GOP leaning against job impact studies on energy law repeal


CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The Republican-led Legislature is leaning against doing more analysis of how jobs in West Virginia would be affected by repealing a state alternative energy standard, GOP leadership said Monday.

Senate President Bill Cole, R-Mercer, and House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, told media outlets the repeal bill didn't seem like the right opportunity to ask for economic impact statements.

The standard, called the Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, was signed into law in 2009. It requires utilities serving at least 30,000 residential customers to generate 25 percent of their electricity with renewable or alternative power sources by 2025.

Because of the broad definition of what counts as an alternative energy source, many stakeholders have said the portfolio has little to no effect on them. A variety of coal-burning technologies qualify, including an existing Morgantown coal power plant.

Since the 60-day session started last week, both chambers have moved quickly to delete the standard.

The Senate likely will pass the repeal Wednesday, with the House possibly following Thursday.

In control of the Legislature for the first time in more than eight decades, Republicans have passed new rules allowing economic impact studies on bills. Armstead or Cole can request the analyses on any bill. Colleges or universities would conduct them. Early in session, none have been requested so far.

Cole said he will consider a request by Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, to study the repeal's impact. But Cole said it's likely not the best bill for that type of study.

"In fairness, I think we have a 'study-it-to-death' mentality in West Virginia, and I want to get away from some of that," Cole said Monday.

Armstead received a similar request from Democratic House Minority Leader Tim Miley. In a news release, Miley, D-Harrison, said he wants to know if the repeal "accomplishes meaningful results, or whether the repeal of the legislation is mere campaign fluff."

Armstead told The Associated Press he thinks lawmakers have sufficient information on the repeal's impacts already.

Last week, Sammy Gray of FirstEnergy (NYSE: FE) said his company could achieve the standards without increased costs, lost jobs or business plan changes.

Municipal utilities and rural electric cooperates are exempt from the standard.

The West Virginia Coal Association helped craft the law and, until recently, had defended it.

Last week, association president Bill Raney said the scenario has changed, with increased federal regulation and legal action affecting the industry.

The Republican Party is also using the repeal effort as a political wedge against Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, who is mulling a return run for governor. He approved the bill as governor in 2009. Manchin has called the repeal push political gamesmanship.

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