Opinion, State news, releases and Information

WVPA Sharing: Column from Sen. Jeff Kessler, President of the State Senate

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — From the beginning of this water crisis,  my pledge to all West Virginians has been to do all in my power to make sure that a completely preventable tragedy like this never happens again. I am proud to report that we took the first step in that direction this week in the Senate with the unanimous passage of Senate Bill 373.

This bill requires storage tank owners and operators to develop spill prevention and response plans for each non-water storage tank. Those plans would be subject for approval by the Department of Environmental Protection and the plans must disclose the activities of the storage facilities as well as an inventory of substances kept there. Facilities also would be required to share this information with municipal and county officials.

The legislation would require the DEP to inspect tanks annually and certify that they are up to standards set forth in the bill. Companies would register each tank with the DEP and pay subsequent registration fees, which would be used to hire additional inspectors. Tanks located upstream within 25 miles of a water intake or critical access zone would be subject to more scrutiny.

The bill also implements a statewide water management plan that requires an inventory of the water available throughout the state. This legislation is all-encompassing in its intention to protect the state’s watersheds. By examining every tank in the state, we also protect all groundwater from possible contamination.

The bill closes loopholes in the  regulatory framework while giving lawmakers the flexibility to go back later to review the results of studies and investigations that are going to be available in the coming weeks and months. We have to respond appropriately when all the facts are in to make this law the best it can possibly be in its purpose to protect our water. The legislation now moves on to the House of Delegates for consideration.

The Senate introduced my Future Fund bill this week. I have championed this bill, which would set up an endowment fund for future use by drawing on a portion of present-day severance tax collections, for several years now.

The idea is that each year the state would set aside 25 percent of any severance taxes after $100 million has been collected from the industry. The fund would then be encumbered for a number years to allow proper long-term growth. The money could eventually be used for everything from increasing teacher and public employee salaries to infrastructure projects. The fund also might enable the state to provide tax relief.  Long term, it will serve as an economic stabilizer to allow wealth and prosperity to remain in West Virginia well after the natural gas boom has ended.

We missed a similar opportunity in the past with the coal boom. If we had started a similar fund in 1975 using just one percent of our severance tax dollars, we would have a fund worth nearly $8 billion dollars today. We have been given a second chance with natural gas and I don’t want us to miss out on this opportunity again.

The state has long needed to diversify its economy in many areas and these funds would give us a great opportunity to do that. The possibilities are endless. By passing this legislation, we can show the nation that West Virginia, during these tough economic times, is not only weathering the storm today, but planning for a brighter tomorrow.

If you would like to follow the daily action of the Legislature, visit the 81st Legislature on the web at http://www.legis.state.wv.us/.

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 227M, Building 1 State Capitol Complex Charleston, WV 25305.

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