Delegates rebuffed the notion of a power plant’s role in climate change Tuesday, quickly passing a bill to exempt the plant from paying millions in taxes.
“Climate change isn’t just some abstract concept,” Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, said on the floor, where the bill to offer a tax break to the Pleasants Power Station passed on a 77-5 vote. It passed unanimously in the Senate hours later Tuesday.
Hansen noted that the plant will emit about 2.5 tons of carbon dioxide for every ton of coal burned, contributing to climate change. “This context is really important as we discuss whether we want to give tax breaks to save jobs,” Hansen said.
Delegate S. Marshall Wilson, R-Berkeley, referred to it as “mythological psueudo-science of man-made climate change” and urged the Legislature to “continue to use the coal that God has blessed this state with.”
The bill, which was introduced in the House of Delegates Monday, would exempt FirstEnergy’s Pleasants County plant from the business and occupation tax, potentially saving the company about $12.5 million annually. The company spends about $400 million a year on the plant, the company’s president and CEO testified Monday.
Specifically, the bill would exempt “merchant power plants” — an electricity-generating plant not regulated to public service commission rates that sells electricity on the wholesale market and doesn’t sell electricity to retail consumers — from the B&O tax. The Pleasants Power Station is the only plant in the state to fit that definition.
The plant was planned to close at the beginning of 2019, but the company announced last October that it had reached a deal in a bankruptcy case, and that the coal-fired plant would close in 2022, instead. The plant directly employees 160 people.
Across the country, 289 coal-fired power plants have closed since 2010. Of those, 51 have closed since President Donald Trump took office.
According to the Energy Information Administration’s annual outlook, natural gas and renewables will continue to edge out coal-fired power plants over the next three decades.
“It is simply the economy and the market … If I am right, then HB 207 is not a job-saving bill, it becomes just another corporate giveaway,” said Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson.
The only amendment that passed in the House of Delegates was one to move the date of the bailout from July to January 2020. An amendment from Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, to limit the bailout period to five years, did not pass.
Gov. Jim Justice announced the bill in a special proclamation at 6 p.m. Friday. Democrats didn’t see the bill until Sunday evening, many delegates said.
The bill was introduced in the House Monday afternoon, then sent to the House Finance Committee and back to the floor, where it passed, 77-5.
“We got this bill on Sunday and people wanted us to suspend the rules on Monday — and when there are all these questions. Normally when we give a tax break, we look at it compared to the rest of our budget. What about college education? What about public school education?” said Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia.