The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

February 25, 2010

Ban upheld on construction of nuclear power plants

CHARLESTON — West Virginia’s official ban on the construction of nuclear power plants is staying put.

After a lengthy discussion Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee by a lopsided voice vote gunned down a move to eliminate the prohibition.

Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, who once lived near a nuclear installation in Tennessee, appeared to be the only senator in favor of the bill.

A year ago, its chief proponent, Sen. Brooks McCabe, also D-Kanawha, succeeded in getting the ban removed in Gov. Joe Manchin’s energy portfolio when it exited the Senate.

Near the end of the 2009 session, however, it was struck from the House version of the bill.

“We were instrumental in getting this ban into the state statute in West Virginia,” Don Garvin, legislative director for the West Virginia Environmental Council, told the panel.

“We don’t see an upside for repealing it at this time.”

Even if the ban were lifted, McCabe has said, it would likely take 20 years to get a nuclear plant running in West Virginia.

“Who among you today would want to go home and tell your constituents that you’re bringing a nuclear power plant to your district?” Garvin asked the committee.

One outspoken opponent, Sen. Frank Deem, R-Wood, voiced his dissent in recent action by Vermont to begin dismantling nuclear facilities because of repeated leaks.

Sen. Richard Browning, D-Wyoming, another opponent, said West Virginia needs to focus its energy attention on two energy sources in abundance — coal and natural gas.

Browning ignited a lively exchange with Garvin over coal, given its onslaught of criticism from the environmental community.

Garvin emphasized his group is adamantly opposed to mountaintop mining because of the harm done through valley fills and other aspects of the controversial practice.

But the environmental leader said he feels the industry can eventually clean up its act to the point that it can produce coal responsibly to keep power plants churning out electricity in an acceptable fashion.

“I think the industry will survive because the coal is here,” he said.

“It’s in the ground. It will, eventually, I think, be done right.”

Browning said the nation’s need for coal as a vital energy source dictates that the state maintain its support of the industry, as well as gas.

“We’re a coal and natural gas state,” he said. “We ought to be looking at more clean coal.”

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