citizens shared free beer for a couple hours while celebrating diversity and signaling that all kinds are welcome. It has been very encouraging to me to see so many citizens stand up for the rights of others and send a message to the Legislature that they do not want this despicable legislation.
The RFRA bill will be up for amendments and a vote this week in the Senate. I am hopeful we can kill the bill or at the very least, add an amendment that expressly says discrimination is prohibited.
I look forward to updating you on this issue and many others next week.
If you would like to follow the daily action of the Legislature, visit the 82nd Legislature on the web athttp://www.legis.state.wv.us/.
I hear your voice and I encourage all of you, regardless of party or affiliation, to contact me with any concerns you have regarding issues facing our district or our state. You can write to me at: Jeffrey V. Kessler, State Senate, Room 257M, Bldg. 1, 1900 Kanawha Blvd. E. Charleston, WV 25305.