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By Hannah King, WVEC Lobbyist and Outreach Coordinator
After following interim sessions throughout the year, we got a preview of the environmental bills we are likely to see during the legislative session. We will be closely watching the idea of extracting rare earth minerals/elements from treating acid mine drainage, which is beneficial for our rivers and streams and will be profitable for those who take on the task of cleaning up the AMD. While there are many things that we will potentially support, we are gearing up for harmful bills that may threaten the safety of our water, air, public lands and more.
Read more below about what’s to come during the legislative session:
Coal Community Working Group
There were some really great ideas and efforts put into the Coal Community Workgroup Listening Sessions that occurred over the last couple of months, and we’re looking forward to seeing legislation to help address some of the issues communities are facing.
A Reduction in Severance Tax
There was a lot of talk about a reduction in severance tax on coal (non-thermal), oil and gas. According to the presentations to the Joint Finance Committee, legislators are considering a significant reduction in the severance tax which would reduce important revenues for counties that produce these resources..
Rare Earth Minerals
Presentations were given by WVDEP representatives regarding the process and potential surrounding rare earth minerals. Rare earth minerals are a very critical aspect to our technological infrastructure here in the United States, as they are needed to produce phones, batteries, and more. We get all of our rare earth minerals from other countries, mainly China, and we have no *reliable* domestic supply of rare earth minerals. This process is said to be safe for the environment, as it involves treating the acid mine drainage, which is toxic and dangerous to our rivers and streams, and then extracting these rare earth minerals out to sell and utilize. There is more to learn about this process and what it would mean for West Virginia rivers and streams and we will keep you informed.
Water Quality Standards Rule
During the Legislative Rule-Making Review Committee on December 8, the Water Quality Standards Rule was taken up and approved by the committee. We are unsatisfied with the language in this rule, as it lessens the criteria limits for 5 toxins and allows a loophole for industry to bypass the legislative review process to make changes to water quality standards. We spent time at the Capitol educating lawmakers about why this is dangerous and how it takes away public input and scrutiny, and encouraged them to adopt amendments that would restore the limits for the 5 toxins and restore legislative review for any human health criteria change. The rule passed, however, without any amendments. We will follow its process during the legislative session.