CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Angry words flew at the Capitol on Saturday night as lawmakers ended their 60-day session without passing anything to regulate Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling.
Members of the House of Delegates and Senate blamed each other for the demise of legislation (SB424) that would have addressed environmental regulations, permit fees, protections for property owners and other issues related to development of one of the world's richest natural gas basins.
Senators had passed the bill earlier this month, but the House -- which favored stronger protections for the environment and landowners -- never voted on it. Among other things, the two sides disagreed on notice to property owners, the distances operators can drill from West Virginians' homes and water wells, and the hiring of gas well inspectors.
In a floor speech, Sen. Mike Green, D-Raleigh, called the House's failure to act on the bill "shameful."
"It makes us wonder what the commitment of the House leadership was to get this job done," said Green, who plans to ask state Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, who is acting as governor, to adjust his budget proposal so the state can hire more inspectors.
But House Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley, D-Harrison, said the Senate was not willing to compromise.
In a meeting Saturday afternoon, Miley said, Green "resorted to talking about how we can't do anything because it's too late, and expressed no interest in trying to work out the differences."
Later in the day, Senate staff again told delegates that the Senate wouldn't budge, Miley said.
"I'm embarrassed for him, and it's a shameless attempt to try to cast dispersion on the House of Delegates," Miley said of Green's floor speech.
Lawmakers signed off on a proposal (SB465) to give tax breaks to the natural gas and manufacturing industries in hopes of luring a facility that converts ethane -- a natural gas byproduct -- into ethylene, which is used by chemical manufacturers and is a key ingredient in the plastics industry.
Delegate Bonnie Brown, D-Kanawha, questioned why legislators would approve these incentives without completing Marcellus regulation proposals.
"So we're just giving them a tax break before we even regulate the industry?" she asked.
Late Saturday night, Delegate Mike Manypenny, a Taylor County Democrat who has pushed for stronger drilling regulations, was collecting signatures from colleagues for a letter to the state Department of Environmental Protection. He wants the agency to use emergency powers to issue a moratorium on new Marcellus drilling permits.
Some lawmakers believe there could now be a special session called to craft Marcellus regulations.
DEP Secretary Randy Huffman said he is confident his agency will be able to regulate the drilling without changes in the law, at least for now.
"We don't have a crisis in the short term," he said. As far as the legislation, "I think it was a lot to expect to get so many issues and so many interests dealt with adequately in such a short period of time."
Delegate Sam Cann, who works in the industry and is a former president of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia, called the legislative process for the measure "a train wreck."
"I think they never really defined the problems they wanted to work on," said Cann, a Harrison County Democrat. "And all the interest groups thought they could get the whole boat."
Dave McMahon of the West Virginia Surface Owners' Rights Organization questioned why the bill languished in the final hours of the session Saturday.
Without new regulations, McMahon said, the state "should not be giving out any more permits than they can review and inspect."
Measures that won both House and Senate approval Saturday, sending them to the acting governor's desk, included:
• Pay raises for judges, and public school and state employees (HB2879). The compromise gives $1,488 raises to teachers, 2 percent increases for state employees and school service personnel, $970 raises for State Police troopers and $835 for Division of Natural Resources officers.
The bill also includes a pay-raise package for judicial salaries, ranging from $7,500 for magistrates to $15,000 for Supreme Court justices. The bill also gives the National Guard's adjutant general a $32,500 raise, to $125,000 a year.
It passed the House 74-24 and passed the Senate 27-6, with Republicans in both houses accounting for the opposing votes.